To smooth a cliff – Smuggled into the covid-relief bill is an overdue fix for Obamacare | United States


WHEN DEMOCRATS enacted the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, they wanted to limit costs to keep moderates on board. Hence the ACA, which gives subsidies to people who do not get health insurance from their employer to buy it on government-run exchanges, restricts its benefits to people who earn less than four times the federal poverty line. For an individual, that currently comes to $51,520 a year. But in the partisan donnybrook surrounding the bill’s passage, little attention was paid to the fact that the benefits cut off at the margin rather than sloping down. Policy wonks consider such “subsidy cliffs” risky: they can incentivise people to earn less in order to safeguard their benefits.

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Eleven years later, Democrats have a chance to fix the problem. A covid-19 relief bill which the House aims to vote on this week would increase the ACA’s subsidies and extend them to anyone who would otherwise have to spend more than 8.5% of their income to buy a benchmark plan. Smoothing out the cliff this way, says the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a health think-tank, could help about 8m people.

The cliff is tallest for people aged 55-64, who face high premiums but are too young for Medicare (the universal health-insurance programme that kicks in at 65). Under the ACA’s rating system, a typical “silver plan” for a 60-year-old who earns $51,000 a year costs $417 a month with subsidies. If their income rises to $52,000 they lose the subsidies, so the cost jumps to $871 a month. Because many ACA beneficiaries are self-employed or part-timers, they have volatile incomes. Some accidentally exceed the eligibility limit and have to pay back thousands of dollars in credits.

All this undoubtedly leads some ACA beneficiaries to work less. Economists are unsure how many do so, but they agree that the cliff should be rubbled. “It’s one thing for the government to say if you lose income we’ll pay for it, but it’s another to say we’ll pay for you to destroy it,” says Casey Mulligan, a former chief economist of the Council of Economic Advisers under Donald Trump. Mr Mulligan’s research finds that other aspects of the ACA discourage work too, but other studies show that effect is small or negligible.

The House bill covers two years at an estimated cost of $34bn. In 2023 the subsidies cliff would return unless Congress ends it permanently. Besides fixing the cliff, the bill dramatically raises subsidies across the board. That would bring Obamacare closer to one of its original models: the Dutch system, where premiums are low ($160 a month for a good plan) partly because taxes cover most of the cost.

Some progressives argue that the ACA has not become more popular because it does too little for the middle class. The subsidy cliff seems to bear that out: the group hit hardest, older people in rural areas earning somewhat more than the median income, voted sharply against Democrats in 2016 and 2020. But Ron Kind, a Democratic member of the House’s health subcommittee whose Wisconsin district includes many such voters, calls that “a tenuous argument. It’s more about the culture war.” Democrats expect to pass the ACA reform along with the rest of their covid-19 relief, but they are not counting on Republican support.

See also: We are tracking the Biden administration’s progress in its first 100 days

This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the headline “To smooth a cliff”

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‘Cliff edge looms’ for renters when eviction moratorium, JobKeeper end in March


A group of performers who made headlines by dancing to 1980s hits in their front yard during lockdown are set to be ousted from their Melbourne share house.

Their removal could mark the beginning of a wave of evictions when JobKeeper and the Victorian eviction moratorium wind-up on March 28.

One of the Brunswick East tenants, Kimberley Twiner, is worried the group will not be able to find appropriate housing if they are forced to leave.

“We haven’t been successful in any of our rental applications,” she told ABC Radio Melbourne.

The Nicholson Street property, which Ms Twiner has rented for the past six years, was sold at auction for close to $1.5 million in October.

The real estate agent has applied to VCAT for possession of the property on behalf of the new owner. There will be a hearing in March.

“It was sold to a first home buyer who wants to live in the property,” said the head of property management at Nelson Alexander, Martin Sizer.

“We advised that to the tenants, and at the end of December at settlement we offered assistance to find them somewhere else to live.”

Mr Sizer admitted the performers could find it difficult to secure a similar rental without a stable income and said he could sympathise with Ms Twiner.

Mr Sizer said landlords across Melbourne were also in financial distress.

“They will be looking to us to provide good applications from tenants who can pay the rent,” he said.

The troupe, known as the Brunswick East Entertainment Festival (BEEF), are all full-time performers who have struggled to find paid work during the pandemic.

“It’s extremely depressing. It was so difficult for artists last year,” Ms Twiner said.

The four housemates are relying on JobKeeper and JobSeeker for income since the start of the pandemic.

Tenants Victoria are assisting BEEF and said they were not the only renters in trouble.

“This case is an example of how the cliff edge is looming for many renters as key pandemic protections for tenants, such as restrictions on evictions, fall away after March 28,” said Tenants Victoria CEO Jennifer Beveridge.

She said she was bracing for a surge of notices to vacate from March 29.

“This includes a legislative mechanism for VCAT to make decisions on ongoing COVID-related tenancy matters and consideration of extended financial supports for renters who are hurting from COVID-related loss of income.” 

Speaking to commercial radio in Adelaide on Monday, the Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said they were “considering what other support measures we can provide across the economy” when JobKeeper ends in March.

“We can’t keep a wage subsidy economy wide going forever,” Mr Frydenberg said.

“It prevents labour mobility, it prevents people moving between jobs, and it might be propping about businesses that are no longer sustainable.”

The Victorian government said it will continue to monitor vulnerable tenants when the eviction moratorium ends.

“The new residential tenancies reforms, which start on March 29, will provide ongoing support to renters,” a government spokesperson said.

“For example, a renter cannot be evicted unless the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) decides that it is reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances.”

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World’s highest camping experience is on the side of a 300 metre cliff in Australia


For campers ready to take the great outdoors to the next level, an overnight stay on the side of a sheer 300 metre cliff face in Mount Buffalo National Park has been launched and it’s just a four-hour drive from Melbourne.

In Australia’s first and the world’s highest cliff camping experience, guests abseil down to the portaledge on the north wall of Mount Buffalo Gorge for a three-course meal and overnight stay before waking to a spectacular sunrise, coffee and breakfast the next morning and an optional multi-pitch abseil to the valley floor.

Unleashed Unlimited’s Andrew Dawson, who founded the company with his brother, Howie, says that as young rock climbers in Australia they’d see images of people sleeping on portaledges on giant walls in places such as Yosemite and always wanted to know what it would be like.

When the pair started camping out on the cliff they found that the concept received a lot of attention from their non-climbing friends.

For Traveller Operated by Unleashed,  Beyond the Edge is Australia's first and the world's highest commercial portaledge cliff camping experience. This unique adventure experience includes a thrilling overnight stay on a portaledge suspended over a sheer 300 metre cliff face in the stunning Mount Buffalo gorge.

A three-course dinner and breakfast are served to portaledge campers.

“The reaction was usually polarised from something like either, ‘No way in hell I’d ever do that!’, or, ‘I’d absolutely love to give it a go!” Dawson says

He says Mount Buffalo is an ideal location for cliff camping due to the site’s relative ease of access in an experience that is designed to cater both to novices and experienced climbers.

“We get a mix of guests, some with climbing experience and some without and we train people up on all the roping skills they will need and make sure they’re totally comfortable with everything before they go down to the portaledge.”

He says guests are typically either a pair of good friends or siblings – there has also been a couple on a first date and a wedding proposal (she said yes).

Dawson says the experience is special as it combines a mix of adrenaline with peaceful time for reflection and contemplation.

“Excuse the pun but cliff camping combines these [qualities] in a way that allows guests to enjoy a heightened awareness of themselves and their surroundings.”

For Traveller Operated by Unleashed,  Beyond the Edge is Australia's first and the world's highest commercial portaledge cliff camping experience. This unique adventure experience includes a thrilling overnight stay on a portaledge suspended over a sheer 300 metre cliff face in the stunning Mount Buffalo gorge.

Guest enjoy spectacular, unhindered views.

Guides are at the portaledge to help guests settle in and are contactable at the top of the cliff the entire time if assistance is needed. And, in case you’re wondering, there are toilets at the top of the cliff and devices on the portaledge for guests to respond to the call of nature. .

The Beyond the Edge cliff camping experience runs from November to May and costs from $799 a person based on a two-person booking.

It includes instruction and supervision from two expert guides; a comprehensive training session, including multiple abseils and cliff ascents; dinner and breakfast and all safety equipment.

Phone (03) 9079 4600. See unleashed-unlimited.com.au



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Teenage boy critical after falling from cliff


It is alleged that when they reached the end of that road – a cul de sac – the boys dropped the motorcycles and jumped a fence barricading a cliff.

Beyond the cliff is a metres-long drop into Harold Park below. The officers were present when the boys went over the cliff.

One boy fell to the bottom of the cliff and has suffered serious injuries, according to a NSW Police statement. He was taken to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and is undergoing surgery.

The second boy suffered minor injuries after landing on a ledge and was also taken to hospital.

Police have declared it a critical incident, and an eastern beaches police area command team will investigate all circumstances surrounding the event.

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Data shows public transport usage has fallen off a cliff as COVID-19 cases grow in Sydney


Sydneysiders are keen to keep working from home, transport data suggests, as a small number of new COVID-19 infections continue to be linked to clusters around the city.

While trips on Sydney’s public transport network had shown signs of recovery — patronage in December was at the highest levels since March’s lockdowns — an ABC analysis of tap-on data shows it has since fallen off a cliff.

About 80,000 to 100,000 trips were taken during the peak morning and afternoon periods in Sydney on Monday, when many people returned to work after a summer break.

That’s less than half of the 200,000 to 250,000 trips on the corresponding day last year.

A total of about 1 million trips were taken on Monday, half that of the second Monday in January a year ago.

About 200,000 tap-ons were recorded in the Sydney CBD, compared with 500,000 a year ago.

The public health orders requiring employers to allow staff to work remotely were repealed on December 14.

On December 11, trips on Sydney’s public transport network — which includes buses, trains, light rail, ferries and metros — reached their highest level since the pandemic reached Australia in March.

About 1.4 million trips were taken each day in mid-December, still well below pre-pandemic averages of about 2.4 million a day in early March.

However, the first cases linked to the Avalon Cluster on Sydney’s northern beaches were revealed on December 16.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian yesterday said workers needed to use common sense if they were going to head back to the office.

“We don’t want to discourage any activity, so long as it is done in a COVID-safe way,” she said.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian encouraged workers in October to return to the office.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

She said mandatory masks on public transport were a “fourth line of defence” against the virus.

In October, when NSW had almost two weeks without any locally acquired COVID-19 cases, Ms Berejiklian encouraged the state’s public sector to return to offices.

Not a ‘fresh start to the new year’

AC3, an IT service provider, employs 285 people in Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland.

CEO Simon Xistouris said only 15 of the 242 staff who work in the company’s Pitt Street headquarters chose to go in to the office on Monday.

“I was quietly hoping that people would come back after Christmas, they would think, ‘OK, great, let’s start fresh in the new year, let’s start getting back into the office,,” he said.

“But yesterday and today, we haven’t seen that.”

Mr Xistouris said the company had a policy of enabling staff to work remotely during the pandemic, but in December, had encouraged people to come back to the office in the new year.

Up to Christmas, 84 per cent of the company’s staff were working from home.

He said regular staff surveys had shown that when asked why staff wanted to work at home, about 90 per cent had cited their concerns about using public transport.

Many of the AC3 workers have long commutes, including from Sydney’s northern beaches, and the Sutherland Shire.

“I think the recent cluster outbreaks in Berala and the northern beaches has shaken a few people,” he said.

“I think by and large, the largest reason for not coming to the office is the commute.

“People are worried and just don’t want to risk it.”

The Berala cluster now stands at 27, with another case reported yesterday.

Mr Xistouris said productivity had increased while people were working from home and the reason for encouraging staff back to the office was to protect their mental health.

“People are isolated, they are working in their own home,” he said.

“We’re seeing signs of people getting stressed out, burnt out, anxious, short tempered.”

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Tasmanian police say Victorian girl’s fatal cliff fall a ‘horrific’ end to family holiday


Police have described an 11-year-old Victorian girl’s fatal cliff fall at Tasmania’s Sand River Conservation Area as a “tragic” end to a family holiday.

Police say she was on a walking and rock climbing expedition with her siblings near Buckland, north-east of Hobart on Friday when she fell about 10 metres to her death.

In a statement last night police said: “CPR was administered but sadly the child died at the scene.”

“I believe the group were climbing but at that stage I am not sure what was happening, whether she was just walking and lost her footing that’s still a matter for the [coroner’s] report,” Acting Inspector Michael Foster said.

He said the girl was holidaying with siblings in Tasmania and her parents were in Victoria at the time of the accident.

Acting Inspector Michael Foster says a report is being prepared for the coroner.(ABC News: Fiona Blackwood)

Acting Inspector Foster said his thoughts were with the family.

Acting Inspector Foster said the area was a popular rock-climbing destination.

Rocky cliffs in bushland.
Cliffs at the Sand River Road Conservation Area near the Tasmanian East-Coast township of Buckland where a Victorian girl died after falling off a cliff(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Sand River has been known to rock climbers for the past three years and is described as having north-facing crags which are sheltered from the wind.

Police said they would like to speak to anyone who was in the area around the time of the incident to “assist in preparing a report for the coroner”.

Anyone with information is urged to call Tasmania Police on 131444.

The girl’s name has not been released.

A police car at the side of a dirt bush road
Police are continuing to investigate the girl’s death.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

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Victorian girl dies after cliff fall in Tasmania


A Victorian girl has died after a 10-metre fall from a clifftop in remote bushland north-east of Hobart in Tasmania.

The 11-year-old was holidaying from Victoria with siblings when the incident occurred just after 2.20pm on Friday.

A rescue helicopter and local police and ambulance emergency services were deployed to the Sand River Conservation Area in Buckland, which is not accessible by road.

“It appears the child was walking along the edge of the clifftop when she slipped and fell,” a Tasmania Police statement read.

CPR was administered on the girl, but she died from her injuries at the scene.

The child’s parents were not with the group, it is understood, but Tasmania Police said her parents were informed on Friday afternoon.

“Our thoughts are with her family and loved ones at this difficult time,” the statement read.

Sand River is a popular spot for climbers, with sandstone crags used for bouldering between 10 to 30 metres high.

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Victorian girl dies in cliff fall on Tasmanian coast



A young girl has died after falling 10 metres down a cliff in Tasmania’s south-east.

The girl was on holidays from Victoria with her siblings when she fell near Buckland around 2:20 Friday afternoon.

In a statement released on Friday night, Tasmania Police said “it appears the child was walking along the edge of the clifftop when she slipped and fell”.

“CPR was administered but sadly the child died at the scene.

“Her parents have now been formally informed. Our thoughts are with her family and loved ones at this difficult time.”

Police said they would like to speak to anyone who was in the area around the time of the incident to “assist in preparing a report for the coroner”.

Anyone with information is urged to call Tasmania Police on 131444.

The girl’s name and age has not been released.

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Man falls to death off Darwin Esplanade cliff



A man has died after falling from a cliff on the outskirts of Darwin’s CBD early this morning, Northern Territory police say.

Emergency services were called to the Darwin Esplanade at 4:00am after being told a person had fallen from the area.

A 29-year-old man was declared dead at the scene.

Some parts of the coastline along the esplanade have a sheer drop from a significant height, but sections are fenced off by railing.

The area is within walking distance from the CBD and the city’s nightlife precinct.

An NT Police spokesman said there was nothing to indicate suspicious circumstances or that the fall was a suicide.

“It is a timely reminder to everyone who visits the esplanade that the safety fences are there for a reason,” Superintendent Daniel Shean said.

“Please do not climb them and venture toward the cliff edge, especially at night when there is little to no light to assist in seeing where the edge is.”

Investigations are continuing and police will prepare a report for the coroner.



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Woman Nose-Dived 80 Meters From The Clifftop

Police Urge Tourists To Follow Safety Guidelines

A 38-year-old mother from Craigieburn, Rose Loomba, tripped over the edge of the Boroka Lookout in Halls Gap and nose-dived more than 80 meters down the cliff in front of her husband and child at about 3 pm last Saturday.

According to the police, Rose climbed past the safety barriers in a bid to pose on a “picture-perfect rock” for a photo, yet turned out that she fell to her death.

It is horrific as witnesses could hear the woman’s screams, yet her cries were powerless.

Police and the SES crews clambered the cliff face for six hours to retrieve the woman’s body, along with the participation of the rescue officers carrying the mother through the steep and rocky terrain.

On a statement by the tour guide, Graham Wood, he cited that he warned his customers of the risks in ignoring the safety barriers just 30 minutes before the tragedy. He told media, “This happens all the time and one of these days someone’s going to fall off.”

A Melbourne woman, Iman Kamarelddin told media that she visited the same lookout two hours earlier, climbing the barrier to take the same photo on the overhanging ledge. “I was devastated,” she said.

“I honestly broke down and I was just so thankful it wasn’t me,” admitting that she is among several others that had risked their lives and safety “just for the photos” and “just for the thrill of it”.

She then realized the importance of following the signs and urged everyone to be very cautious.

The viewing platform was back open to the public about 10 pm as one family made an agonising journey home, without their mother in the front seat.

Lisa Neville, Police Minister cited that no scenic photograph should cost someone’s life, imposing tourists to follow safety guidelines.

“We can’t rope off every part of Victoria. People have to take responsibility,” she said.