Today’s Policy Agenda: California Thinks More Regulation Will Fix Rate Shock

by Callie Gable

Is it worth forgoing the logic of districts to stop gerrymandering?

In their new paper, Nicholas Stephanopoulos from the University of Chicago Law School and Eric McGhee from the Public Policy Institute of California suggest a new method for drawing nonpartisan congressional districts. The metric they use is called the “efficiency gap,” which determines the number of “wasted” votes in each district — votes the party that won the district didn’t need to win it — and then translating those votes into seats for the minority party.

They write:

 The efficiency gap has several properties that make it ideal for measuring the extent of gerrymandering. First, it directly captures the packing and cracking that are at the heart of every biased plan. Surplus votes for winning candidates are the definition of packing, and lost votes for defeated candidates the essence of cracking. All a gerrymander is, in fact, is a plan that results in one party wasting many more votes than its opponent. The efficiency gap tells us exactly how big the difference between the parties’ wasted votes is.

The efficiency gap aims to distribute seats based on a “partisan symmetry” model, which aims to give each party the number of seats that corresponds to the overall percentage votes they receive within the state. This model varies greatly from the current system, in which seats are distributed based on simple majorities within individual districts.

But should we abandon or override the district model in favor of essentially statewide elections, just because districts look ridiculous or are at the mercy of the state’s majority party? Not necessarily: Districts can be a good thing. They can group people from similar demographic areas who may have similar interests and give them direct, individualized representation from a person within their community. (That can also promote informed voting.)

Outsourcing redistricting to independent commissions, however, wouldn’t necessarily mean abandoning all of those advantages.

A college degree is worth a lot less if you’re black.

It’s no secret that the effects of past and present systematic discrimination present real problems for the African-American community. But even in the context of this reality, the extent to which race limits black mens’ employment prospects is still shocking.

A new report from the liberal nonprofit Young Invincibles lays out some stark contrasts: A black man with a bachelor’s degree, for instance, has the same chances of finding a job as a white man who dropped out of college. The gap between the likelihood of a black man and a white man’s having a job is widest for those with the least education, and only essentially closes with a professional degree:

Education is a powerful factor in shrinking job-attainment and wage disparities. But affirmative-action and tuition-subsidy policies that offer easier access to higher education can sometimes work against the people it’s intended to benefit.

Consider the case of highly selective universities who admit some students with lower standardized testing scores relative to the whole student body. These policies can have a negative effect on future achievement, because these students are academically unprepared to compete with their peers. This can later contribute to employment gaps by pushing minority students into less rigorous and potentially less professionally useful college majors. Policies that place students in environments where they are likely to succeed academically may be one way to better address this disparity.

California might vote to give its health-insurance commissioner power to reject premium hikes. This is not the way to fix rate shock.

In November, California will vote on Proposition 45, a proposal that would give the state the power to veto premium changes by health-insurance company. Shockingly, Dave Jones, the insurance commissioner, supports the measure: “This is the missing piece of the Affordable Care Act,” he says. “Without health insurance rate regulation, we will continue to see excessive rates.”

But over 200 groups, including hospitals, small businesses, and labor unions oppose Proposition 45, noting that the measure would increase barriers to care by creating delays and raising costs.

But this approach to curbing costs has understandable popular appeal: Californians suffered huge premium increases when the ACA was implemented, and Consumer Watchdog released a report saying that 1 million Californian insurance policy holders paid $250 million dollars for unreasonable premium hikes in 2012. But insurers can’t hold down rates for free: If passed, Proposition 45 could add to the pressure that insurers are already feeling to shrink networks, raise deductibles, and lower benefits to cut costs — in other words, people will see more of the other effects of the ACA that they’ve already suffered from. The existing regulations and mandates are responsible for the price increases that Californians are upset about now, so it’s doubtful that piling on more regulations will get consumers better care at lower prices in the future.