Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bright Lights, Odd Double Standards

Well, it seems that I've no sooner put the campaign season behind me than the holiday season has me by the throat.

One way I can tell the two apart: The campaign season was full of (mostly unexamined) attacks on government while the holiday season is full of (mostly unexamined) praise for all the good that churches do for people.

There is, of course, some overlap. Ohio's incoming Republican governor, John Kasich - a man who made a fortune with Lehman Brothers and Fox News and released a pro-gOd book during his recent campaign - continues to make noises that basically boil down to "Government can't do anything right; business can't do anything wrong; privatization of government services is the answer to all our problems!" But by and large it's the annual Christian-donation-of-turkeys-to-the-poor stories that will predominate until January.

Of course this ticks me off. Government does far more good than churches ever have, yet it's the churches that get credit for every little good thing they do while government gets hammered for every little alleged mistake. It's a ridiculous double standard and I'm sick of it.

This was brought into focus yet again recently when my local paper (The Columbus Dispatch) ran a front page story on Nov 14 about Ohio's Medicaid program.

Medicaid is the state of Ohio's biggest expense ($15.4 billion), with about 40% of the entire state budget devoted to it. More than 20% of Ohioans benefit; most of them are children, or pregnant women, or elderly, or disabled - our most vulnerable citizens.

And here's the part of the article that really caught my eye: Only 3.1% of Ohio's Medicaid budget goes to administrative costs.

I was stunned. Could it *really* be that low?

I asked my S.O. to guess what those costs might be. She said 50%. Just the sort of answer you might expect after exposure to several decades of harsh, anti-government rhetoric from an endless series of talking heads on TV.

Checking online for some confirmation or refutation of that 3.1% figure, I found this from the American Academy of Family Physicians:

Medicaid Administrative Costs (MACs) are among the lowest of any health care payer in the country. MACs are significantly less than private health insurance plans; typically in the range of four to six percent of claims paid. By comparison, a health maintenance organization (HMO) with administrative costs of eight to twelve percent of claims paid would be regarded as efficient and a well-run commercial health insurer typically would have administrative costs of 15 to 20 percent of claims paid. No insurer has more limited administrative costs than Medicaid. Researchers at Harvard found that 31 cents of every dollar spent on health care in the United States pays administrative costs (nearly double the rate in Canada, by contrast).

That's a few years old and may or may not be accurate. Coupled with the Dispatch's figure, however, it should at least be enough to wipe at least a bit of the angry smirk off the faces of those Tea Party supporters who think private insurance companies and for-profit medical centers are intrinsically superior to state-run social programs.

As for explicitly Christian and other theist-run programs, I turned to the Charity Navigator website for enlightenment.

Here's some of what I found out:

----- Catholic Charities USA spends 9.6% of its budget on administrative costs - and another 5% on fundraising. Its three top people each draw a salary of more than $150,000 a year. (Ohio's governor gets about $145,000 a year.)

----- Christian Life Resources spends 22.2% on administrative costs - and another 13.3% on fundraising. The head guy's salary takes 4.3% of the total budget - which would be like paying the head of Ohio's Medicaid department about $675 million a year.

----- Activated Ministries devotes more than half its budget to fundraising even though its mission statement proclaims that it exists to help those in need.

----- Bethesda Lutheran Communities devotes 13% to administrative costs - and apparently continues to pay its former president/CEO more than $330,000 a year.

----- The Jewish Foundation for Group Homes devotes 10.5% to administrative costs. Its CEO makes more than $150,000 a year.

----- Episcopal Relief and Development devotes 4.5% to administrative expenses and another 8.7% to fundraising. Its president is paid $219,000 a year.

----- Atlanta Habitat For Humanity devotes 4.8% of its budget to administrative costs and another 5.9% to fundraising. Its executive director makes nearly $170,000 a year (which amounts to 1.58% of the total budget).

I picked those more or less at random. Feel free to check out similar organizations for yourself. If you find any that are being run as efficiently as Ohio's Medicaid program, please be sure to let me know.

NOTE: I tried to look up one of the most famous Christian charities at the Charity Navigator website. Here's the interesting message I got in response:

"We don't evaluate The Salvation Army. Why not? Many religious organizations are exempt under Internal Revenue Code from filing the Form 990. As a result, we lack sufficient data to evaluate their financial health."

Well, isn't that special? Apparently religious-run organizations aren't merely less efficient than many people know - they're less efficient than many people *can* know.

And for what it's worth, many secular organizations also seem to be doing worse than state-run agencies.

The American Red Cross devotes 4.4% of its budget to administrative costs and 3.6% to fundraising. Not too bad, in the grand scheme of things, I suppose - but I still find it difficult to reach into my wallet for them when at least three of its top administrators are being paid over $440,000 a year. (President Obama is paid $400,000.)

Note, too, that Oxfam America is described as "an international relief and development organization that creates lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and injustice" - yet 20% of its budget goes to administrative costs and fundraising. And its president is paid $311,000 a year....

Which must leave the head of United Way Worldwide sadly shaking his head. He, after all, gets nearly a million dollars a year. (That's 1.7% of the entire budget. Or the equivalent of paying Obama more than $50 billion a year - i.e., more than Bill Gates's total net worth.)

Just a few of the things you might casually mention to John Kasich and his pro-gOd, anti-government buddies when you run into them at the annual Christmas party.


  1. Ah, but the principle of Christian Exceptionalism exempts most of the organizations you mention from the same level of scrutiny that amoral Government and Communistic organizations deserve.
    Did you see this in your Columbus Dispatch?
    American Exceptionalism is a principle giving Americans the moral authority to rule the world and make decisions for everybody else like whose regimes should be changed.
    Gnewt and Sarah are really banging on Obama about it. They say it's our founding principles that make America great and give us these prerogatives, but how can the idea that, "All men are created equal," possibly be construed to mean we are better than everybody else?
    No. What they obviously believe is we inherit that authority from our Founder's Christianity. To them American Exceptionalism is Christian Exceptionalism. What else could it be?
    Somebody even put this idea into Sarah Palin's new book. Probably Gnewt. Her book condemns Obama for saying, "Brits consider Britain exceptional and Greeks consider Greece exceptional, too." She compares that to playing soccer without keeping score so the inferior kids don't get their feelings hurt.
    When people like Gnewt and Sarah say, "American Exceptionalism," it's obvious they mean Christian Exceptionalism.
    And when they say Obama doesn't believe in it fervently enough (see the article for quotes) they are casting him out as a Muslim or an African and not "American" enough, which is to say Christian enough.
    Christian Exceptionalism is why it's immoral for you to cast aspersions on church groups trying to help, unless they are Muslim. Christian groups are superior and above reproach because of their beliefs, not their actions. Jewish charities are OK with these same people because they believe the Jews are going to help bring about Armaggedon in the Mideast in fulfillment of Scripture and bring back Jesus to smite evil doers like you who try to keep religion out of government.
    I'll stop now.

  2. http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-rutten-gay-hate-20101201,0,6482418.column
    More Christian Exceptionalism.