Category Archives: A Nerdy View of the Real World

Believe it or not, there are other important things in the world beyond IT!

Goodbye, Mario Cuomo

Mario Cuomo at WAMC

Mario Cuomo died yesterday. In many ways, he’s already been forgotten, eclipsed by the tumultuous 20 years since he left office, and by the daily attention garnered by his son, current governor Andrew Cuomo. For me, though, Mario was the politician I’ve most admired in 50 years of paying attention to politics and government. My recurring pipe dream was sitting down with him for a one-to-one conversation on politics and societal obligation. Fortunately, I and others could get that by proxy by listening to his conversations with Alan Chartock on WAMC radio’s weekly “Capitol Connection”.

No governor before, and especially since, has ever spent so much time talking directly to his constituents, articulately defending his liberal, compassionate view of government’s role in society. He was also the only governor to appear on a regular call-in show, on WCBS radio. In today’s high stakes image contests and “Gotcha!” attacks, unscripted appearances can be politically fatal. Mario Cuomo obviously never worried about that.

As governor during New York’s problem-filled era of 1983-1994 (crack, AIDS, crime, homelessness) he dealt with a very difficult financial and political environment. He had many notable, but not well known, policy successes, but times were hard and choices were hard. His initiatives were often stymied, from both sides of the aisle, by New York’s famously fractious, corrupt, and self serving legislators.

I always saw Mario Cuomo as the smartest politician in the room. Whether you agreed with his position or not, he always made an intelligent, persuasive case for it. He cared about people, and never appeared to succumb to the temptation of personal power — a true public servant.

During his final campaign, for a fourth term in 1994, I was amazed at the opposition he engendered from those he was looking out for. I remember hearing him savaged by a variety of State University of New York (SUNY) faculty and staff for insufficient support of higher education. He lost re-election to George Pataki — in my opinion a bland political lightweight who ran his campaigns far better than his governorship. Pataki really did a number on the SUNY system, and I had periodic opportunities over his two terms to ask my SUNY friends if they weren’t now nostalgic about the Mario Cuomo era.

Cuomo’s major abdication of his service to the American public was refusing to let Bill Clinton appoint him to the Supreme Court. His compassion, intelligence, legal acumen, and eloquence would have made him one of the great justices in what has turned out to be a sadly doctrinaire and politicized institution. I can’t blame anyone for deciding not to run for President, but I was disappointed that he didn’t see the Court as his post-governorship civic duty.

The era of the liberal, passionate defender of government as society’s expression of its desires and principles is in decline these days. Certainly, Governor Andrew Cuomo is almost nothing like his father. Eventually, the pendulum will swing away from bought and paid for government to an institution attempting to implement broader, more inclusive societal goals — I hope.

In the meantime, I’ll miss you, Mario.

by John Gunther

New York Times obituary:

“Secret” benefit of the Affordable Care Act

As crazy as the content and history and implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are, it’s a very valuable law that will save lives and family finances. It’s easy for many to disdain because it doesn’t heavily affect most people in the US. It’s targeted mainly to help those who have been left out of the 70-year old employment-based health care system — you know, the one where when you lose your job, health care becomes capricious and/or unaffordable. In addition to the aspects that benefit everyone without job-related care, ACA will give extra help to the many, many people who earn up to 4 times the Federal Poverty Level, thus reaching deep into the lower earning, hard working families who can’t afford adequate medical care.

I just discovered a major but inexplicably unpublicized benefit of ACA that applies to every family who estimates their Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) during a plan year won’t exceed 2.5 times the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), i.e. the large, important group who earn OK, but for whom every dollar is crucial.

On top of the insurance premium subsidy everyone’s aware of, this group is entitled to Cost Sharing Subsidies that substantially reduce the plan’s out of pocket costs, too! You have to make the right choices to get it and, on the NYS exchange for example, it’s not even mentioned. So even those who have chosen a plan may want to use the 90-day grace period to switch if it saves them money.

Incidentally, the MAGI definition — crucial to ACA eligibility — allows some very valuable income deductions that let you lower your effective income, which might make you eligible for a better deal.

This law, like any massive and complex legislation, needs a lot of fine tuning and error correction, but that won’t happen as long as Republicans are intent on making it fail. Keep in mind that even the inexcusable website problems were only so important and damaging because so many state governments refused to set up their own online exchanges, as part of their vicious campaign to torpedo the whole ACA before it got off the ground.

Since many people don’t realize their MAGI might be below 250% FPL, here are the figures:

Household Size 250% of 2013 FPL
1 $28,725
2 $38,775
3 $48,825
4 $58,875
Each additional Add $7,050