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.

.

Is this thing on?

Flag primping before a press conference

Flag primping before a press conference

In a word, yes. This thing is always on.

The photo to the right was tweeted out by Jim Long who is a “veteran, Washington, DC based, network news cameraman currently working for one of the original three broadcasters” (@newmediajim) He frequently sends out photos of the stuff that happens behind the scenes while waiting for news conferences, set ups, stuff like that. Anyone who has ever worked behind the camera knows that those blocks of time are tedious beyond tolerance.

I appreciate the glimpses. And the Foursquare checkins with bagels and coffee, but that is an entirely different addiction. He assures me he is seeking professional help.

What was striking about the photo is the flags that will be seen by the television viewing public all puffed up and patriotic behind whomever is speaking in the next hour or so were unceremoniously carried into the room in a bucket, like something one would shlep to a beer party on the beach. To the people setting up the room, the bucket ‘o flags was secondary to the actual staged set.

Only it wasn’t because this thing was on.

And now every time I see flags puffed up behind a Washington DC news conference, I will see the bucket ‘o flags. Chances are, you will too.

The “behind the scenes” has become part of the show. FootnoteTV wrote this post about creativity and how seeing the puppet master destroys the puppet show (my paraphrasing.) I do this all the time with literature and unsuspecting writers like Saxon Henry (@saxonhenry) by digging into why a story ticks and then trying unsuccessfully to stuff all the pieces back together. It gets rebuilt, but like taking apart a finely crafted clock to see how it ticks and then putting it back together, the chimes never quite sound as rich.

I guess my point is — if I have to admit to one — is the set up of the stage is now also part of the show. For the flag set up, the staff should construct a special box where the flags are carried in with ceremony, and assembled and puffed up* as part of the production. And then when the press conference is over, the same ceremony gets performed again in reverse. Everything that happens on this side of the door should be assumed to be on camera.

This thing is on. Always.

*Ok, gonna spoil it even more. The flags are fluffed and filled out by forming and placing wire hangers in the flags. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

.

Me and the Wall Street Journal finally broke up

I have had a long-standing relationship with the Wall Street Journal. We’ve been through my business career together, traveled the country hand-in-hand and kept each other company in many lonely airport lounges when flights were delayed or during long layovers. I could always find a story I had not explored fully in her ample pages.

She was the third newspaper I ever read. The Saint Paul Pioneer Press was the first, the Dispatch was the second. They got merged in the mid ’80s and it got a bit awkward, as these things usually do. So, I picked up the Wall Street Journal just in case… well, you know.

And the Journal did some good reporting from a capitalist point of view. They didn’t wade too far afield into politics, knowing that both Democrats and Republicans were equally capitalistic. Both believed in making money regardless of their politics.

But when Rupert Murdock bought the Journal in 2007, I was skeptical but hopeful that the newspaper could maintain its reporting above the fray of politics and focus on stories as it pertained to business, reporting the political climate but not taking sides or laying blame.

My friends tried to warn me I would get my heart stomped on, but I remained loyal. Good business operates in any environment. Good businesspeople know this as David Rich points out in his blog post today. There are no “bad environments,” just bad business people who can’t see the upside.

Mr. Murdoch told the Bancrofts that ‘any interference — or even hint of interference — would break the trust that exists between the paper and its readers, something I am unwilling to countenance.’ … Mr. Murdoch and the Bancrofts agreed on standards modeled on the longstanding Dow Jones Code of Conduct.

In the ensuing years, I noticed slight changes in editorial word use as more and more “adjectives” entered the stories. As the health care debate ramped up, the Journal broke with AP style and started referring to the Affordable Care Act as “Obamacare.” All sorts of red flags started rising.

But the stories were still compelling enough to continue reading as I categorically ignored the editorial pages and OpEd pieces by Karl Rove and his ilk.

Last Tuesday, the Journal ran a story on the state of college education in India. Several paragraphs into the story, they printed this:

India’s economic expansion was supposed to create opportunities for millions to rise out of poverty, get an education and land good jobs. But as India liberalized its economy starting in 1991 after decades of socialism, it failed to reform its heavily regulated education system. Business executives say schools are hampered by overbearing bureaucracy and a focus on rote learning rather than critical thinking and comprehension.

Subtle, until you recognized the general environment of the country. In Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida and other states the Republican governors were waging a war on education, demonizing teachers as bureaucrats and the public school system as “heavily regulated.” Across the country, the Tea Party stirred up hate against President Obama by calling him a socialist. The Republicans joined the chant and FOX News amplified the drum beats.

Any good copyeditor would have struck those lines out in her sleep. I assume the editors at the Journal are not stupid nor careless, so the editorial comments in the story and the inference that the United States will be in the same state as India given our current “socialist” political climate were intentional, making the Journal reckless, incendiary and irresponsible. According to its point of view, to be a capitalist in the United States is to also be a social conservative, aligned with the ideological positions of the GOP and Tea Party.

That was too much to swallow.

It is one thing to take an editorial position on the Editorial pages, but it is quite another to weave your political views throughout the stories. It was skillfully done, but done nonetheless. I suppose the average reader would not have picked up the reference as readily as someone who has worked at a newspaper and has an APStylebook resting on the corner of his desk. As the discriminating readers leave quietly, one by one, the Journal will be left with those who either agree with their political position or who can’t discern the difference between capitalism and zealous conservatism. In the end I suppose public education will win out, but not because it is socialist, but that the conservatives will have driven out the best and brightest. But that is an argument for another day.

As I was talking with the Journal rep who was begging me to stay with every possible turn, I found myself getting angry with her. She was the one who had changed. She was the one who wanted to remake me. She was the one who failed to accept me for who I am and respect my differences while appreciating what we had in common.

I hung up the phone in a mingled state of loss and anger.

I’m sure I will move on, but it won’t be the same. Long-term relationships change a dog and the next newspaper will suffer the pangs of betrayal, my inability to get close and trust and my issues with intimacy. I will forever be asking “what does she want from me?” as I read each story printed in any newspaper.

The Wall Street Journal kicked this poor puppy right in the ribs. It kicked hard, harder than any newspaper should have kicked a dog. I may not recover from this one.

.

None of your reality is really real

North Clayton Village, Clayton Ohio

This is the town center of North Clayton Village in Clayton, Ohio. It has a nice wide Main Street, store front shops, a coffee shop, a park around the corner and apartments on top of the shops. It has everything you would ever want in a village.

Only it is a fake.

….

.

How I know bigotry is alive in Middle America

I was passing through the playground at a nearby school in Englewood, Ohio. Sallie had climbed up the stairs that ended in a tube slide and I thought it might be cool if I encouraged her to slide down.

So, I poked my head in on the bottom side so I could see her at the top to talk her down. My eye caught the graffiti on the inside top of the slide.

I took a photo of it and it is posted below.

In case it is hard to read, the words “I [heart] lesbos” is etched into the plastic.

The media of the east and west coasts may have convinced themselves that bigotry and hatred are dead in America — especially with the eager adoption of gay marriage and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — but what kids scratch into the inside of playground equipment tells me we have a very, very long way to go.

They learn this from somewhere.

.

The Triangle Shirt Company fire

Lest we forget how things were just a hundred years ago. It appears some in Wisconsin and Ohio have already. March 25, 1911 was not all that long ago.

Those who do not read and understand history are not only bound to repeat the mistakes of the past, but drag an entire generation with them. An informed, educated, literate citizenry is essential for a democracy to sustain itself.

I suppose that is why conservatives are also attacking teachers and have declared war on book nerds.

I sure do miss the smell of horse dung

typical white christian American family

Last year, an acquaintance who has a part-time firefighter job, supplemented by a full-time ambulance driver job with no health benefits had to go to the emergency room with asthma complications. The hospital ended up having to admit him for three days. The total cost of this unplanned vacation was $23,000 and some change.

He had no insurance and he did not have $23,000. He applied for Medicaid, went through some hearings, some denials, appeals and eventually Medicaid paid the bill.

He is a Republican through and through. When asked how he liked his socialist benefits provided by his government, he smiled sheepishly and looked away. He was caught in a lie and he and I both knew it. He is still a Republican. Having his medical bills paid for through no personal merit or responsibility did not change his mind one bit about his political loyalties or the argument for his loyalties.

And that is when it hit me solidly: The GOP is not about fiscal responsibility. They are entirely about social issues.

A little background
My friend was raised in the rural parts of Ohio, right outside my town of Englewood which is ten miles north of Dayton, sixty-five miles north of Cincinnati. So he wasn’t actually raised out on the farm, but enough where there is little if any diversity and no weird artsy-fartsy types with book-leraning and such. The men hunt every fall, fish in the summer, drink beer, watch football and chew tobacco. And the women tend to their men. And everybody goes to church on Sunday and if they don’t, they still believe in Jesus Christ. (Really, these places exist not too far out your front door, wherever in America you are.)

And this is also where they talk openly about “how in the hell we let a g*d**n n****r in the White House” right before they spit chew violently on the ground in disgust.

How we got here
The GOP has gotten its followers to believe and say there is a finite amount of money available and that your ne’er-do-well, slacker neighbors are taking your fair share of your hard-earned money. Only it’s not really true. It’s not what they really mean when they say “money.” Money is just code for “my white Christian culture.”

The Greatest Generation were better storytellers than they were social engineers. When the men went off to war, they brought back stories of valor, courage, bravery, camaraderie and honor. My grandfather never talked much about the War. My dad never talked about the Korean War either. All we had were photos, medals and a few stories of good times with their buddies. They never talked about the horror of seeing their friends die or body parts getting blown off. When they came home, they put the past behind them and created a narrative that was peaceful and prosperous, even though it was not the truth.

Women who went off to work in the factories did much the same thing. It was hard, back-breaking, grueling, greasy, filthy work but when it was over, it was over. They did not tell stories of workplace accidents, the long days and the restless nights. They spun yarns of achievement, honor and patriotism.

And three generations later, that is how we remember the past that never was. Families lived in harmonious, quiet neighborhoods with houses all lined up on clean streets. The dad went off to work, the mom stayed home and kept house. There were regular raises and good benefits at his job. The kids played baseball, went to school and played stickball in the middle of the street. When they grew older, the kids went out on dates, got married and had kids of their own.

Each year, the family would get together and have Thanksgiving dinner, then Christmas and celebrate Easter in the spring. There would be great news of babies and marriages and of course of deaths and funerals. Everyone married a virgin, everyone died at peace. This all played out like some great movie with a well-crafted script. There were things nobody talked about and everybody knew what those things were.

And the children forgot about the struggle the previous generations went through to build this Great Lie. The storytellers of television and the movies gladly filled in the gaps, fueling an even more memorable past that never was.

The Great Lie of our American Dream is even embedded into our future. The following is a video made by Corning. The cues of the Dream are embedded everywhere across generations. Take a look. Can you see them? Do you find yourself wanting to be there? It’s a powerful Dream.

The past is knowable and comfortable. The future is scary. I’m fairly certain in a generation back there were old men who sighed wistfully as a truck blowing smoke passed them by on a farm road. Sure do miss the smell of horse dung, they might be thinking.

Money as a mask
We use price as an excuse for almost every human behavior. If we don’t really want to buy something, we say “that costs too much” or “I don’t have the money right now.” When we really want something, we find a way to get it by charging it, putting it on layaway, leasing it or in the case of a house, commit to mortgage terms that are not in our financial best interest. We rationalize a debt to get the things that we really want.

The GOP understands this about human nature — and particularly the American culture — very well and has masterfully crafted its message around money. “The state is broke,” they rail when a program is funding issues that are contrary to the Great Lie. “Our country is going bankrupt!” “Limited government” and “Take back our country” are all very attractive catch phrases for a population that has been led to believe that the supply of money is finite and being spent irresponsibly by your drunken neighbor. After all, many of these people don’t have much left from their paychecks at the end of the week, so it all makes common sense.

Everything the GOP wants to do is masked as a money issue because they know that American culture understands money. All this other stuff about happiness and rights and liberty is so hard to quantify. But money is easy. You can count money.

The inconsistency is the key
The key to understanding why money and fiscal responsibility is not the real issue is the inconsistency between what a conservative says and what he does. He will take a Medicaid handout to keep from paying a $23,000 hospital bill. He will take a government-supplied paycheck as a firefighter. He will take a home interest deduction on his taxes, a Pell grant from the Federal government, drive on the freeway system without paying a toll, attend a public school and do all these things as if it were his right to do so all the while saying we need less government. Taxes pay for all these things that give him a standard of living yet he perceives to have gotten these things through his own hard work and initiative.

And my favorite inconsistency of all, “Keep your government hands of my Medicare.”

The GOP knows that if they keep the discussion framed as “fiscal responsibility,” they don’t have to address all those other messy issues that go along with promoting the Great American Dream that never was. All they need do is step back in shock about why someone would not want to be fiscally responsible and they win the argument. Only the argument never really was about money. It never will be.

What’s in it for the GOP?
Power, I imagine. I can’t think of any other reason why someone would care more about the state budget being balanced than the health of their own household. Maybe some of these politicians really believe the rhetoric about fiscal responsibility, but I doubt many retain it. I think most of them are angry that not only have they lost their birthright, but it was stolen from them. They see political office as a way to take it back.

The GOP may have been about fiscal responsibility at some point in their distant past, but I think they have always been more about preserving the American Culture. As they become more and more desperate about preserving the Dream, the more they are letting their mask fall away. But judging from my friend above, they may think they can now afford to do it and start being honest about who they really are. Apparently lying about their true intent bears no consequence as at least half the country is one of them.

Am I off the mark here?

Wisconsin feels like Sidney all over again

walker

Of the hundreds of soccer games I have seen my kids play, I remember that soccer game clearly. My daughter was playing U9 for Northmont and we had a game against the Sidney Bees on an unseasonably warm Saturday in April. This was her first full season with select soccer.

The game was pretty tight all the way through. We scored the first goal late in the first half, they scored the second goal early in the second. There were just a few minutes left in the game when their star had a break-away and dribbled the ball all the way to our goalie and took a shot. The goalie deflected, but not cleanly. It bounced to the side of the goal, off the pitch and through the net that was not fastened securely to the ground.

The referee called it a goal.

All the parents saw the ball roll into the side of the net. All the kids saw it. The coaches saw it. But the Sidney parents said nothing, amid the protests of the Northmont parents and coaches. All it would have taken was one brave parent to step forward and say, “We want to win, but not by cheating. We’re not going to accept that goal.”

But nobody did.

All the kids on both teams learned the real rule of soccer that day. The more games you win, the more goals you score, the more your parents will love you. And it doesn’t matter how you get them. And to this day, when I hear about how team sports build character, sportsmanship, etc. Sidney, Ohio pops into my head and I know I am being lied to.

Wisconsin feels an awful lot like Sidney, Ohio on that warm April day.

Fire for hire; the new public services

I read a rather dry account of the last Union, Ohio city council meeting in the Dayton Daily News this morning. Nobody goes to these things and fewer people read the articles recapping them. But maybe we should start paying more attention. (I looked for the article online and could not find it, so I scanned it here and will replace with a link when it gets posted.)

Here is why we should start paying attention.

Fire and police departments are receiving less tax revenue and are set to receive even less for salaries when bills like SB 5 pass. But they are still expected to be on the other end of a 911 call. (I think the City of Englewood has a EMS charge, but not fire.) It appears the City of Union would charge for police, fire and EMS services; first to your insurance company and if they don’t pay, to you.

I understand subrogation and why sometimes it is necessary. But when someone calls 911, the last thing they should be thinking is; “Can I afford this call?” If their house burns down, and they are insured, the insurance company will replace it. If their house catches fire, the fire department comes out, and the insurance company will pay for repairs but not fire services, the homeowner could end up paying a whole lot more than the house is worth in fire-fighting fees.

I think the last thing we need is for a family to be sitting on the front lawn with a calculator, estimating how much a 911 call is going to cost and whether or not it is worth it.

In truth, though, what these laws will eventually do is increase insurance costs. The insurance companies will spread out the risk for everyone, charging people who live in Zip Code 45322 a bit more of course. And since insurance in America is a for-profit game, these additional fees will include the profit expectation a publicly-held company demands. These are also post-tax dollars, so they are about 33% more expensive than an income tax assessment would be to cover the additional cost of fire-fighting services for a community.

Government cuts are always nice, but when your income tax tax bill is cut and your total cost of citizenship rises, where is the savings to the citizens? It’s like buying a really cheap printer but paying hundreds of dollars a year in ink cartridges. Or a really cheap car that costs you the retail prices in repairs every two years. Or buying cheap processed food and paying more than quadruple in medical insurance premiums because your BMI is out of whack (assuming you carry insurance.)

Subrogation for essential emergency services is a very slippery slope. I know that the proposed ordinance is limited to “at-fault” incidents. Anyone who has ever been in an accident knows that at-fault is almost never a 100/0% split. In most instances, you are partially at fault simply because you were on the road. Clearly, if your house was not there, there would be nothing to burn.

Once you crack the door, it is easier to fling open wide.

I wonder what other public service will be next?

When the City of Englewood “saved” a million dollars.
.

Public employees and teachers are parasites

Something is happening to our culture. The public employees who plow our streets, mow the lawns at our libraries, dig our ditches, snake out the gunk from our sewers and teach our kids how to read are becoming parasites on our economy. Their unreasonable demands for fair wages and benefits are killing jobs for you and me. We need to rise up, grab our pitchforks and torches, haul them from their houses and strip away their ill-gotten gains.

Or so a growing number of Republican governors and lawmakers would like us to believe, most recently, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Joe Scarborough of Morning Joe said today that the public employees are being unreasonable by not caving into the demands, citing the States are “out of money” and that the private sector is making sacrifices so the public employees should too.

Only shouldn’t we be asking why the private sector has to make sacrifices to the tune of 10% unemployment, increased foreclosures, home values underwater, increased benefits cuts and wage freezes while large corporations have record profit years? Shouldn’t that be the real question?

We should not be seeking to lower public sector jobs to the level of private sector jobs, but seek ways of increasing the private sector to what the public sector now has that the governor is seeking to strip away. Once the protections are gone, it is just a matter of time before everyone sinks further down together.

How unskilled and underpaid do you want YOUR kid’s teacher?

.

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.

.

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!

.

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.

.

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.

Ask, Tell is not the opposite of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Since the Senate vote of 65-31 to repeal, I’ve been seeing people shouting “ASK, TELL” on twitter and in blogs as if removing the “Don’t” in front of each verb means the opposite. It’s a cute, catchy little marketing thing the masses can easily shout but it is woefully misguided.

The point of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal is that your sexual orientation did not matter concerning your ability to serve in the military. What matters most are your skills, abilities and attributes regardless of your sexual orientation. Using catch phrases like “Ask, Tell” is not only an incorrect representation of what the issue is about, but it gives fuel to the homophobic crowd to think that gays are claiming special rights instead of the fair and equal rights they should have been given all along. Throwing fuel on the fire is just continuing the fight after it has been settled.

Words have consequences. Even slogans have consequences. Think before you use them. Think before you hop on a bandwagon of chanting or retweeting. Just think.

Part of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal was also about rational thought trumping fear and prejudice. Make sure the scales are even, not swung wildly to the left.

.