Monday, July 30, 2012


Back in May of 2011, Democrat Kathy Hochul pulled off a major coup, besting Republican Jane Corwin in the race for the 26th Congressional District seat that had been vacated by the resignation of Chris Lee. This was a huge victory for the Democrats, as the Republicans had held control of the 26th since 1968.

Political wonks across the nation claimed that Hochul’s upset was a statement against Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, whom the Democratic National Committee had painted as someone Corwin would vote lockstep with. At the time, Ryan’s 2012 federal budget proposal called for a major overhaul of Medicare which would have transformed the oldster care from a guaranteed benefit program into a system under which care was provided by private insurers yet was funded by government subsidies. The voters feared for the program’s future – and theirs – and thusly showed their displeasure at the polls.

The Republicans did little to steer away the criticisms during the special election, nor did they call out the Democrats at their own game. It’s the latter which will come back to haunt them -- and a majority of Americans when they come of retirement age in the future.

Had the GOP not been so overconfident in thinking that the Democratic acquisition of the seat was unattainable – and had they done their homework – they would have realized that the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which had already been signed into law a year earlier, will have a deleterious effect on Medicare recipients. They could have easily countered the Democrats by identifying their hypocrisy.

Their arrogance aside, the national Republican leadership obviously didn’t study the bill in detail before it became law, and it took them many more months to uncover the intricacies of “Obamacare”. We still see this to this day as Republican Congressmen and talk show hosts continue to unearth portions of ACA that they should have known about some time ago. Among them is the Medicare portion. They have noticed a gutting of the program; I’m sure you’ve heard presidential candidate Mitt Romney say that President Obama is taking $500 billion from Medicare.

Well, Romney, like the Democrats before him in 2011, isn’t being truthful.

The $500 billion statement is a stretch. Maybe that amount will be accumulated over time (as in 2 or 3 decades), but it won’t be in the short term. And, by short term, I mean 10 years out since that is the magical period that Democrats and Republicans (and the Congressional Budget Office) tend to focus on.

Maybe he got his numbers confused. The $500 billion is really close (well, at least when we’re talking in billions) to $455 billion, which is the total amount saved in reform of Medicare AND Medicaid over Decade One. Maybe in his mind, it’s, “Medicare? Medicaid? What’s the difference?” Regardless of this being a mistake or a purposeful bending of the truth, he’s wrong in both delivery and intent.

What Romney should focus on – and what the National Republican Committee should have focused on in the Corwin campaign – is the fact that over time – like when I and my fellow Generation Xers hit Medicare age – having access to care will be a real struggle. Medicare recipients will be looked at as modern day lepers by health care providers because the ACA will be making it economically-unfeasible for a doctor or hospital to provide their services to seniors.

In recent years, when it comes to Medicare, the federal government has reimbursed hospitals at a rate of two-thirds what private insurance would have paid. Similarly, they paid doctors about 80% of what insurance would have. So, even today, providers are taking a hit.

That hit, though, will grow considerably over the next 70 years: Reimbursements will see a gradual downward spiral, bottoming out at a 39% rate for hospitals and 26% for physicians. As time goes on, fewer and fewer doctors will accept Medicare patients because it won’t be worth their time or money -- they can actually make a profit when dealing with the insured versus those on Medicare. Numerous surveys of physicians have found that anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of them are considering not accepting Medicare patients because of the ACA.

So, when my peers hit their 60s, there will be very few – if any - doctors and hospitals who will be willing to care for them. Without access to private care, the government will have to “save the day” and open public clinics and hospitals along the lines of the VA system, but for aged civilians.

Hmm…maybe that’s been the plan all along. I certainly wouldn’t put it past Obama and his cronies.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at


This column originally ran in the 06 August 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Beginning in January of next year, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will impose a 2.3% excise tax on manufacturers and importers of medical devices. There will be just a few exemptions for items such as eyeglasses, contact lenses, and over-the-counter kits and tests, but most every device used by doctors, hospitals, nursing homes and ambulance crews will be affected by the tax. In its first 10 years the tax will add $20 billion to federal coffers.

At the same time, the tax will be certain to cost Americans their jobs.

For starters, this is not an income-based tax. It is a tax levied solely against revenues, regardless of whether the company actually had a profit. So, a manufacturer that might be in the red -- maybe it’s having a bad year from an operations standpoint or is investing heavily in growth -- will have to pony up, which can set them on the path to financial destruction.

Likewise, a company operating at a low profit margin (which is likely in this highly-competitive global economy) might see its profits split in half, pushing it to unacceptably-low levels which will inhibit investments in assets, research and development, and expansion.

This new tax will also lead to more outsourcing. It’s not that the gap between domestic and foreign manufacturers is directly widening because of the tax (the excise is equally applied to imported goods), but, it is widening indirectly. If American firms adjust their selling prices upwards to compensate for the government’s pilfering of their revenues, lower-priced products produced offshore will become even more attractive to cost-conscious purchasing agents at hospitals and medical device distribution companies.

The excise is an act of hypocrisy from an Administration and Congress that alleges a focus on job creation. There are currently 400,000 people working in the medical device industry in the United States, and one study estimates that more than 10% of them could become unemployed because of the tax.


The conspiracy theorist in me is made uncomfortable by a new reporting requirement of the ACA.

Beginning this year, employers with more than 250 employees must list on each W2 form the dollar value of the company’s contribution to that worker’s health insurance. Doing so is optional for firms employing less than 250. Theoretically, it’s being done to educate the masses about the real cost of health insurance.

I theorize, though, that the W2 requirement is really about future taxation. Incrementalism is the way that change is brought about in public policy; bit by bit you add or remove things until, over years, the issue is completely altered from its original state. This could be one of those subtle changes that accumulate over time: Get people used to seeing health benefits on their W2 which gets them into ultimately believing that it’s taxable income, and, sooner or later, you can start taxing them.

The Democrats have been quick to say that my theory – shared by many others of the very far right persuasion – is hogwash, that they won’t tax employer-provided insurance.

Well, that’s not what the recent past shows. Both they and the Republicans alike have hinted at such a new revenue stream.

In 2010, President Obama’s deficit commission – led by Erskine Bowles – was adamant in its desire to eliminate the current tax exemption and treat insurance as taxable income. So, if your employer paid half of your health insurance, you would have to pay taxes on that half. The commission believed this would bring in a staggering $100 billion per year, something that surely had the political class licking their chops.

That same year, in his “Roadmap for America’s Future”, the Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, called for the elimination of the tax exemption on employer-provided insurance. He would replace it with a tax credit that could be used by individuals to purchase insurance on their own. This would only increase the ranks of the uninsured: the credit ($2,290 single, $5,170 family) wouldn’t even come close to allowing the individual to cover what would have been the employer’s contribution to insurance, thus making insurance even more unaffordable for millions of Americans.

So, it’s not like taxing health insurance isn’t being debated in Washington circles. It certainly is, adding some legitimacy to the conspiracy theory.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at


This column originally ran in the 30 July 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Recently, the editorial board of the other daily newspaper of this region wagged their fingers at conservatives, chiding them for their disagreement with the Supreme Court’s upholding of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The meat of the editorial said that the Court’s decision was constitutional, as are the very acts of judicial oversight and Congressional lawmaking, so the Constitution-loving far-right were hypocritical in their criticisms of the Court, especially that directed at Chief Justice John Roberts.

I thought it was a dangerous statement to be made by a metropolitan newspaper because it assumes that all Court decisions are sound and lacking in political expediency. We have a long history of morally and legally bankrupt decisions made by the Court. The right will cite Roe v. Wade, whilst the left will reference Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission.

One, much-less divisive, that immediately comes to my mind – since, like the personal mandate of ACA, it demands market participation and penalizes for the lack thereof – is 1942’s Wickard v. Fillburn. In that case, the Court sided with the USDA, saying it had the right to force Ohio farmer Roscoe Filburn to destroy his 23-acre wheat crop (the Agricultural Adjustment Act said he was allowed only 11) that he had intended to use only to feed his livestock. The Court’s reason (or lack thereof), was that by growing his own wheat for his own farm’s consumption, Fillburn decreased the amount he needed to buy on the market which would have an adverse effect on interstate trade.

It doesn’t matter what political persuasion you claim, you know that Wickard v. Fillburn was wrong.

Some think the same about the Court’s decision regarding ACA.

Let them. And, don’t label them as ignorant for doing so.


I’m frustrated with the media reports, government websites, and broadcast public service announcements touting the “free” services that health insurance companies must provide under ACA, things like colonoscopy screening for colon cancer, Pap smears and mammograms for women, well-child visits, flu shots for all children and adults and screening for blood pressure, cholesterol, and depression for men.

Under ACA, you may not have to pay a co-pay or deductible for those services, but that certainly does not make them “free.” They are anything but.

You will be paying for them, for sure -- as will everyone else whether they use such services or not -- in higher insurance premiums. Without the cost-sharing achieved through co-pays, the insurance companies will have to recoup their expenditures somehow, so they’ll embed them in their rates.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch….or a free doctor’s visit.


The Grand Old Party will have a rough go of it if “Obamacare” becomes a centerpiece of the presidential election campaign and the associated debates later this year. Presumptive Republican candidate Mitt Romney won’t have a leg to stand on if he calls out the costs and regulations of ACA. He will especially struggle with the former, because his version of health care reform (“Romneycare”) isn’t very frugal.

Romneycare is lacking in cost containment, which was the whole point of the law. In 2008, a family plan in Massachusetts was $13,788. Health professionals believe that that will double by 2020. In recent years, the growth of premiums in the Bay State cost has been twice the national average.

Looking beyond only the insured, over the next 10 years, Romneycare will cost Massachusetts taxpayers $2 billion more than originally anticipated.

How can he argue against the ACA with a track record like that?

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at


This column originally ran in the 23 July 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Monday, July 16, 2012


Editor’s note: This is the final part in a four-part series

Over the past few weeks we’ve looked at the dismal academic results of America, results that are unbefitting of a nation that spends the most on education and enjoys the richest economy. The focus of this series was not on policy, but rather on the students and how this generation has lost the hunger for personal betterment that previous generations possessed.

It should be noted, though, that not all of today’s teens are underachievers. There are some exceptional performers – as matter of fact, many of them – who buck the trend and really set themselves apart from their peers.

I’ve been working with children and teens as a volunteer over the past 19 years; I’ve led boy scouts, talked to elementary and high school students, and spoken to college students. In that time, I’ve witnessed (or have been privy to) a decline in appropriate character and ethic, but, at the same time, I’ve seen the best and brightest become better and brighter. I would go so far as to say that the exemplary youth of today rival those of my generation. The highly-driven youth of 2012 have a greater diversity of thought, participate in more productive activities, are highly intellectual and set themselves up for even greater achievement in adulthood. Whereas the typical teen has become less functional, the outliers have become more functional – they truly are young adults.

While a majority of their peers might raise concern for what America’s future holds, the strength of the superior students is astounding. They possess the fortitude and leadership that could, when they come of age, help change some of the underachievement relished by their generation. With these intelligent kids becoming the captains of industry and the makers of public policy, America will be in some good hands in the decades to come.

But, to guarantee that they can overcome the pervasive underachievement, we adults need to lend them a hand and help motivate their fellow students. We’re all stakeholders in this – parents and the childless alike – because we’re already investing a princely sum of our money in the education of the young, and their outcomes yield the workers and contributors of tomorrow. Strong students become strong adults which yield a strong economy and strong country…without a proper foundation the entire house will collapse.

So, what can we do?

For starters, we need to make academics sexy. The message from pop culture is that school isn’t fun. Maybe it’s not with all the rote procedure. But, if we sprinkle in some real world applications of biology, physics, math, business, etc., kids can see real benefit to their studies. To do that properly, schools need to reach out to the community and vice versa. There’s nothing more powerful than speakers and field trips specific to the subject matter. Every school district is chock full of interesting residents who can leverage the assets of that community. Let students tour your workplace. Visit classrooms and talk about your employment, public service, passions, or topics of interest. Volunteer to speak to any and all age groups. You could be the spark that ignites a lifetime of appreciation for science, engineering or history.

Second of all, we need to foster character. We can create a focused, high-quality pupil by building their self-esteem, self-awareness, and awareness of the Greater Good. To do so, we need to get more youth (and adult volunteers) involved in organizations like the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Youth Cadets, church groups, 4-H, FFA and the like. All of them contribute mightily to leadership development, volunteerism, morality, work ethic, civic responsibility, and personal responsibility, things you don’t (and in some case really shouldn’t) get from the classroom. But, all of them contribute to behavior in the classroom - and at home - and can create a more driven student.

There are many more ways we can increase student achievement and I’m sure the most successful students out there can contribute to the discussion and let us know what drives them. From them, you’ll probably find that “love” is a common denominator, from the parents who raise them to the teachers who teach them to the volunteers who give their time to them. It’s time everyone pitched in and shared the same with today’s youth: They are, as a whole, an underachieving lot who only need some solid guidance – from family and neighbors alike – to become the good pupils that we were way back when.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at


This column originally ran in the 16 July 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, July 5, 2012


Editor’s note: This is Part Three of a four-part series.

Based upon statistics provided in the previous 2 columns there is a glut of minors who are underachieving in the classroom (or, as noted last week, totally uncommitted to the classroom). Which of their behaviors contribute to this underperformance? For the sake of brevity (and not making this a 10-part series), here are just 3…

Today’s kids lack work ethic. Elbow grease at home and in a working environment helps to develop a work ethic that carries over into studies. Unfortunately, today’s youth are not afforded the chance for such enrichment.

Many of the Baby Boomer class and the generations before them had either permanent or temporary access to farm life (regarding the latter, think of how many kids used to spend weeks of their summers on a grandparent’s or uncle’s farm). That exposed the impressionable youngsters to visible rewards (harvests and cattle auctions) that were the result of sweat, hard work, planning, focus and patience. Those days are long gone for teens for smaller family farms have been replaced by larger, more-efficient farms. To put it into perspective, in the 1940s there were over 6.5 million farms. Now, there are just over 2 million.

But, the pastoral experience is only one part of the labor equation. It used to be that teens everywhere could get summer and evening jobs. At the turn of this century, half of all 16-to-19 year-olds held a job. The Great Recession and the resulting “new norm” put youth employment in the crosshairs. Because of the lack of economic opportunity, cost-cutting endeavors by businesses fighting to survive, and adults willing to take what were teens’ jobs in order to survive as well, less than 30% of teens now hold a job.

Unfortunately, that availability of free time does not equal better grades because work is a lesson in itself. As the old adage says, it builds character. So, without work (especially in the formative years), character cannot be built. And, character is the catalyst for achievement.

Today’s families emphasize the extra-curricular over the curricular. It used to be that kids might choose an interest or two that took some of their free time. Now, they chose (or are forced into) schedule-intensive sports while ballet, band, horse-riding lessons, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and more are heaped upon that. The materialism of modern life has driven this, making the parent feel inadequate if he/she can’t keep up with the assumed expectations of our society. They believe they can’t do right by their child if the child is not perpetually busy. It’s sad, as it contributes to financial and emotional stress of parents and it robs kids of their childhood (and the freedom and spontaneity it should have) as well as the time that they need for books (far more important than any sport). The exhausted kids can’t focus on schoolwork, nor do they have time to: Approximately three-quarters of American youth participate in some structured extracurricular activity that consumes up to 9 hours per week. 10% of them devote more than 20 hours per week to it.

Today’s youth are destined to underachieve thanks to electronics. Sci-fi tales of years gone by predicted a technologically-advanced world in which the human existence would be made better by computers and other efficiencies. We’ve come to that era with high-speed computers, the internet, smart phones and more.

But, rather than making our lives easier, they’ve made our lives more difficult, since we’ve become incapable of thinking, analyzing, communicating, calculating and even relaxing without them.

Well, at least that’s the situation that’s befallen the young. Consider these damning numbers: The average American child spends 7.5 hours of every day in front of the TV or computer or engrossed with some other electronic device like a phone.  Not only are they failing to live life or study, but numerous studies have also shown that early and constant exposure to electronic media lead to psychological problems, attention disorders, and cognitive issues. Some scientists have even noticed severe changes in the way that brains function. Technology has weakened – even dramatically hurt - today’s students.

What is most confounding about all of this? Suppose that between extra-curricular activities and electronics a kid devotes a total of 61.5 hours per week. Compare that to academics: A University of Michigan study showed American students average just under 4 hours of homework per week! Where are our priorities?

Next week, the series ends on a positive note as we look at some of the really special youth who are bucking the trend, and outperforming their peers in dramatic fashion, giving us a sense of hope for Tomorrow. 

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at
This column originally ran in the 09 July 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers