A ban on local grocery taxes helps Washington consumers

On Election Day in 2018, Washington voters passed an ordinance to curb local governments’ efforts to pass additional taxes on grocery items, including meats, beverages, produce, dairy, grains, and more.

The 55-45 percent vote was no doubt a win for the consumers, but so far reaction to the local tax ban has been negative. Why?

For one, most media coverage focused on the soda industry’s support of the measure, no surprise there. But considering most news media reported this and voters supported it anyway, what does that mean about the initiative itself?

Overall, this was primarily a ballot question on funding and taxation, not on a particular public policy. Voters are usually cautious in supporting new taxes, and are more likely to support proposals that would ban certain taxes.

The disparity that occurs in food prices between city and county jurisdictions are high enough to give plenty of people a headache.

Depending on the county and city you live in, Washingtonians must pay between 7 and 10.4 percent in sales tax, including the state sales tax of 6.5 percent.

According to the Tax Foundation, Washington has the 4th highest combined sales taxes in the country, averaging out at 9.18 percent.

For the average family, that means nearly a tenth of every grocery bill must be paid in taxes. Not to mention property taxes, federal income taxes, fees, and more. The list is endless. If asked whether they should be increased, it’s hardly surprising voters decided against it.

An argument can be made that autonomy to tax is being taken away from local jurisdictions, but a discriminatory tax regime across county or city lines won’t do anything to help consumers.

As we have seen in places such as Philadelphia or Chicago, consumers are more likely to travel across those lines to buy what they want at a bargain. One analysis found that while sales on sugary drinks fells in Philadelphia after the soda tax was passed, sales on those same beverages jumped 38 percent at stores outside jurisdictions.

In the name of pursuing health policy, why should we force residents to travel across city or county boundaries to buy their groceries?

Not everyone agrees with this sentiment, of course.

In neighboring Oregon, former New York City Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg dropped $1.5 million into the campaign to strike down a similar local tax ban. That effort ultimately didn’t pass, meaning cities and counties will be free to pass their own grocery taxes at will.

For Washingtonians on the north bank of the Columbia River, buying groceries in Oregon is almost a sacred ritual, owing to its 0 percent sales tax. Now, emboldened by the ability to pass local taxes and encouraged by health crusaders like Mr. Bloomberg, cities and counties may look to raise additional revenue.

As such, Washington residents should be both proud and relieved. They won’t be seeing their grocery bills climbing any time soon, and that’s because they voted with their wallets on Election Day. They should be praised rather than condemned.

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, consumer advocate, and deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center

Chers élus, laissez les trottinettes électriques rouler

Dans les grands centres urbains du monde entier, un petit nombre d’entreprises a déployé des technologies qui devraient être l’une des solutions les plus innovantes aux énormes problèmes de circulation et de mobilité qui affligent nos villes. Avec la nouvelle loi sur l’orientation de la mobilité (LOM), cet avantage pourrait être mis en danger. Par Yaël Ossowski, directeur-adjoint du Consumer Choice Center, et Bill Wirtz, analyste de politiques publiques pour le Consumer Choice Center.

Les trottinettes électriques sont des véhicules de mobilité intelligents qui proposent une révolution dans le traitement des problèmes de la circulation et du “last mile”, donc le problème de la proximité du moyen de transport de la destination désirée.

Comme l’a noté Jeffrey Philips, consultant en innovation, les trottinettes électriques ont fait leurs preuves là où le Segway, le transporteur à deux roues à équilibrage automatique développé en 2001, a échoué. Elles sont bon marché, petites, sans émissions, faciles à utiliser et omniprésentes. La génération précédente de Segways était l’un des outils préférés des plus fortunés, dont le prix était assez élevé pour bloquer le consommateur moyen, et trop grand pour être laissé dans les coins achalandés.

Il y a moins d’un an, cependant, la situation a changé lorsque les entrepreneurs de la Silicon Valley ont dévoilé des trottinettes électriques à prix modique pour en finir avec les embouteillages dans les grandes villes. Les principaux acteurs à ce jour sont Bird, LimeBike et Spin. Cette dernière a été achetée par Ford Motor Company plus tôt ce mois-ci pour près de 100 millions de dollars.

Appels en faveur d’une réglementation

Mais comme pour toute innovation dans le domaine des transports, les appels en faveur d’une réglementation ou d’une interdiction pure et simple ont freiné les perspectives prometteuses qu’offrent les trottinettes. Et ce n’est pas seulement la colère des consommateurs qui les utilisent le plus.

San Francisco, où pratiquement toutes les compagnies de trottinettes électriques sont basées, a interdit tous les trottinettes dans les rues en juin. Seules deux grandes sociétés ont obtenu l’autorisation de reprendre leurs activités à la fin du mois d’août. Seattle, l’une des pires villes en ce qui concerne la circulation, les a rapidement interdites cette année, malgré l’adoption de vélos sans port qui utilisent pratiquement la même technologie.

Tout comme les déploiements rapides d’Uber et d’autres comme Heetch, le déchargement rapide et furtif de centaines de trottinettes du jour au lendemain a incité de nombreuses villes à se battre pour réglementer davantage. Le projet de loi de la loi sur l’orientation de la mobilité (LOM) pose des question à ce sujet. Le document explicatif du gouvernement indique:

“L’article 18 donne aux autorités organisatrices la possibilité de réguler les nouveaux services de mobilité. Il s’agit d’accompagner le développement de nouveaux services (scooters électriques, vélos, trottinettes, voitures en libre-service par exemple) et de nouveaux modèles économiques tout en anticipant les impacts sur les autres modes de transport, la fluidité des déplacements et la gestion des espaces publics.”

Sécurité publique, ordre public, fiscalité

La sécurité publique, l’ordre public et la fiscalité (pas nécessairement dans cet ordre) ont été les principales motivations des organismes de réglementation. Le plus souvent, les villes ont affirmé qu’on ne leur demandait pas la permission. La mentalité ” réglementer d’abord, innover ensuite “ sera sans aucun doute un obstacle à la résolution des problèmes auxquels sont confrontées les villes à travers le pays.

Cela dit, des problèmes existent. Rouler à grande vitesse près des voitures et des piétons sans protection rend les utilisateurs vulnérables aux accidents et aux blessures. Le recours collectif intenté en Californie par des motocyclistes blessés en témoigne. Mais si les villes sont capables d’accueillir des vélos, pourquoi ne pourraient-elles pas en faire autant pour les trottinettes électriques ?

Une plainte souvent entendue est que les utilisateurs de trottinettes roulent sur le trottoir, ignorent les feux de circulation et les abandonnent dans les zones très fréquentées. Mais cela peut être résolu par une réglementation intelligente : permettre aux trottinettes d’utiliser les voies cyclables et de se garer dans les zones réservées aux vélos. Fournir des conseils clairs aux coureurs et aux entreprises.

Bird et LimeBike demandent aux utilisateurs de prendre une photo lorsqu’ils garent leur scooter, en s’assurant qu’il se trouve dans un endroit sûr et légal. Les contrevenants peuvent être exclus de la plate-forme. C’est une technologie qui assure la conformité plutôt qu’une règle bureaucratique.

Lorsque des applications de covoiturage comme Uber, Heetch, DriveNow et Car2go sont apparues dans la rue, les détracteurs ont utilisé des arguments similaires. Cependant, les villes qui ont adopté cette technologie ont réussi à retirer les voitures de la rue, à réduire la pollution et à offrir de nouvelles possibilités économiques. Les collectivités à faible revenu en ont tiré d’énormes avantages.

Aider la société dans son ensemble

Trop souvent, les études sur les effets du covoiturage examinent ce qu’ils visent à perturber : les navetteurs à voiture unique, les transports publics et les taxis. Plutôt que de nous demander s’ils affectent des industries spécifiques, nous devrions nous demander s’ils aident la société dans son ensemble. Et à tout point de vue objectif, ils le font.

Le plus souvent, les innovations qui résoudront des problèmes dans diverses parties de la société seront les initiatives d’entrepreneurs. Si les villes veulent adopter ce changement positif, elles devraient adopter une réglementation raisonnable et intelligente sur les trottinettes électriques.

Originally published at https://www.latribune.fr/opinions/tribunes/chers-elus-laissez-les-trottinettes-electriques-rouler-799648.html

Minority leaders in Philadelphia speak up against the soda tax

As the Consumer Choice Center has been keen to point out in several articles and campaigns, additional taxes and levies on sugary drinks end up being regressive and hurting the very people they aim to help: minorities and the poor.

Now, minority leaders in Philadelphia, seeing the toll the taxes have had in their communities, are calling on the city to repeal them.

As reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, black clergy leaders say the taxes are disproportionately hurting African Americans and the poor in the city.

“I don’t see how the tax, as it is constructed, can really effectively do what it is intending to do. We think it needs to be repealed and reconceptualized,” said the Rev. Jay Broadnax, president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity.

Last year, Cook County, which includes Chicago, got rid of its unpopular 1-cent-an-ounce soda tax that its commissioners passed in November 2016 affecting 5.2 million residents.

The Philadelphia pastor said the 1.5-cent-an-ounce levy on sugary beverages, including diet soda, was having unintended consequences by saddling people of color, the poor and senior citizens with higher grocery bills, while dips in soda sales were hurting small neighborhood business owners.

“The way that it has worked out is that it seems to be hurting more than it’s helping,” Broadnax said.

When Philadelphia passed its soda tax in 2016, it was the largest U.S. city to implement such a fee. After the tax was implemented, shoppers chose to cross the city limits to purchase their sugary drinks, something we have also seen in places like Seattle and Chicago.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the architect of soda tax campaigns across the country, spent over $1.6 million in Philadelphia alone to help pass the tax. During that year, he also dropped $18 million in Oakland and San Francisco.

As I pointed out in my Washington Examiner article last year, Bloomberg is no doubt driven to do good. But whether soda taxes are the tool to help reduce obesity remains to be seen.

Though Bloomberg’s project represents a noble goal – reducing childhood and adult obesity – its actual impact is to make already low-income people poorer, and hasn’t yet produced any clear results on obesity.

In the case of Mexico, the largest jurisdiction which passed a tax on sugar-sweetened sodas in 2014, it’s quite clear that sales of sodas dropped as a result of the tax.

However, as Mexican researchers learned once they broke down the figures, low-income households paid a higher proportion of the soda taxes overall.

This likely means that soda taxes deterred higher-income individuals from buying and consuming soda, but not lower-income individuals: those who the government was originally trying to help. What’s more, it seems those who stopped purchasing sodas switched to alternatives with just as many calories, such as fruit juices or energy drinks.

That would mean the tax was at best a source of revenue for the national government, and at worst, a fierce killer of local shops and commerce.

An economic survey of the effect of the tax found that more than 30,000 Mexican stores which sold sodas were forced to close in the first half of 2016.

In Washington State, campaigners were successful in passing a ban on local grocery taxes. In large measure, this ban will ensure localities cannot pass their own taxes on ordinary goods Americans purchase at the store: meats, beverages, produce, dairy, grains, and more.

As such, Washington residents should be both proud and relieved. They won’t be seeing their grocery bills climbing any time soon, and that’s because they voted with their wallets on Election Day.

Whether policymakers at the city level will see the harmful effects of passing such taxes, however, remains to be seen. If they listen to the leaders in Philadelphia and other jurisdictions, they will think twice.

Consumer group: It’s high time North Carolina approves legal marijuana

It’s high time North Carolina approves legal marijuana

Raleigh, NC – As lawmakers meet in Raleigh this week to negotiate a possible avenue to legalizing medical marijuana, the Consumer Choice Center calls on all parties and policymakers to finally end marijuana prohibition in North Carolina.

Charlotte-area native Yaël Ossowski, Deputy Director of the Consumer Choice Center (CCC), said efforts by State Rep. Kelly Alexander and others to reform North Carolina’s marijuana laws are precisely what state lawmakers should be focused on in the next legislative session.

“North Carolina residents believe now is the time to pursue safe and legal regulation of marijuana, whether medical or recreational. The positive examples offered by dozens of states across the country, not to mention our neighbors to the north in Canada, lend credence to the idea that this can be done in the interests of both consumers and citizens in a responsible way,” said Ossowski.

“Across the state, there exists a popular sentiment that marijuana is no longer a drug deemed worthy of criminal punishment and police enforcement, and should instead be brought to the legitimate market where appropriate state and local regulation can flush out the black market.

“There is already a booming hemp and CBD market in North Carolina, showcasing how entrepreneurial innovation, adequate regulation, and market forces can do a great job in transitioning us away from costly marijuana prohibition,” said Ossowski.

“It’s far past time to end the war on drugs that has proven costly to North Carolina’s legal and court systems, not to mention the thousands of innocent adults who face harsh sentences and penalties for non-violent marijuana offenses.”

CONTACT:
Yaël Ossowski
Deputy Director
Consumer Choice Center
[email protected]

***CCC Deputy Director Yaël Ossowski is available to speak with accredited media on consumer regulations and consumer choice issues. Please send media inquiries HERE.***

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

Don’t let cities ruin the scooter revolution

In major urban centers across the globe, a handful of companies have deployed technology due to be one of the most innovative solutions to the mountains of traffic and mobility issues that plague our cities.

Electric scooters are smart mobility vehicles that offer a revolution in dealing with problems of traffic congestion and the “ last mile” problem.

As noted by innovation consultant Jeffrey Philips, electric scooters have proven to be successful where Segway, the two-wheeled self-balancing transporter first developed in 2001, failed.

They are cheap, small, emission-free, easy to use, and ubiquitous. The previous generation of Segways was a favorite tool of the 1 percent, priced high enough to lock out the average consumer, and too big to be left on busy corners.

Less than one year ago, however, that changed, as Silicon Valley entrepreneurs unveiled rentable electric scooters to disrupt the gridlock and fumes of car-congested streets.

The major players thus far are Bird, LimeBike, and Spin. The latter was purchased by Ford Motor Company earlier this month for close to $100 million.

But as with any innovation in transportation, the calls for regulation or outright bans have dampened the bright prospects scooters bring. And it’s not just the ire of Luddites.

San Francisco, where practically all electric scooter companies are based, banned all scooters from the streets in June. Only two major companies were given permits to operate again in late August. Seattle, one of the worst cities for traffic congestion, promptly banned them earlier this year, despite embracing dockless bicycles that use practically the same technology.

Similar to Uber and Lyft’s quick deployments in 2011-2012, the quick and stealthy unloading of hundreds of scooters overnight kept many cities scrambling to regulate. Cease and desist orders followed by the dozens.

Public safety, order, and taxation (not necessarily in that order) have been the key motivators for regulators. More often than not, cities claimed they weren’t asked permission.

Beverly Hills justified its swift ban due to a “concern for public safety and a lack of any advance planning and outreach by the motorized scooter companies.”

The “regulate first, innovate later” mentality will no doubt be an impediment to solving the issues that cities face across the country.

That said, problems exist. Riding at high speeds near cars and pedestrians without protection makes users susceptible to crashes and injuries. The class-action lawsuit filed in California by injured riders speaks to this. But if cities are able to accommodate bicycles, why wouldn’t they be able to do the same for electric scooters?

An oft-heard complaint is that scooter users ride on the sidewalk, ignore traffic signals, and abandon them in high-trafficked areas.

But that can be solved with smart regulation: Allow scooters to use bike lanes and park in bike areas. Provide clear guidance for riders and companies.

Bird and LimeBike require users to snap a picture when they park their scooter, ensuring it’s in a safe and legal area. Violators can be barred from the platform. That’s technology providing compliance rather than a bureaucratic rule.

When ridesharing apps such as Uber, Lyft, DriveNow, and Car2go hit the streets, detractors used similar arguments. Cities that embraced the technology, though, succeeded in removing cars off the street, reducing pollution, and offering new economic opportunities. Low-income communities saw a huge benefit.

Too often, studies on the effects of ridesharing examine what they aim to disrupt: single-car commuters, public transportation, and taxis. Rather than asking whether they affect specific industries, we should ask whether they are helping society at large. And by any objective measure, they are.

Most importantly, the new innovations on our streets are solving what civil and urban planners call the “ last mile” problem, the gap between where one mode of transportation leaves us and our final destination.

More often than not, the innovations that will solve problems in various strata of society will be the initiatives of private entrepreneurs and inventors. If cities want to embrace that positive change, they should pass reasonable and smart regulation on electric scooters.

Yaël Ossowski is a writer, consumer advocate, and deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center.

Originally published at https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/dont-let-cities-ruin-the-scooter-revolution

Miami Beach receives the BAN Award for insane penalties and criminal charges for home-sharing

 

The City of Miami Beach, Florida receives the November 2018 BAN Award for passing some of the harshest penalties and regulations on home-sharing in the country, threatening fines starting at $1,000 on the first offense and criminal charges as a third strike.

The law also forces online platforms to collect significant business and tax information on every home or apartment who wish to offer short-term rentals to tourists.
“Miami Beach’s draconian laws on home-sharing are nothing more than a protection racket for the hotel industry,” said Consumer Choice Center deputy director Yaël Ossowski.

“By passing the harshest penalties and regulations in the country – even up to criminal charges on the third offense – Miami Beach has teamed up with the hotel lobby to protect profits at the expense of hundreds of thousands of tourists and consumers who would otherwise use home-sharing to enjoy the beaches of southern Florida,” said Ossowski.

“There is an argument to be made about the responsible use of platforms such as Airbnb, HomeAway, and Home Exchange by homeowners, but the severity of these penalties far exceeds any perceived harm found in these communities.

“If Miami Beach keeps these rules, they are effectively banning innovation in tourism and housing and forcing consumers to only use hotels, as the costs, fees, and regulations for maintaining a home share are far too high to make sense for the average homeowner,” said Ossowski.

About the BAN Award:

Every month the Consumer Choice Center awards an institution, person, or organization with the Bureau of Nannyism or short BAN Award. The BAN Awards recognize the work of an individual or organization that has made major contributions to advocating limits on consumer choice. This award serves to recognize extraordinary abilities in disregarding consumers and evidence-based public policy. The award was created by the Consumer Choice Center to draw attention to the important role politicians, lobbies, and advocates play in limiting consumers’ choice and ignoring them in the policymaking process.

Selection criteria: The Bureau of Nannyism (BAN) is a group of consumer choice advocates that discuss nominations on a monthly base and award the nominee with the most innovative or most blunt actions against consumer choice with the BAN award.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

Opinion: Marijuana promises economic benefit, poses financial questions

Michiganians voted Tuesday to introduce a new industry to the state that is expected to bring in $765 million in revenue over the next year and thousands of new jobs.

What we’re talking about is legal cannabis.

Look no further than the state of Colorado to see the incredible effects of legal cannabis on the economy, whether it’s the new influx of tax revenue, massive job growth, or discovering the plant’s health advantages.

By August, Colorado already hit $1 billion in legal cannabis sales for the year, bringing in over $200 million in taxes. Last year’s sales hit $1.5 billion. With a higher population and a GDP close to $100 million greater than Colorado, Michigan will have a lot to look forward to once it goes green.

However, federal law has continued to provide financial obstacles to states that have legalized medicinal or recreational marijuana.

If you’ve ever purchased cannabis legally with a medical card or in a state with recreational sales, you likely bought the product with cash. The lack of payment options is due to banks operating under federal law, which still prohibits the consumption and selling of marijuana after being (included with bath salts and heroin) listed under Schedule 1 of The Controlled Substances Act.

A history of injustice

Marijuana was added to this list in 1971 when the act was initially introduced during the Nixon administration, which notoriously began the national War on Drugs. Since then, the federal government has spent over $1 trillion in futile, anti-drug efforts. This is apparent when observing the fact that there were “8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88 percent … for simply having marijuana.”

Here’s what characterizes a Schedule 1 drug:

To begin, the drug or other substance must have a high potential for abuse. Second, the drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical treatment use in the United States. Last, the drug has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.

As we now know, marijuana has shown to be an effective agent against a multitude of illnesses and disorders, ranging from treating chronic pain to providing relief for cancer patients. .

The strongest argument prohibitionists explore is the fact that marijuana, like many drugs available today (such as caffeine, alcohol, or tobacco), could be heavily abused. This view isn’t wrong. Someone could become dependent on marijuana to the point they can no longer be as productive as they otherwise would be.

Despite that, there are zero recorded marijuana-induced deaths in the United States.

The way forward

In Michigan, the ballot initiative on cannabis brought to voters this week was brought forward by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. A seller must obtain the required licenses, you must be 21 years of age to purchase, sell, or consume, and it’s still illegal to drive under the influence. This is very similar to buying your favorite six-pack.

But, there’s always a catch.

Even though Michigan voters decided to legalize recreational marijuana, it won’t be exactly like alcohol. It’s still illegal at the federal level, meaning you will likely be limited to purchasing cannabis with only cash.

At this point, only a small number of banks and credit unions will accept cannabis-related capital. In June of this year, Forbes noted, “411 banks and credit unions in the U.S. were ‘actively’ operating accounts for marijuana businesses, according to a report from the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).”

While this number continues to rise, it’s not on pace to keep up with an exponentially growing number of new dispensaries and growers from all over the country. Putting that in jeopardy has been former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who back in January gave the green light to federal prosecutors to enforce federal law on banks that work directly with cannabis-related ventures. Risk-averse banks are unlikely to forfeit eligibility of Federal Deposit Insurance for marijuana businesses.

Despite the risk, there have a been a few notable proposals in California that have looked to curb this issue. Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher recently came out claiming he’s working directly with President Donald Trump to push marijuana reform, specifically legalizing medical marijuana at the federal level. That in turn, would likely lead to the rescheduling of marijuana. With minimal details about the possible legislation available, the following solution provided would be contingent on cannabis staying on as a Schedule 1 drug. That means this predicament could no longer be an issue by next year.

The most viable and practical solution introduced to California’s state legislature is SB-930. As explained in our article in MG Magazine, the bill “would allow the formation of private cannabis limited-charter banks and credit unions. These banks would be allowed to deal only with cannabis firms, allowing them to legally pay vendors, take out loans, and pay their tax bills at the end of the year.” By receiving banking licenses from the state level, cannabis firms would be able to bank their profits, and tax payments, legally.

Lessons from Canada

At our northern border, Canada took the step of becoming the largest industrialized country to legalize cannabis on Oct. 17. Unlike the many pockets of legalization and prohibition here in the U.S., Canada’s new policy establishes an entirely new, legal market. As long as citizens follow the rules governed by the provinces, cannabis firms can take out loans and lines of credit, open bank accounts, and pay their employees with direct deposit. And citizens can purchase using a number of payment methods, not just cash.

The difference between how the cannabis markets operate, however, is still not uniform across the country. Each province has created rules and restrictions on who may sell the product. In Ontario and Quebec, the state liquor stores have a monopoly on cannabis sales. In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, private retailers are allowed to operate. Some provinces, like Quebec, ban home growing, even though federal allows citizens to grow up to six plants.

Regardless of the jurisdictional and regulatory differences, the fact remains that Canadians are freely able to buy cannabis in a commercial setting, taxes are collected, and banks and auxiliary services can benefit. Achieving the same in Michigan will require changes in federal law, but we can at least move forward one aspect of this battle come Election Day.

What’s clear is that a private solution is favored over a public one if our goal is maximum innovation and efficiency. A public bank operated by government bureaucrats would lead to a burden on Michigan taxpayers and hinder economic growth. But there are other ways to innovate and be creative to find solutions.

In Michigan, we like to embrace our craft beer industry with a sense of pride. We understand and love the art and innovation that come with brewing a solid beer. If we want to join the 21st century, it’s time we do the same with marijuana, just like voters said on Tuesday.

Garett Roush is the North American leadership manager with Students For Liberty and a fellow with the Consumer Choice Center.

Yaël Ossowski is deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center.

Originally published at https://eu.detroitnews.com/story/opinion/2018/11/07/marijuana-promises-economic-benefit-poses-financial-questions/1904480002/

U.S. Midterm Primer: What’s at stake for consumer choice?

The Consumer Choice Center doesn’t take positions on any specific political campaigns or elections, but there are at least some interesting state-level ballot proposals happening around the country that could overwhelmingly benefit consumer choice.

In the U.S. federal system, state residents are eligible to vote on certain popular initiatives and state constitutional amendments that will have a major impact on daily life for citizens and consumers.

CANNABIS

Michigan and North Dakota will both vote to legalize cannabis at the state level in separate ballot initiatives. Legalizing cannabis would be a boon to the economy and consumer choice, removing cannabis sales from the black market and allowing governments to both regulate and tax it safely and securely. That’s a huge win for consumers in those states. The same applies to medical cannabis on the ballot in Utah and Missouri. Allowing legitimate medical patients the ability to use cannabis to cure their ailments legally will help potentially thousands of consumers.

GROCERY TAXES

In Washington State and Oregon, there are separate ballot proposals that would prohibit local jurisdictions from imposing additional taxes on grocery items. That would favor all consumers, and help ensure that hard-working American families won’t be forced to pay higher prices for what they already consume, or be forced to shop across city and county lines in order to find the most affordable food. Because they’re regressive, grocery taxes end up hurting lower income houses the most. By capping local jurisdictions’ abilities to raise taxes on groceries across the board, the proposal would ensure Washington and Oregon consumers won’t be subject to discriminatory tax hikes at the local level.

If Seattle is any indication, which passed a city-wide soda tax last year, consumers would be cautious. The soda tax was intended to lower consumption of sugary beverages, but considering the city now estimates it’ll collect $6 million more in taxes than they anticipated, more people are actually buying sodas than before or the numbers are wrong. Data we have from Cook County, Philadelphia, and Mexico consistently shows that higher soda taxes push people to seek alternatives with even more sugar or to shop across state lines to get their sugary drinks. Soda tax measures are well-intentioned, but end up hurting the poor.

ENERGY AND VAPING

Similarly, California’s Prop 6 would require voter approval for all future vehicle tax and fuel fees, as well as cancel the 2017 fuel taxes enacted by the state legislature. Such a proposal ensures consumers have a voice on the fees tacked on for those who drive cars and rely on transportation.

A ballot proposal in Florida seeks to ban both offshore drilling and vaping indoors in the same proposition. The fact that these questions are coupled together is unfair to Florida’s citizens and consumers. Vaping is proven to be less harmful than smoking and shouldn’t be treated the same as tobacco.

NET NEUTRALITY AND INTERNET REGULATIONS

Not up for a vote but still very important issue are a number of states considering their own net neutrality Internat regulations. As we saw in California, state legislatures and executives are considering passing their own rules for Internet regulation. Allowing each and every state to impose their own Internet rules would burden consumers and harm innovation.

More than that, state-level Internet regulations will threaten the vast entrepreneurial and tech space that is growing across the country, and push companies to set up in jurisdictions that promise true Internet freedom rather than state-imposed regulation of content and delivery of Internet services.

FEDERAL ISSUES IN CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICTS

Along with state ballot proposals, the entire U.S. House will be up for election, as well as two-thirds of the U.S. Senate. Important issues on our radar include the future of fees and taxes imposed on the airline passengers, proposals to ban single-use plastics, self-driving car and truck regulations, national cannabis decriminalization, health care freedom, and many more.

Be sure to follow the Consumer Choice Center on social media, subscribe to our newsletter and join CCC as a member, and consider making a donation if you believe our work is important for lifestyle freedom, market access, and consumer choice.

WHO’s afraid of vaping?

For the second time in two years, I sat in the public gallery at a United Nations conference in Geneva as a senior UN bureaucrat told us that all members of the media and public were barred from the proceedings, writes Yael Ossowski for Spiked. This particular occasion was one of the UN’s biannual sessions to update the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

The FCTC is the first global-health treaty enacted by WHO. It has been ratified by 181 countries and forms the basis of a number of national laws across the globe, such as tobacco taxes, advertising restrictions, and plain cigarette packaging.

Each biannual meeting is a taxpayer-financed talkfest, dominated by various health ministries and anti-tobacco organisations like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the Framework Convention Alliance, who are not only granted ‘observer status’, but also intervene in the large plenary debates and use their platform to shame the delegates of any country that doesn’t adopt a prohibitionist attitude toward tobacco.

Though the conference claims to be about science and public health, it is anything but.

For instance, new vaping and e-cigarette technologies are the most popular stop-smoking aids in England, used by 1.2million Brits according to the latest government figures. A Public Health England report says that vaping can reduce health risks by 95 and can increase the chances of quitting smoking by up to 50%.

But the arguments for vaping are dismissed by WHO as ‘unfounded’ and ‘inconclusive’. One top NGO said parties at the meeting should ‘refrain from engaging in lengthy and inconclusive discussion’ on alternative nicotine products like vaping.

Vaping activists had tried to attend the conference to share their stories of how they quit smoking. Volunteers from the International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations proudly blew clouds of water vapour outside the conference’s doors. Unlike the more prohibitionist NGOs, they were denied observer status.

The clear anti-vaping bias led to some absurd claims.

Anne Bucher, director-general of the EU’s Health and Food Safety Directorate, was adamant that, despite containing no tobacco, vaping and e-cigarette devices should be considered ‘tobacco products’, subject to all the same laws, restrictions, and bans.

The treaty itself sought to enforce the same restrictions on vaping and e-cigarettes as cigarettes and cigars. This could actually hamper people’s ability to quit smoking.

Another object of hate was the media. Delegates from countries including China, Zimbabwe, the Maldives and Uganda claimed the entire conference should take place without media or public scrutiny. ‘What we’re dealing with is the mafia’, said the delegate from Afghanistan, referring to the public sat in the gallery above.

A representative from Chad lamented that more people did not know about the FCTC meeting and its impact. In the same breath, he argued in favour of kicking out the public and media after the opening plenary.

It was a bizarre and Orwellian conference. The proposals that emerged in the name of protecting public health could seriously set back the improvements in public-health that have come about thanks to alternatives to cigarettes like vaping, e-cigarettes and snus.

One thing became clear: innovative products, new markets and the much hated ‘industry’ were doing more to bring about better health outcomes than the UN’s supranational health bureaucracy.

* Yaël Ossowski is a Canadian journalist and deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center.

The healthcare system is a racket — direct primary care could fix it

Everyone has a healthcare horror story.

A hidden charge on the hospital bill. A last minute test or scan that ends up costing four figures. Hours spent on the phone with insurance companies to follow up on a claim and get a reimbursement. Prescriptions costing hundreds of dollars.

And it’s getting more expensive.

Since 2007, the cost of healthcare has risen 21.6 percent, while all other prices in the economy have risen by just 17.3 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

It’s become an unfortunate reality for many, and it’s been rightly pushed into the arena of politics.

But despite the well-intended reforms of the past two decades, including the Affordable Care Act, millions are still feeling the pinch. Why?

Too often, talk of healthcare reform is focused on insurance rather than care. It’s less about how the doctor treats your family and more about who foots the bill. Almost no one can get a straight answer about the price of procedures or medicines.

Medical insurance, once a simple way to cover higher-than-normal expenses, has become a catch-all for almost all health spending. It’s no longer about surprise injuries and illnesses. Insurance is now used to cover every ache, pain, anxiety, pill, and more. It’s like using car insurance to cover every oil change, new windshield wiper, or tire.

And in order to recoup the amount they give out, insurance companies must price their options accordingly, which leads to higher prices for consumers. That’s why healthcare expenses in 2016 amounted to 17.8 percent of GDP, higher than any other industrialized country.

At least one new doctor-patient arrangement is promising a revolution in consumer choice by bypassing insurance altogether. It’s called direct primary care, and it’s catching on across the country.

Rather than relying on insurance for ordinary health expenses, these new doctor clinics rely on monthly fees from patients, usually less than $100.

If anything more is required during doctor visits, the prices for every service and test are transparent and don’t vary depending on your plan. By not accepting insurance of any type, each clinic saves on administrative costs and overhead, prioritizing patients over costly insurers.

The results are just as intended: lower costs, more preventive care, and more face time with medical professionals.

I first learned about direct primary care when searching for a new doctor that would be flexible and affordable for my situation.

Luckily enough, I found one within driving distance in Charlotte, N.C., after consulting the mapmaintained by DPC Frontier, an online resource for direct primary care patients.

After one quick phone call, the physical was scheduled. Because the doctor wasn’t rushed to see dozens of patients, thanks to the monthly subscription model he maintains for patients, he took his time and answered every question I had. In case I needed to have anything more done, the prices for procedures, tests, and more were clearly published on his website.

Then, the bill for the simple visit was paid before I left. There was no insurance follow-up, no co-pay, and no need to file any additional paperwork. It was as if I was paying the doctor for providing the service directly, rather than the dozens of middlemen required in the current insurance racket.

But this was just a simple doctor’s visit. What would happen if I had a serious injury or disease?

Here’s what my doctor recommended: Take out a high-deductible health insurance policy intended for disasters and emergencies, and sign-up for a monthly direct primary care plan. That way, you’re covered in extreme circumstances with the high-deductible plan, but can also have preventive care with the doctor’s visits at the direct primary care clinic.

Seeing that in action was indeed refreshing. As a patient, I was empowered to own and control my own healthcare spending. And as a doctor, he was freed from bureaucracy to focus on his patients.

Whether direct primary care will be the answer to all problems remains to be seen.

Of course, chronic ailments and complicated procedures will still be of concern. Those who cannot afford the monthly fees may not be able to participate. But there is at least some momentum to open up this type of patient-doctor relationship to everyone.

For people with health savings accounts offered by employers, a bill passed by the House over the summer would allow account holders to use their health accounts on direct primary care subscriptions. It currently awaits a vote in the Senate.

A similar bill sits in the House Ways and Means Committee, presumably waiting for Congress to return from campaigning in their home districts to move it forward.

If our politicians want to try to reform healthcare, the answer may lie in empowering patients and doctors to contract on their own.

Considering there is a nationwide movement of doctors looking to free themselves from insurers, and endorsements from organizations such as the American Academy of Family Physicians, it’s worth taking another look at direct primary care.

Yaël Ossowski is an economic journalist and deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center based in Washington, D.C.

Originally published at https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/the-healthcare-system-is-a-racket-direct-primary-care-could-fix-it