Weekend open thread: Numbers games

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Congratulations to Hawkeyes and commiserations to Cyclones over the outcome of yesterday’s big game. Not being a football fan, I can’t remember how many years it’s been since I watched Iowa play Iowa State. The last time I focused on the Cy-Hawk game was in 2013, when Iowa running back Mark Weisman’s decision to play on Yom Kippur (the most important Jewish holiday) was a big topic of conversation for central Iowa Jews.

The hoopla surrounding yesterday’s game reminded me of a good commentary by “Civic Skinny” in the Des Moines-based weekly Cityview last month. Skinny called attention to how rapidly athletic budgets have grown at Iowa and Iowa State in recent years, and how the athletic departments “continue to find ways to spend” the extra money, “without shipping any to the libraries or the English departments or any other academic endeavors at the two big universities.” I would bet few Iowans know that for many years, Iowa and Iowa State “regularly subsidized the athletic departments with money from the general fund.” I recommend clicking through for all the data in the original piece; excerpts are after the jump.

For two days, the Des Moines Register reported the Des Moines School Board District 1 race as “too close to call,” but Shane Schulte finally conceded to Heather Anderson on Friday. Schulte had earlier indicated plans to seek a recount, but truthfully, the race was never too close to call. When all the precincts reported on election night, Anderson led by 36 votes out of a little more than 2,500 ballots cast. The next day, her lead in unofficial returns grew to 46 votes. That’s a close election, but not close enough for a recount to have a realistic prospect of changing the outcome. Recounts of two Iowa Senate races in 2010 did not overturn Mark Chelgren’s twelve-vote lead out of more than 19,000 ballots cast or Tod Bowman’s 70-vote lead out of nearly 20,000 ballots cast. Two years later, Republican leads of fewer than two dozen votes in Chris Hagenow’s Iowa House race and Mike Breitbach’s Iowa Senate race both held up after recounts of roughly 17,500 ballots and 30,000 ballots, respectively.

Ever since the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010, conservative pundits and Republican politicians have predicted that “Obamacare” would force many businesses to drop health insurance coverage for their employees. This week, the Des Moines Register’s Tony Leys covered the latest data on employer-provided insurance in Iowa. The Clive-based David P. Lind Benchmark research firm surveyed 1,001 employers and found that only 1 percent (mostly “companies with fewer than 10 employees”) stopped offering health insurance coverage this year. The cost of insuring employees in 2015 increased by an average of 7.7 percent, up from the 6.8 percent increase in 2014 but “significantly lower” than typical price hikes “Iowa employers faced a decade or more ago.” Michael Ralston, who leads the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, told Leys “he heard more complaints about insurance costs years ago, when employers’ health insurance prices were rising at more than double the current clip. He still hears grumbling about the complex requirements of the Affordable Care Act, but not as often as in the years after it passed in 2010.” Scroll to the end of this post for more excerpts from Leys’s report.  

From Civic Skinny’s column in the August 5 edition of Cityview:

At the University of Iowa, the athletic budget for this academic year has jumped to more than $93 million from about $70 million five years ago, an increase of 32 percent. The general education budget at the university has gone up 19.1 percent. At Iowa State, the athletic budget has soared to $70 million, up from $41.6 million five years ago. That’s a jump of 68 percent. The general-education budget at Iowa State has gone up 35 percent in that time. […]

The huge increases are almost entirely from Big 10 and Big 12 television deals and bowl money, which is shared among all teams whether they go to a bowl or not. […]

Until the television money started flooding the two schools, the universities regularly subsidized the athletic departments with money from the general fund – from tuition dollars or state appropriations. It’s hard to calculate the exact subsidy – it depends on how you figure the value of scholarships, among other things – but the checks were running between $2 million and $3 million a year. Ten years ago, for instance, the University of Iowa athletic department received about $1.7 million in university support, 3.6 percent of its sports budget, and Iowa State received $2.8 million, 10 percent of its sports budget.

But as the new money came in, the athletic departments found new ways to spend it, making sure that expenses magically equaled the ever-rising revenue numbers. The universities, which always say they are strapped for money, never demanded to be repaid for all the money fronted for decades, and the athletic departments never offered.

Rather, they raised salaries, built and expanded facilities and added to their bureaucracies.

From Tony Leys’s report for the September 8 Des Moines Register, “Iowa employers’ health insurance costs jump 7.7 percent”:

On average, Iowa employers faced 7.7 percent price increases for 2015 health insurance coverage for their workers, according to the study from the David P. Lind Benchmark research firm. Just 1 percent of employers said they dropped coverage this year. Most of those were companies with fewer than 10 employees.

David Lind, owner of the Clive firm that does the annual study, noted that many employers were able to tamp down the increased premiums by altering the insurance policies they purchase. For example, many continued to increase the deductible amounts employees must pay toward their medical bills before the insurance kicks in. For single coverage, the average annual deductible rose 18 percent to $1,662. For family coverage, the average annual deductible rose 12 percent to $3,381.

Although this year’s price increases were a bit higher than 2014’s 6.8 percent, they were significantly lower than what Iowa employers faced a decade or more ago. For example, in 2002, Iowa employers faced an average premium increase of nearly 19 percent, Lind’s survey shows. […]

Lind’s survey of 1,001 employers is considered one of the best measures of health insurance issues facing Iowa companies.

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