Thursday, February 09, 2017

Trump’s health regulators fail elementary school math

Ian MillhiserFollow
Justice Editor, ThinkProgress. Author of Injustices: SCOTUS’ History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted

Math is hard.

Concepts such as fractions and decimals are an important part of every child’s elementary school education. Under the Common Core education standards, children are introduced to the concept of fractions in the third grade. By the fifth grade, they are expected to be proficient in the use of decimals and be able to “read, write, and compare decimals to thousandths.”

Thus, for example, a fifth grade student is expected to understand that the number “3.49” is greater than the number “3.” The Trump administration, however, appears to be struggling with this concept.

Under the Affordable Care Act, “the premium rate charged by a health insurance issuer for health insurance coverage offered in the individual or small group market . . . shall not vary by more than 3 to 1 for adults” due to the age of the person seeking insurance. In other words, insurers may charge older consumers (who tend to have more health problems and thus are more expensive to cover) up to three times more than younger individuals, but no more than three times as much.

Nevertheless, according to the Huffington Post’s Jonathan Cohn, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) submitted a proposal which would permit insurers to charge older customers premiums that are “3.49 times as large as those for younger customers.” This proposal would be a federal rule, not a new law, so HHS apparently hopes to implement it without changing the law saying that insurers can only charge older customers 3 times as much, not 3.49 times as much.
According to Cohn, HHS would argue that this is okay because “3.49 ‘rounds down’ to three.”

Under the Common Core standards, the concept of “rounding” is introduced to third grade students, although admittedly only with respect to whole numbers. By the fifth grade, however, a student should be able to understand that, even though the number “3.49” can be rounded down, 3.49 is still greater than 3.

This lesson does not appear to have penetrated the Trump administration, however.


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