The real economic freedom in America

bo-inaug-2013

On Monday, Barack Obama delivered his second Inaugural Address. While the Right and the Left will argue over what was said there, here is the passage that I think embraces the struggle over not only “entitlements,” but of wages and unions, the dignity of work and the value of one’s life over another.

We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.

Systems that take care of our common needs free us to contribute more deeply. Teachers just want to teach, welders want weld. They do not want to be fighting their employers for job security, a livable wage or decent working conditions. That is why we need unions. The energy teachers spend fending off the barbarians nipping at their heels is energy that saps them from being outstanding teachers. Same with artists, poets, writers, musicians, journalists and philosophers. They just want to create, not worry and fight about making enough to make a living. When we rob them of their work, we rob ourselves of our own cultural advancement.

Doctors want to treat patients, not fill out forms, run small businesses and fight insurance companies. Every battle with an insurance agent robs us all of that doctor’s potential contribution to advancing health care to its exception.

Most of us will get old. Most of us will need medical care. All of us need education. When we free ourselves of that worry of how we will gain an education, survive our old age and our health, we free ourselves to live and contribute more deeply. This is not a liberal idea; this is a community idea. This is one area that our government can and should help us achieve.

It is not about cost. It is not about socialism. It is not about creating a nation of takers or Welfare Queens. It is about extracting excellence from citizens by freeing them from the anxiety of old age, student loan debt and bankruptcy due to ill health.

We should keep in mind that when the Founders drafted those documents Conservatives claw back to some almost two hundred fifty years ago, they were looking toward the future and seeing us as we are today. Perhaps we should honor them by looking forward to the country the United States of America will be in the next two hundred fifty years instead of pining to get back to the good ol’ days of the Founders.

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Why every private sector company should want single-payer, Medicare-for-all

Yesterday, I made a call to Verizon Wireless to cancel my MiFi card. At $59.99 per month for unlimited use, it was an expense I could live without. But I won’t be saving that money for long.

In March, I am expecting Anthem BCBS of Ohio to increase my health insurance premiums at least 20%. I still have to find about $100.00 in savings I am paying some other private-sector company to break even with where I am today. I may have to stop eating organic food.

I’m most definitely not buying an iPad Mini.

“Why are you canceling your MiFi service?” the woman on the other end asked me, expecting some service issue she could happily resolve with some equipment upgrade.

“Well, I am fixing to transfer some more wealth to the private insurance company, BCBS, that the good folks at the GOP are saying is my freedom of choice,” I explained. “You know, if we had single-payer, Medicare-for-all, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Pretty soon, the medical industry will have all the money we might be paying you.”

With incomes being flat and no sign of them rising, us middle-aged, middle-class folk will have to get the money from somewhere to pay for our medical care. The private-sector medical industry doesn’t show any slowing for their appetite for increasing costs.

If you are a private sector company, why are you not supporting single-payer, Medicare-for-all? In ten years when you wonder why your customers have no money, won’t you at least wonder why the medical services industry is the only growth industry?

Something to think about.

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Emergency rooms, magical thinking, and the poor

Emergency Room

To hear Mitt Romney (and many others) tell it, Emergency Rooms are the physical embodiment of Mother Theresa, treating indigents like Jesus treated the lepers. The great seas of health care are suddenly parted for the poor and ill, and outstanding bills just miraculously become absorbed into the ether of write-off’s and tax exemptions.

This type of magical health care thinking isn’t limited to multi-millionaire politicians. Many in the public also believe ER’s effectively fill the wide gap between sickness and insurance. It’s a fallacy that has become so engrained that its standard line — get sick, get treated by an ER, get the tab picked up by someone else — goes nearly undisputed by those on both the right and the left.

That’s simply not the way it works.

Setting aside the fact that ER’s are not mandated to treat what their doctors may consider a non-emergency — a subject which merits its own, separate discussion — many uninsured ER patients find themselves saddled with bills they can’t hope to pay. These bills are not just from the hospital, but from outside physicians, diagnostic services, and laboratories, none of whom are mandated to treat the indigent or uninsured for free.

Depending upon the state and the hospital, uninsured patients may meet with a hospital social worker who will have them fill out forms for state aid or other programs. There is no guarantee of approval, and even when someone does qualify, benefits may not extend to other services rendered in the course of care.

On a trip across the US, I spoke to several people in dire straights due to medical debt. One of them was a homeless man in his 30s. John M. was a single laborer who was working a temp job when he was hit with over $8,000 in medical bills for non-work related wound that had led to a staph infection. In the hospital, he met with a social worker who helped him apply for aid. Later, he received notice that he didn’t qualify due to his income and status as a single person. The bills started pouring in, not just from the hospital, but from doctors whose names he didn’t recognize and labs that had processed his tests.

When bills like John’s go unpaid, hospitals and other businesses may “write them off,” but contrary to what many people may believe, this does not mean that they disappear. Collection agencies buy such debts for pennies on the dollar and then may vigorously pursue the patient-debtor, through judgments, wage garnishments, and bank account liens. To add to the confusion, medical debts can be bought and sold many times over, involving an almost incomprehensible string of collection agencies.

Like many people with medical debt, John attempted to work with the collection agencies on a payment plan, but there were too many of them, each demanding that their bill take precedence. Desperate for relief, John went to an agency that specializes in helping debtors reach payment agreements and was told he didn’t make enough to carry the minimum monthly payment that would be required. At that point, John considered filing for bankruptcy, but he couldn’t afford the attorney’s fees.

Four years after his illness, with his credit ruined and with several court judgments against him, John’s low wages were garnished and he could no longer afford his rent. He applied for a second job as a cashier at a home goods store and was told that they’d run his credit report as a matter of practice. It was the same at other places he applied. While he was never told why he wasn’t hired, he suspected that his low score had something to do with the lack of call-backs, particularly since he’d never had such a problem finding a minimum wage job before.

John scrambled for a cheaper place to live, but none of them were cheap enough to make up for the loss of wages, and all of them required better credit than his. He was told he’d need a cosigner or a larger deposit, neither of which he had. Feeling he had no choice, John quit his job and found work with another temp agency, hoping to outrun his garnishment and at least catch up on his rent. Within two months, the collection agencies had found his new place of employment and set the wheels in motion to collect their pay. John was eventually evicted. Jobless, he lived out of his 14 year-old truck for a while, but then his truck died and he couldn’t afford repairs. He sold it for scrap so that he could eat. He showed up at the county day labor office every weekday, hoping to make enough money to rent a motel room. Sometimes there was work, sometimes there wasn’t. Sometimes he slept in shelters, but many times he slept in the streets. When winter got to be too much, he scraped together enough to take a bus to a warmer climate. When I met him, he was among many of Florida’s homeless and his prospects for crawling out of the hole were dimmer than ever.

Of course, not all stories are as extreme as John’s, but the fact that some are is a stark reminder of how easily a life can be unraveled, particularly when medical debt can bring a host of life-altering consequences.

Some people do end up qualifying for State programs, and there are some hospitals which have developed their own foundations to assist in care, but there’s no national uniformity to the system. While an uninsured person at one hospital may qualify to have their ER charges reduced or paid for by another entity, another person, at another hospital, may not.

In any case, medical debt is on the rise and collection agencies are becoming increasingly aggressive in pursuing debtors.

The Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that sponsors health care research, estimates that 22 million Americans were contacted by collection agencies for unpaid medical bills in 2005. That increased to 30 million Americans in 2010. – March 2012, USA Today

As the article in USA Today points out, credit may be wrecked even when medical debt is paid. Slow and late payments can stay on records for seven years, and as much as ten if there is a judgment involved. There is also a valid and growing concern that collection agencies are misusing the court system to have debtors thrown in jail, adding the element of warrants and jail time to people’s background checks which, like poor credit, may diminish their future employment and housing opportunities. Poverty by itself is a vicious cycle that is difficult to escape. Adding collections, garnishments, judgments, bad credit, and arrests to the list of obstacles can make it nearly impossible. In the bigger picture, it would seem to do more harm to our economy and social structure to keep people locked in the cycle of medical debt for years on end, rather than to offer them a real solution.

Despite receiving tax exemptions to care for the uninsured and poor, some hospitals have gone so far as to sue these patients for what they are owed. Others, as noted, turn their debts over to collection agencies. In the mix are the outside services which are not given the same exemptions, and which aren’t subject to the same guidelines.

The result of all of this is that both patients and the medical care industry are suffering, while collection agencies are growing richer. By 2007, the number of collection agents had doubled from the early 1990s, while industry revenue tripled to $15 billion (on $40 billion in collected debt).

So, no, emergency rooms are not the answer for America’s sick and uninsured. The illness that’s treated today should not result in years of financial consequences, which not only affects individuals, but society as a whole. To what end is a culture that binds people to medical debt in ways that may cost them their homes, jobs, and futures? To what end is a medical system that only increases the need for shelters, welfare, and other social services — while burdening the healthcare industry with millions of dollars in extra costs? An America that grows poverty is not as valuable as an America that grows potential. Anyone who would argue against that is as short-sighted as they are unreasonable.

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A calculation almost every American man over fifty has made in his head

There is one calculation that almost every American man over fifty* has made in his head that he will almost never admit to. The ones who have made it more than once and many times a year are the ones who have families and responsibilities who now find themselves at the scary end of a medical diagnosis and/or the threat or reality of unemployment.

That calculation is:

Am I worth more dead than alive?

….

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The naked truth about health insurance

Supreme Court Building

Supreme Court Building

The Supreme Court of the United States of America just listened to three days of argument as to whether or not the recent Affordable Care Act (ACA) is Constitutional. Central to the twenty-six States’ argument is that the Federal government can not compel its citizen to purchase something they they do want to buy.

Like these opponents of the ACA, I have a big problem with the Federal government telling me what I should and should not be buying. But I have an even bigger problem with my fellow citizens who insist on sucking out only the benefits of citizenship without shouldering any of the responsibilities. In short, we should never be at a juncture where the government is forced to make us play nice with each other.

What affects you, affects me. The United States of America is our community and we should never cede control to a government because we can’t figure out how to take care of each other.

Solve that problem and you have a small government.

But I digress.

What we are calling health insurance is not really insurance. It is just a way to pay for health care. Mandating citizens buy health insurance is not at all like forcing them to buy car insurance. Not buying health insurance is an act of denial by some that their bodies will not get sick or injured.

If we want to stick with an automobile metaphor, it is more like being in denial about changing your car’s oil and expecting it to run simply because the oil is healthy today. Ignoring your health care by pretending you will always be healthy only acknowledges you are healthy today but ignores the fact that your body wears over time. Like oil, some bodies break down faster than others. Sometimes, the oil pan gets punctured even when the driver is careful.

In other words, illness and injury are a certitude with a human body. It’s just a matter of when. No business worth a damn capitalizes based on certain loss.

The current health insurance market is unsustainable and the industry knows it. What nobody is saying is that the health insurance companies were unsuccessful at selling insurance to young, healthy people, so they lobbied to get this group covered — and paid for — by their parents. That took care of that group while Medicare takes care of the older group they didn’t want to cover. Now, the only the group left are middle-aged people who are getting fired left and right by employers, thereby getting dropped from coverage.

Individual plans? These are gawd awful expensive for anyone over 45 so most just drop coverage and pray they don’t get cancer or a heart attack. If the ACA is struck down, in ten years there will be nobody left to buy health insurance.

Insurance companies know this.

The ACA gives them 20-30 years to transition their business model. Without it, they probably have fewer than ten years before they will all be frantically merging, trying to pool assets and mitigate losses. The argument against the individual mandate is being driven by the very wealthy, the very healthy and the already Medicare-serviced. Selfish pack of idiots.

You just need to be paying attention halfway with half a brain to figure this out. It just is not that hard. The morality of providing health care or the constitutionality of forcing us to pay for something does not even need to be part of the argument.

The business model is simply unsustainable.

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A middle-aged, middle America impression of OccupyWallStreet

I’m a middle-aged mutt in this wasteland between the two coasts commonly known as Middle America. Most of the United States lives here, but we rarely — ok never — get asked about important things like politics and the economy. We are the gun-toting, Bible-banging, slack-jawed, under-educated, corn-fed, polyester-wearing yahoos that the liberal media like to make fun of and Wall Street dismisses.

That is a little harsh. Ok, fair enough. I’ve seen my neighbors in their natural habitat (Kroger during wine and cheese hour) so I get where you’re all coming from. But just because we are out here in your idea of Wastelands doesn’t mean we are any less important and informed as you are.

Try to keep up.

What I know by getting to middle-age
There never was a Middle Class in America. We only ever had two classes; the Rich and Those Who Expected to be Rich (ETBR). It is the American Carrot, that thing that gets dangled in front of us to keep all of us reaching for more. The Middle Class was always a nebulous scale of the lower Rich and the upper ETBR which ebbed and flowed depending on the economy at the time. The indicator of where you were was how much wealth you had relative to what others had.

Equity (or wealth if you want) is a very cold, harsh ledger. There are only two ways you can grow it; invest Liquidity or Time.

For example, if you buy a house, you can add equity only one of two ways: put more cash into the place to quickly reduce the amount of mortgage debt OR accept more mortgage debt and increase equity over time, holding your breath the entire time, hoping the equity will eventually exceed the amount of money you have put in. When the equity teeter-tots over to the asset column, you now have wealth. (Unless others around you get foreclosed on, but we’ll get to that.)

The same thing with those who financed a college degree. They expected that even though the degree cost more than most peoples’ houses, they would get a job and over time, not only pay off the loans but make more than the average salary. (They should have bought a calculator first)

It’s just not that complicated. Most people in the ETBR class have a whole lot more time than liquidity. They trade their time all day long for liquidity with wages, mortgages, three easy monthly payments, etc. The Rich class can choose liquidity or time, depending on the rate of return. A slow rate of return means they can use time. A fast rate of return, they use liquidity. The ETBR class does not really have that choice (or more accurately, the degree of choice is scaled depending on the ratio of liquidity to time one has.)

The lack of choice is mostly what pisses the ETBR off most. This generation thought they had time. They were wrong.

This “law of economics” is about as rock solid as the law of gravity. You can ignore it or deny it, but it is still going to affect you.

People without liquidity tried to accelerate time. People with some liquidity but — not enough — tried to expand the value of each liquid unit too fast. Eventually, the ETBR ran out out time before they had a firm grasp on equity and lost it all. When you are clinging to a rock face on a mountain by your fingertips, when you fall, you don’t just slip; you fall all the way down. It does not matter if you are ten feet up the mountain or ten feet from the summit. (Did you catch that? I equated laws of economics to gravity. Genius. I should be ruling the world by now. Roll your eyes if you got ’em.)

How this all ties into #OccupyWallStreet
I do not support Anonymous or Adbusters. I am not a big fan of the fist-pumping, kill Wall Street bankers rhetoric and other hippy crap like stuffing dollar bills in your mouth and marching like zombies. Sanctimonious hipsters with no life experience annoy me, too. It is unsettling to us out here that the OccupyWallStreet “non-leadership” has connections with these groups if only that they decide unilaterallty who is good and who is bad. I like steak, but the fifth “fact” in their Declaration gives me pause that reads, “PeTA is invited to join us.” All of a sudden, now my support for OccupyWallStreet means I support PeTA? Hell no!

Just because I lean to what this country defines as “left” does not mean I hang with the crazy-left. For the record, people claiming the right of human dignity is not a left-leaning principle. Groups that use terror tactics for good scare the hell out of me just as much as those who use them for evil. In the end game, “there is no good or evil; there is only power.

And she is very, very seductive.

To the middle-class middle America, if a group like Anonymous can target a big bad corporation, what is stopping them from concluding — unilaterally — a mom-and-pop business is supporting a big bad corporation (like Visa) for taking credit cards as payment? I understand how the affiliation is feeding Visa, but the rain nourishes the grass and weeds alike. It is incumbent upon groups like Anonymous to make sure the rain falls on the grass and not the weeds if they choose to pee all over my garden without my consent.

I believe the 1% are and have been exploiting their advantage of liquidity to enhance their fortunes. I also believe the 99% have been exploiting their victimization caused by their unwillingness to learn and adapt to the law of economics stated above.

Money finds the path of least resistance. It is what keeps corporations from innovating, what keeps individuals from having to make changes and politicians from reforming their cheating ways. As we used to say when I worked for The Man; cash hides a lot of sins. The only people entirely unaffected are those who are so rich they could not run out of money if they tried and those so poor they don’t have a hope of becoming a member of the ETBR ever in their lives. The rest are gaming the system in almost every way they know how.

I didn’t buy more house than I could afford nor did I refinance on the house equity I had to finance a non-asset like a college education or vacation. I did not take out or encourage my kids to take out huge student loans so they could attend a swanky out-of-state university. The social contract I had with you, the 99%, was that you would not purchase more than you could afford so that your house would not be foreclosed on or your kids would not be recklessly in debt. We were supposed to be in this together. Without your participation, colleges would not have been able to raise the tuition rates. Banks would not be offering 0% loans if nobody took them.

You broke that social contract by always needing more. I kept my end of the bargain.

I expect the 1% will work tirelessly to extract wealth from me until my last breath. But this much I know also about the 99%: They will not be there to help me guard the gate from the Barbarians. They will be busy guarding their own gates.

What I want
What I want most is my own space that is warm and free from the prying grasp of government tax departments, the whims of landlords, the perils of curable illness and disease or the selfish and short-sighted lust of those in power. Owning my own home is none of these things. Even if I were to get to pay the last payment of my mortgage to the bank, I could still lose my home if I could no longer pay the property tax the county continues to demand. Or lose my freedom due to the ever-increasing criminalization of poverty. Or suffer health problems that deplete the wealth I used a life-time of time to build.

The Barbarians will always be at the gate. This season’s Barbarians are the Wall Street bankers and politicians on the take. Next season, it could be drought and famine. The next could be the City of Englewood deciding that my house sits on a patch of land they want to turn into a park. Or Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield increasing my premiums 38% or denying a treatment they pre-approved. The list of Barbarians are endless.

As I move through middle-age and into old-age, I know that my ability and desire to fend off the Barbarians will become less and less while my desire and need for security and warmth will become more and more. I can already feel the fear and rage creep into my bones when some punk-kid behind me in traffic does that dodge-and-weave thing, trying to pass me as I am not speeding fast enough for him. I feel it in the deep sighs of a younger generation who mistake patience for inaction. I know it in my heart when young women no longer look at me with anything less than pity.

What fears me the most, though, is knowing I will not have enough time to build the wealth needed to construct a gate strong enough to keep the Barbarians at bay. I fear they will destroy me before it is my time to go.

*I don’t think the percentages are split 1%-99% but that is a heck of an effective way to market the movement. My use of the numbers are just a short-hand convenience; no more, no less.

You may find this interesting.
And this.
And this from @Karoli who started me thinking down this path, culminating in this here blog post. Blame her 🙂

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How not to do customer service in the medical industry

Last summer, I developed some neurological symptoms that are more of an annoyance than anything. So I did what any responsible person would do; researched everything on the Internet and diagnosed myself into the worst possible case scenario. When that failed to cure up my symptoms, I went to see my doctor. He sent me to a battery of tests which were only limited by the amount of money in my bank account.

He could not come up with a diagnosis. Nor could a local neurologist. So, he shrugged and said, “I think you need to go up to the Cleveland Clinic and see what they think.”

Wow! These guys can make paralyzed people walk! Certainly they would have an answer. Or at least a wild guess. Or even a stupid notion. After some calls to my insurance company, clinic, etc., assuring me that things would be covered, I scheduled a day to drive to Cleveland and get poked and prodded and such. Long story short, they ended the day with the same perplexed head-scratching and “We dunno” diagnosis that my doctor gave me.

“But we need to schedule you in about 4 months for some more testing because we think you still have some money left in the bank. Would that be ok?”

Sure, no problem. Until I got their bill.

It turns out my wonderful insurance company discovered that Cleveland was not merely a suburb of Dayton but a whole other city outside my treatment area. They would reimburse at a much, much lower rate than they said. Sorry. You understand.

I didn’t. What could I do?

Call the clinic. Perhaps they can help.

They couldn’t. Or rather, wouldn’t. 90 days, Mr Dogg. You must pay the balance in full within 90 days. “But you guys didn’t actually do anything!”

It is not like I didn’t have the money or was unwilling to pay. I have been paying them; just not at the rate they wanted me to. I even sent them two letters explaining my payment plan with no response. As we were both disappointed in the visit results, I felt that we at least owed it to each other to share in our disappointment, to learn from the experience and grow together. To my surprise, they did not share my point of view and have since sent me to a “goon squad” over the last few hundred dollars.

Bummer.

So, I called them this morning. Surely, they would see the folly of their mistake and call off the goons. Again, I was very, very wrong. I had forgotten for a brief moment that I was not their customer. My insurance company was their customer. How happy or disappointed I am was irrelevant to them.

I will pay them in full eventually. But instead of them this week, I will pay my landscaper. He has not disrespected me. Maybe I’ll pay them next week.

But this little story should not go without a lesson to be learned by the medical industry. After all, you guys will be getting more and more business from us as we all get older and need more care. Health insurance companies are kicking us off plans left and right, employers are jettisoning full-time people in favor of two part-timers they don’t have to pay benefits for and Congress is cutting Medicare. You should probably learn to handle us a little bit better, or at least with some more flexibility. Tightening the deadlines and being quick to send bills into collections rapidly is short-sighted at best. It is not a sustainable strategy.

And then you have folks like me who just shrug and say, “I was gonna pay them today, but I’ll just wait a bit longer.” In truth, if the Cleveland Clinic let me say my piece without being being hard-nose pricks, they would have had their money today. Bummer that, too.

So, with that goal of keeping us both in business, I have some feedback you may want to take to heart.

What you say:
We printed the payment terms on your statement.

What we hear:
You dumbass. Can’t you read the crap you put on your bill with edge-to-edge printing? It’s your fault you are in this mess. We told you 90 days, damn it. Did you think we were kidding? We are an unfeeling, inflexible cold-hearted corporation that needs money paid on time, you deadbeat.

What you say:
Would you like to talk to a supervisor?

What we hear:
I’m getting tired of talking to you and will give you to someone who has no heart and is immune to anything you have to say. He will be a bully to you and will belittle your concerns. At the end of the conversation, you will not only not get any concession from us, but you will feel like a worthless piece of crap.

What you say:
According to the terms of your contract…”

What we hear:
I have stopped listening to you a long time ago and think that you are just too stupid to even be able to read.

What you say:
I can adjust the terms, but I won’t.

What we hear:
I am an arrogant prick. I have power over you and I will wield it without mercy, you piece of crap.

After all is said and done, we all know you are a business. We know that you hold all the cards. We know you can wreck our hard-fought FICO Score with one keystroke. We do not need to be reminded that we are merely walking wallets to you. What we would like to believe is that we have a personal relationship with you, with our doctors. We want to believe you care about us as a whole person, not just our ability and willingness to pay.

If you can’t fix what ails us physically, can you give us that one little lie at least?

AFTERTHOUGHT
It occurs to me that the supervisor I spoke to this morning failed miserably at his job. He got so caught up in his own ego with proving me wrong that he forgot his primary job was to collect money for his employer, The Cleveland Clinic. It occurs to me also that I now have the upper hand in this arrangement as I and the collection agent are in a position to cost CC money they would have had to spend by working directly with me. The direct cost of ego is the fee the collection agency will charge CC. I wonder what sort of deal the collection agent will make with me? It’s now worth a phone call. Are stubborn, combative people in your customer service department costing your company money? Bet they are.

*I don’t mean to pick on the Cleveland Clinic specifically. They were just the organization in my experience. But they did hire some pretty heartless, unempathetic people in their patient financial department who could maybe use some sensitivity training. But, maybe it’s working for them. I won’t ever go there agin, but that should in no way affect your decision to see them if you want. In truth, all these hospitals are getting like that. I won’t go to one local hospital for services any more simply because they start the harassing calls on day 31. There is another hospital across town that waits at least until day 60 to start calling. And they are nicer people.

.

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Jumbo

There is an old joke that goes something like this:

I had a nightmare last night I ate a giant marshmallow. When I woke up, my pillow was gone.

Ok, settle down.

Your nightmare joke is now a reality. Meijers had pallets of these JUMBO marshmallows staged alongside the graham crackers and Hershey chocolate bars. Really, these things were grotesquely huge. I think it might be national S’mores week to coincide with Independence day. Nothing says freedom like… marshmallows?

Happy Fourth of July. How much more American can we get? Oh, about another 100 pounds per person, I would reckon.

Be a patriot and eat up.

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Crazy like a Weiner dog!

On May 24, 2011 Anthony Weiner rose to speak in the US House of Representatives on the issue of Medicare and was basically told to sit down and shut up by the GOP chair. You can watch the video here on C-SPAN Minute 5:13:40 (I love that site!)

It took me a few days to figure out what he is doing and he is either really dumb or just crazy; crazy like a weiner-dog.

I don’t believe Weiner sent a picture of his crotch on twitter nor do I believe he actually engineered this. But here is what I think occurred to him at some point.

“I can use this thing to suck the oxygen out of the news cycle for a few days. Shut me up, will you GOP? HA!”

So he goes out and says, “I didn’t do it,” “I’ve been hacked,” etc, etc. Then when asked directly if it was a photo of him or not, he drags the media through another cycle by specifically not denying it was him. He knows they will spend a day speculating on why he is being coy. Then, maybe he comes out and says, “Ok, ok, it is me. Sue me, I got a big wiener.” OR he denies it emphatically after the advice of his lawyer.

And the media will spin it up another day, speculating on why a Congressman would take a photo of his own crotch OR why he just didn’t come out and say it wasn’t him.

Clever. Three days minimum of clever.

Or I’m entirely wrong.

Either way, I still like how he fights back!

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The march upwards of health insurance costs

I did a quick exercise on my health insurance costs and assumed that I would be keeping the same policy over the next fifteen years until I make it to Medicare age. I looked over the increases over the past several years and they average 20% (just a hair over, but for the sake of clean math, let’s say 20%) over the previous year.

If we start at annual premiums at $5,760 and calculate that out at 20% increase over the previous year, we end up in 2026 at $88,744. Please, double check my math. I think that is way too high.

My increases in costs year over year per year are:
2011-2012: $1,152
2012-2013: $1,382
2013-2014: $1,659
2014-2015: $1,991
2015-2016: $2,389
2016-2017: $2,867
2017-2018: $3,440
2018-2019: $4,128
2019-2020: $4,953
2020-2021: $5,944
2021-2022: $7,133
2022-2023: $8,559
2023-2024: $10,271
2024-2025: $12,326
2025-2026: $14,791

In reality, I’m not going to pay $88K in health insurance premiums. I am going to search for another provider, maybe get a lower introductory rate the first year, then increase the deductible next year and squeeze that out for about 3-4 years before switching to another provider. But as there are only a few providers worth a damn in Ohio, I will either have to move or buy something that may or may not cover me. But I will pay substantially more and get far, far less than I am today.

In 2011 alone, I have spent more than $6,000 out of pocket in medical costs that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Ohio did not cover. I don’t know why; they just didn’t. So the true cost of me having insurance is the cost of premiums PLUS the out of pocket, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s stick to just premiums.

And I look at these increases which is real money I will pay to an insurance company for a guarantee that they may or may not authorize a medical procedure that they may or may not deem medically necessary. And after 2014, while they can’t kick me off the plan for a pre-existing condition I incurred last year, they can then increase my rates so that I can no longer afford the plan. In effect, they will kick me off the plan.

I think to myself: If my TAXES were to increase this much per year and I was guaranteed medical care coverage when I needed it, would this not be a better deal? We fight against a small tax increase to cover everyone in favor of paying a private insurance company obscene premiums for something that carries no promise of delivery.

Does anyone else do these calculations? Or do we just write the check, bury our heads and believe the common mythology of private insurance is better than a “Medicare for All” solution?

Somebody please, check my math. This is kinda nutty.

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You are a deadbeat piece of crap

help wanted cheap

When did the United States of America go from “shoot for the moon” to “circle the wagons?”

We appear to be on a race to become the sickest and dumbest of the developed nations where nothing is going to be possible. The enemy this time is not the Communists, Soviets or al-Qaeda. The enemy is your deadbeat neighbor who is sucking your hard-earned money out of the tax coffers to finance his lavish lifestyle. He is buying big-screen TVs with his unemployment checks and taking extravagant vacations with his Social Security checks. If he is a teacher, he is enriching his pension plan from your sweat and aching back. If he works for the government, he is an over-paid lazy bum who is the reason your health insurance plan at the plant stinks.

Do we really want armed police officers and firefighters hired by municipalities at bargain-basement prices? How stupid and ill-trained do you want the teacher to be teaching your children? Have we abandoned the notion altogether that good schools increase property values? We seem to accept the argument without question from the Right that the public employees need to lower their expectations of compensation and the value of work rather than the private sector workers increasing their expectations.

Smart people are being driven out of politics by zealots and bullies under the mis-guided notion that small government is good government. But a small government that enables corporations to rape the human resources unchecked for the sake of profit only is not a good small. Even small government must be balanced.

The secret to getting cheap labor appears to be convincing everyone that they are not worth the salary or benefits they are asking. From the Tea Party to the GOP to the media, the message appears to be consistent — human beings are just too darn expensive.

Break out the torches and pitch forks, folks. We are turning against each other and it isn’t a healthy debate.

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Where are the small businesses in all these economic recovery summits?

Mark_Zuckerberg 2008 SXSW

Apparently today, President Barack Obama will be meeting with Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook, Eric Schmidt from Google and Steve Jobs from Apple to discuss how the business community and government can work closer together.

Excuse me?

Apple, Google and Facebook are the business community? Where are all the small businesses that are supposed to be the backbone of this economic recovery? What could a 26-year old kid who built an empire of cards on a parasitic business model, a do-no-evil-but-dominate-the-world-anyway CEO who gutted newspapers and is about to topple the smart phone industry and a megalomaniacal evil genius possibly know about surviving and thriving in this economic disaster? That is like asking Eric Cartman to explain Phase II of the Underpants business or checking out eHow.com on becoming a multi-millionaire. (Hint: Step One; Start with a million dollars)

All Jobs cares about my business is he has sold me a Mac II, Mac IIvx, (2) Quadra 900s, (2) G3 towers, (3) iMacs in bondi blue, tangerine and grape, a Mac Mini and the latest iMac for the desktop, a Powerbook 170 and 165c, Powerbook G3 (Pismo and Lombard) (4) Powerbook 15″, (2) Powerbook 17″, (2) MacBookPro 13″ and a MacBookPro 17″, a MacAir 13″, (8) iPods, an iPad and (3) iPhones, a Newton, a MacPlus, 2 AppleTVs and 3 Imagewriters. All Zuck cares about my business is how many times I post to my blog, who reads it and how he can sell my data to anyone for the highest price. Eric Schmidt knows everything, down to the number of minutes all my employees take bathroom breaks, and I have no idea what he is doing with the data. I suspect not anything that will benefit my bottom line. But none of these guys really knows anything about building out a business in a down economy.

What President Obama really needs to do is assemble a group of middle-aged people who recently got fired and were scared sh*tless into starting their own companies just to avoid the bank taking their homes or their local church from casting them out for being shiftless, unemployed bums. Or a group of small manufacturers who had to mortgage their homes to make payroll when the banks called in their credit lines and lie awake nights wondering how to make the next payroll.

Get out of this bubble of big companies and ask us all out here how we are really surviving and thriving in this economic downturn. Ask us about the piles of forms we have to fill out every month just to stay in business. Ask us how the government can ease the strain of everyday worry on whether or not we are going to lose our health insurance before 2014 kicks in. Ask us not only about Federal regulations but State, County and Local ones as well (which, by the way, Mr. President, are much more onerous and closer to home than anything that comes out of Washington.)

Ask the small business owners who are making it through every day without giving up how they are doing it. I grant you, you will get a better picture of what doing business in America means much more accurately than meeting with the top “pop companies” of the moment.

Because for us, if we stumble, we’re not just losing a percentage point on our stock. When we stumble, we lose everything.

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The weak link in the “ObamaCare” argument

US District Court Judge Roger Vinson just handed the Democrats a victory with his ruling against the Affordable Care Act (ACA). So did Judge Henry Hudson of the Eastern District of Virginia with his ruling on the individual mandate earlier.

Stay with me folks. I haven’t jumped to the red side of the force.

The Democrats in the House should immediately draft a bill repealing the clause requiring every American to purchase health insurance. You are right, Mr. Speaker, the 111th Congress did indeed overstep its authority. Mea culpa, mea culpa. Here, let’s fix this thing.

The Republicans would have to vote for it in light of the recent rulings in their favor. It is their central argument against the ACA and the Democrats are willing to concede they are right. Then it goes to the Senate where the Democratically-controlled body would pass it and off to the president’s desk where he would sign it.

Why?

Without the individual mandate clause, insurance companies could not afford to be in the insurance business. All the other parts of the Act would remain intact, including covering pre-existing conditions, no life-time cap, etc, etc. Shareholders would bolt from the stock and the industry would collapse. That would leave the door open for a Medicare-for-All, single-payer system based on health rather than sickness, driving down the cost of care as there would be no third-party profit motive behind medical care. Hospitals would still get paid as would doctors and drug companies.

The only industry harmed would be the for-profit insurance industry. What value do they really have now anyway, other than being in the middle collecting and distributing payments? Besides, the Federal Government could hire them back as contractors to process the billings at about 1/10 their current staff levels. That is one thing they are really good at and it would be a shame to let that go to waste.

The more elite, well-funded insurance companies can set up shop to provide expensive health care in private clinics to an exclusive client base who don’t want to mingle with the common folk. Heavily taxed and regulated, of course.

The logic of group coverage is the larger the group, the cheaper the premiums. The Republicans use this argument to justify selling insurance across state lines, another point the Democrats could concede. What bigger group can you assemble in The United States than all 300 million citizens? And we already have a universal way of billing for and collecting premiums called the IRS.

But this won’t happen because the health insurance companies need the mandate more than the Democrats do. For the Republican state’s attorneys general who are bringing lawsuits against the ACA based on the Constitutional commerce clause, the argument is short-sighted. But they’ve already committed to the path. If they win in the US Supreme Court, the insurance industry loses and collapses. They will win every battle, but lose the war.

The health insurance industry will not let that happen.

If the Democrats thought a bit faster, they could put every Republican — especially the Tea Party-backed ones — in a very uncomfortable position of having to vote against the Individual Mandate Clause repeal.

That alone would make an exciting November 2012!

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Celebrate your win not your opponent’s loss

winningsoccer

Do you strive to win in an effort to push yourself to do the very best you can, with the expectation that your best will result in a win? Or do you focus your energy solely on defeating your opponent?

The difference is subtle, but changes purpose and meaning entirely.

I think the definition of good sportsmanship comes down to one statement: Celebrate your win, not your opponent’s loss. It works for sports, politics, business and life.

There is an old joke about two campers and a bear coming upon them in their campsite in the woods. One camper immediately starts putting on tennis shoes while the other starts running away, barefoot, yelling at the other camper to run fast or he’ll never outrun the bear. He shouts back, “Never mind the shoes. Run!” whereupon the other camper retorts, “I don’t need to outrun the bear; I just need to outrun you.” Many people choose to focus on outrunning their opponent. It is the easier of the two. You can see the goal as you only need to be slightly better than him.

There is a short-term upside to focusing merely on defeating your opponent. You will probably win a lot of races early on. But, you will never, ever, ever know how fast you can run. Or how far. In short, you will never be the very best you can be.

On the other hand, winners run past the first base as fast as they can. Winners follow the ball until it is either in the goal or out of play. Winners run past the finish line at top speed and winners keep selling even when they’ve made their monthly goal. Winning for these people is organic and happens regardless of what their opponents do. A win is always because the winner is able to outrun the bear, regardless of whether or not he has an opponent.

We’re seeing a lot of “defeat my opponent” strategy in politics today. Not a day goes by when I don’t get an email encouraging me to “defeat the health care bill.” Or some email encouraging me to “stop Obama” or make him a one-term president. Why not emails encouraging me to “embrace tort reform and tax code reform to enable cost-effective insurance plans?” “You lie!” is perhaps easier to shout as a mob. “Say NO!” takes less effort to write on a placard than reasons to support a point of view.

But when you live to win by defeating your opponent, there is no plan after that. After you win, what do you do now? You didn’t plan for anything after the win, only the win itself.

What bothers me most about the tea-baggers, right-wing media screamers like Limbaugh, Palin and Hannity and GOP today is not that they may be right in their opposition, but that they are spending more energy in screaming “NO!” for the sole purpose of defeating their opponent rather than in crafting a plan.

Their whole plan is to merely outrun the Democrats. As the bear dines on the Democrats, one by one, the bear will continue to be hungry and looking for food. And the GOP will have no one else to outrun but their own.

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If money were no object, here is what I would gift to you #letsblogoff

First, I would buy health care for everyone who was willing to take care of themselves. If you don’t have health, you have nothing. Then I would buy an education for everyone willing to learn. Educated people influence others around them to want to learn. Lastly, I would buy a home for anyone who is homeless and wanted one. Everyone should have some place to call home.

Then I would figure out how to save time in a bottle and give it to all the writers and artists who left works unfinished. The world is a poorer place without artists and the art they create. Most often, they just need more time.

And I would create bottles of compassion, wisdom and patience to give freely to those who need each. Because there is no such thing as a self-made man and those who think they are need to be reminded from time to time.

Happy Holidays from Rufus, Sallie, Charlie and our intern Zoey. We wish you and yours lots of cold noses and many long, pointless walks.

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about “if money were no object, what would you gift.” To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

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