Time: D H M S

Grab 'em by the Pi: In which the Trump administration channels the 1897 Indiana state legislature.

In 1897, the Indiana state House passed a bill which would have attempted to legally defined the value of π (Pi) as 3.2. Yes, I'm quite serious:

Any high school geometry student worth his or her protractor knows that pi is an irrational number, but if you’ve got to approximate the famed ratio, 3.14 will work in a pinch. That wasn’t so much the case in late-19th-century Indiana, though. That’s when the state’s legislators tried to pass a bill that legally defined the value of pi as 3.2.

The very notion of legislatively changing a mathematical constant sounds so crazy that it just has to be an urban legend, right? Nope. As unbelievable as it sounds, a bill that would have effectively redefined pi as 3.2 came up before the Indiana legislature in 1897.

The story of the “Indiana pi bill” starts with Edward J. Goodwin, a Solitude, Indiana, physician who spent his free time dabbling in mathematics. Goodwin’s pet obsession was an old problem known as squaring the circle. Since ancient times, mathematicians had theorized that there must be some way to calculate the area of a circle using only a compass and a straightedge. Mathematicians thought that with the help of these tools, they could construct a square that had the exact same area as the circle. Then all one would need to do to find the area of the circle was calculate the area of the square, a simple task.

...To anyone who passed the aforementioned high school geometry class, this bill was patently absurd. Apparently Indiana legislators weren’t a pack of math whizzes, though. After the bill bounced around between committees, the Committee on Education finally sent it out for a vote, and the bill passed the House unanimously. No, not a single one of Indiana’s 67 House members raised an eyebrow at a proof that effectively redefined pi as 3.2.

Luckily the state’s senators had a bit more numerical acumen. Well, some of them did. Eventually. After sailing through the House, the bill first went to the Senate’s Committee on Temperance, which also recommended that it pass. By this point, news of Indiana attempting to legislate a new value of pi and endorse an airtight solution to an unsolvable math problem had become national news, and papers all over the country were mocking the legislature’s questionable calculations.

In the end, the bill failed and has been an amusing footnote in history about the futility of trying to legislate physics.

Anyway, I couldn't help but think of that story when I read this moments ago:

With the congressional debate over repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act likely to drag out for some time, the Trump administration is considering using its executive authority to tweak some of the law’s rules for insurers.

...HHS has already submitted a proposal of new rules to OMB. And while officials have not said publicly what’s in that proposal, industry consultants and lobbyists told The Huffington Post that HHS has been considering the following three changes, among others:

1. Insurers would have more leeway to vary prices by age, so that premiums for the oldest customers could be 3.49 times as large as those for younger customers. Today, premiums for the old can be only three times as high as premiums for the young, which is what the Affordable Care Act stipulates. According to sources privy to HHS discussions with insurers, officials would argue that since 3.49 “rounds down” to three, the change would still comply with the statute.

2. People who want to apply for coverage mid-year, outside of open enrollment, would have to provide documentation of a qualifying life change ― such as a divorce or lost job ― before coverage begins. Presently, insurance kicks in for such people right away, as soon as they apply for it, subject to verification afterward.

3. Insurers could cut off coverage for people who are more than 30 days late on premiums. Presently, lower- and middle-income consumers who qualify for the law’s tax credits get a 90-day grace period.

I don't necessarily have a problem with the 2nd and 3rd change, to be honest...I've actually argued in favor of both of these (or at least in favor of discussing them) in the past.

However, that first one is a hoot.

Thankfully, Nicholas Bagley has already responded:

Then there are the legal questions. Nicholas Bagley, a University of Michigan law professor who has studied the Affordable Care Act as closely as anybody, told HuffPost he’s skeptical the courts would endorse the argument about increasing age rating, since the statute very explicitly limits the age band ratio to three.

”If I told you not to sell something for more than $3.00, and you went ahead and sold it for $3.49, then you’ve disregarded my instruction,” Bagley explained. “It doesn’t matter if it rounds to $3.00. It’s more than $3.00.”

How about $3.14 instead?