The Healthcare industry has received a lot of attention in recent years. Rising premiums, Medicare Drug plans, and the incorrectly named Affordable Care Act are just the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, one of America’s largest (1 in 8 workers) and most expensive ($2.7 trillion annually) industries is still broken. Completely, overwhelmingly, and unapologetically broken.
To illustrate the point, here’s how a special story from October 2013:
My wife (Jennifer) has had kidney stones a couple of times and after (finally, I guess) visiting a urologist early this month, she learned that it’s probably the same stone that keeps having small pieces break off. Passing kidney stones is excruciatingly painful, so she asked what she should do. Keep in mind that kidney stones are not a medical emergency (some people live with their whole lives) and she averages less than one episode a year over the past four years. When asked how to get rid of them, the doctor told her they do a simple out-patient procedure to blast the stone (she only has one) with sonar and that usually pulverizes the stone to dust. No big deal, so she scheduled the prep work (blood tests) for last week and the actual appointment for yesterday morning.
We showed up at 10:30 AM at the Florida Medical Center (2501 N. Orange Ave) which is part of the Florida Hospital complex in downtown Orlando. It took a few minutes to find the Kidney Stone Center, but we got right in, spoke to the receptionist, and were soon passed off to the person responsible for paperwork. First came the authorization for treatment (signed), then the acceptance of responsibility for payment (signed), then a request for a down payment. Wait, what? We’re supposed to get billed through FloridaBlue (BlueCross/BlueShield of Florida) after the fact, so that was a little odd. When I asked why, I was told the price of the procedure required a down payment. We obviously knew we would be paying for the procedure since we have a high-deductible health plan, but the down payment thing was still really weird. The lady had down the prep work on our insurance, however, and showed a print-out of the plan we’re on, the deductible, out-of-pocket max, and other info gleaned from FloridaBlue. I asked how much the procedure would cost (expecting $2,000-3,000) and the lady sheepishly admitted “19.” $1,900 was right in the ballpark of what I was expecting, so I asked why she needed a down payment.
“Not nineteen-hundred,” she said, “Nineteen thousand.” Wow! An outpatient procedure which requires no incisions and less than an hour of recovery time costs $19,000? “Not really,” she helpfully explained, “That’s just the hospital bill. The urologist and anesthesiologist will bill you separately.” When I suggested it might be a better idea to let people know that beforehand, her response stopped me in my tracks. “The hospital can’t be expected to let people know beforehand what their procedures will cost.” Really? Would that be an acceptable practice at Target? You just go in, buy stuff with no visible prices, and they bill you whatever they want later? Even more interesting, the hospital DID just let me know what the procedure will cost. They just waited until my wife had already done all the prep work, I had taken a day off work, and we were ready to go to give the heads up. Classy.
The lady behind the counter was still trying to be helpful, so she happily reported that she was sure the negotiated rate that FloridaBlue would actually allow in my behalf would be much lower. Maybe even $12,000. Gee, thanks! I’m glad to hear you’re not gouging customers who don’t have insurance, I thought. Unfortunately, the moral of this story was that a non-emergency medical procedure was going to cost us (after some co-insurance was paid) about 10% of what I make each year (pre-tax). Ouchie! Not suprisingly, my wife elected to wait until next year so we can plan ahead for such an expensive “surgery.”
Our healthcare system is amazing. On one hand, we provide some of the best care and resultant outcomes in the world. The training and technology available in the United States of America is second to none. Unfortunately for the general public, the lack of information, secret pricing, and borderline unethical billing practices have created a nightmare scenario for anyone needing medical help. Even worse, we claim that the industry is governed by the free market when reality proves that the government runs most of it. Why is pricing so confusing? Because the insurance companies negotiate for others and allow the prices to be kept hidden. Why do the insurance companies have so much power? Because the tax code favorably treats employer-provided insurance and the Affordable Care Act all but requires employer health insurance (or the employer faces a penalty), of course.
The real question is simple: Can our healthcare system be fixed? The answer is less clear. I like to think so, but it would require some courageous individuals with a lot of money to overturn such a bloated, inefficient industry. I sure hope they do!
Since the Great Recession began in 2007, millions of Americans lost their jobs and a huge number remain un- or underemployed, including members of my own family. It’s tragic how economic turmoil devastates lives, yet our nation’s leaders have done little turn things around. Why is that? I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, but there are clearly some perverse incentives rewarding behaviors right now. Perhaps the best example is the stock market. On July 31, 2013, the S&P closed at a record high (1,685.73) while the unemployment rate remains above 7.0% (actually 7.4%) where it has been since December 2008. Wealthy and well-educated individuals are enjoying record profits and have returned to full employment (see the Bureau of Labor Statistics chart) while those without a degree continue to suffer (12.0% unemployment for those who never completed high school).
Why does this matter? Because I’ve heard my entire life that conservatives hate the poor while liberals love them. If that’s the case, why do liberal policies always further enslave the poor (welfare, lack of school choice, dumbing down educational standards, anti business creation, etc.)? Further, why do liberal politicians vote to with their wallets instead of their conscience? Even though the Affordable Care Act includes a requirement for Congress and their staffers to participate in the state-run exchanges, President Obama has bypassed that rule and allowed Congress to retain its superior health plan. Most importantly of all, why do I vote with my conscience instead of my wallet?
My family is doing very well because of the recession. Go back and read that again. I hold a Master’s degree which implies a very normal unemployment rate of 3.5%. We bought a home at the bottom of the government-aided real estate bust (Guess who wanted subprime loans in the first place? I’ll give you a hint: they were made to people who couldn’t afford them in mostly urban or historically black areas). Our mortgage is ridiculously low because of the Fed’s quantitative easing. We’re doing BETTER than we would be without the recession. So why did I vote to end the recession by focusing on job creation and economic fairness? Because I believe that principled individuals should always do what’s right, even when it hurts themselves. That’s why I vote with my conscience and not my wallet.
I’ve written before about my belief in Jefferson’s hallowed words: “”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I’ve also written before about how I lament for the nation’s youth, not because they aren’t good, intelligent young men and women but because of the pernicious lies, half-truths, and illogical arguments that society attacks them with on a daily basis. It’s tough to take a stand against conventional wisdom even when it’s idiotic.
Consider these gems gleaned from a Facebook post today. Admittedly, I kept the debate running far longer than I probably should have, but here’s what high school kids think today:
Teenager #1: Here’s a test: I’m holding a baby in one hand and a petri dish holding an embryo in the other. I’m going to drop one. You choose which. If you truly believe that an embryo is the same thing as a baby, it should be impossible to decide. You should have to flip a coin, that’s how impossible the decision should be. Shot in the dark, you saved the baby. Because you realize that there’s a difference.
My Response: A very interesting question but perhaps it’s based on a false premise: “An embryo is the same thing as a baby.” While I believe embryos should enjoy every right to life, that doesn’t mean that all will survive until the miracle of birth (our bodies are so complex that 25% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage). To illustrate my point, here’s another test. Two people are asleep on train tracks and a runaway train is coming. You can only run to save one of them. You quickly notice that one of the people is a toddler and the other is a twenty-something. Who do you save? Based on the logic in the original question, you should have to flip a coin. However, most people would choose to save the toddler that didn’t know any better and chose to sleep on the tracks. Very few people would save the adult that should know better. You could probably draw some pretty interesting parallels to the never-ending abortion debate: Should an innocent life be terminated because someone who should know better made a series of stupid decisions (pre-marital sex, intercourse during a fertile period, lack of contraceptive measures, etc.) but would prefer to avoid the consequences of his/her actions and continue living his/her self-centered life with minimal interruptions? It’s an interesting question, for sure.
Teenager #2: What of rape, or contraceptives failing, or condom breaking, or etc. what if it is a married couple, wife on birth control, husband using condom, and the condom breaks, and they do not have the financial needs to have a kid? There are so many different scenarios but no matter the scenario the end result is the same, it is the woman’s choice if she wants the baby or not. If the woman is pro life in a pro choice world then she just wouldn’t have an abortion simple as that. (Vice Versa on the other hand is not true… Legally)
My Response: While some women choose to deliver babies born of rape (they choose not to punish an innocent for the crime of a parent), not all women make that same choice. I think it makes a lot of sense to allow women to receive an abortion in the case of rape, incest, or threat to the mother’s life. However, contraceptives rarely fail when used properly and for those “without the financial means” (I think you meant “means” rather than “needs”), perhaps they should consider avoiding intercourse during periods of fertility. I know that requires postponing one’s sexual desires for a period of time, but perhaps willpower could be used. I simply disagree that abortion is an acceptable form of birth control. By the way, your comment that “it is the woman’s choice if she wants the baby or not” just made me sad. I respect your opinion, I just think it’s a sad indictment of American society.
Teenager #2: It IS her choice. It’s HER body. SHE (and her spouse) has the choice to bring life or not bring life into this world just like they have the choice to have sex or not have sex. It’s their choice, her body his child, thereby they should choose if they want a parasite to feed of the girl for 9 months just to bring a happy or miserable life to earth or not. Not saying I’m pro-abortion because I’m not but I am pro-choice. Before you say something like “pro-abortion” and “pro-choice” is the same thing, no it isn’t. I am against you killing a embryo for personal wants BUT if you want to you should be allowed to.
My Response: To be clear, at what point should it become illegal to kill another human being? I reject your assertion that a baby is part of the Mother’s body. What other part of the human body has unique DNA? It’s significantly easier to rationalize the destruction of another person by objectifying him (Hitler did the same thing during the Holocaust), but that argument is en vogue, so I get it. I want to return to my question, though: At what point should it become illegal to kill another human being? Immediately upon conception? First Trimester? Second? Third? What about post-birth? Is the distinction between choosing to remove a mass of cells and the murder of a defenseless child merely the fact that one has taken a breath of air and one has not? If so, should parents be allowed to kill their children after birth but before they’ve taken their first breath? What about if they’re still connected to the umbilical cord? What about unruly toddlers? My three-year-old acts up a lot. Would killing him be a choice or a criminal act? I have no expectation of convincing you of the sanctity of life, by the way. If gratitude for your own lucky birth, a belief in Deity, or the hallowed words of Thomas Jefferson couldn’t do it, I definitely can’t
Teenager #3: You’re talking about the way people confront evil, this discussion is about the way we cope with ideals. Something “evil” should be stopped, yes, but abortions aren’t. It’s just the way that some people choose to live their life, and that’s fine.My Response: What makes something evil? You assert that abortions aren’t evil. What about selling drugs to feed my family. Who gets to determine whether an act is good, neutral, or evil?
Teenager #2: As I’ve said 3 times already I am against abortion so you are basically preaching to the choir but to answer your question when a child develops organs its living, before then it’s technically a mass of cells, heck even WHEN it is living its technically a parasite until it leaves the womb but let’s say for a second that it isn’t the girl’s choice to get a living creature out of her body, what of non-human parasites like louse or leeches? Is it considered wrong to remove those? Hypothetically that is… Not saying that I am using it as an example because it is a horrible example.
My Response: I’m pretty sure I’m not preaching to the choir. As a young man who wasn’t aborted, you’re in a pretty good spot on the abortion issue. I’m taking a stand for those kids who haven’t been aborted yet. I enjoyed your response, though. Just FYI, a baby’s heart starts beating at 17 days post-conception which is before many women realize they’re pregnant. As far as parasites go, I think that’s a pretty good analogy. Children are essentially parasitic (most parents would prefer “dependent”) from conception until probably 4-5 years. Removing leeches, tapeworms, etc. from the body kills them. I fully support killing these creatures. I do not support killing children. The distinction is more complex than saying one group is cuter than the other, but you could make a solid argument along those lines.
Teenager #3: This entire argument is just a conflict of what we’re supposed to do with our decisions. You can decide to not get an abortion, that’s absolutely fine. But just because you choose not to get one, it doesn’t mean that everyone else can’t, either.
My Response: I choose not to murder, rape, carjack, and use illicit drugs. Yay for me! I also like the idea that society condemns such acts and provides what limited deterrents it can. The entire argument is a just a conflict of where personal freedom ends and infringing upon the rights of others begins.
Teenager #3: But murder, rape, and carjacking all directly hurt other people’s lives…
My Response: But having your body killed before you’re born doesn’t? What would your life be like today if your mother had you aborted?
Teenager #3: A fetus isn’t any more of a human than an acorn is a tree. And while some people may believe that an acorn counts as a tree (and that’s fine), it doesn’t mean that every woman should be denied the choice to an abortion. We can’t run each other’s lives like that, you know?
My Response: A human egg (or sperm) isn’t any more of a human than an acorn is a tree. A fetus isn’t any more of a human than a sapling is a tree. If you’re going to make analogies, please try to make them as accurate as possible. I know that’s hard when you’re comparing creatures who can send themselves into outer space with stationary, non-sentient beings, but it’s important. By the way, a sapling is a tree unless your arbitrary definition of trees includes some sort of age limit. If so, I’d love to know where to draw that line in the sand.
Teenager #3: You missed the point. The point was: And while some people may believe that [a fetus] counts as a [human life] (and that’s fine), it doesn’t mean that every woman should be denied the choice to an abortion. We can’t run each other’s lives like that, you know?
My Response: I got your point. You believe that everyone should make their own decisions and actions should only be punishable if the victim can voice his/her grievance. I counter that you missed the point. You weren’t aborted. We should allow others the same privilege. You’re just lucky that your mother saw you as something other than a worthless mass of cells. You have what’s known as a survivor’s bias. As long as you made it, who cares about anyone else? I believe that we absolutely should be trying to keep our nation’s mothers from aborting the next George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or (more likely, given the huge percentage of black children aborted) the next Martin Luther King, Jr. We’re killing our future in the name of selfishness.
I wrote on November 7, 2011 that the American Dream may be dying but it’s not dead yet. I was wrong. For most of the country, the American Dream is clearly on life support. Check out this recent yahoo.com article and let’s discuss the issues.
Stated Problem: President Obama believes the American free enterprise system has a foundation of “inequality” created by a “winner-take-all economy, where a few do better and better and better, while everybody else just treads water or loses ground.”
Real Problem: Seemingly every new law passed by Congress eliminates jobs by increasing the minimum wage (destroying primarily low-wage positions), increasing the costs of hiring (Obamacare is a pretty good example), or by increasing other regulations.
I’m dismayed by how easily the American people ignore basic cause and effect, even at the highest levels of government. Let me give you an example. If I went to the local grocery store and asked everyone “The grocery store is planning to raise their prices by 20%. Will you buy more, the same, or less?”, what do you think the responses would be? Everyone in their right mind would say “less” but we then assume the labor market is somehow different. The single best thing that we can do for the unemployed is to LOWER minimum wage and make hiring them cheaper.
Before I get accused of thinking minimum wage jobs are the answer to society’s ills, please allow me to explain. Minimum wage are and should be unacceptable to most workers. Sixteen-year-olds working fast food (just like I did in high school. I kept my paper route, too) are obviously in a different situation than working parents trying to pay the rent and keep food on the table. However, the economy pays us what we’re worth. Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos didn’t make a fortune by doing following directions for $7.25/hr. They started Apple and Amazon. Surgeons aren’t well-compensated because everyone with a knife can perform open-heart surgery. Workers who want to get ahead will seek out the training and demonstrate the skills necessary to advance from minimum wage jobs. Not everyone can be paid like a movie star, but most of us should be able to earn a decent living after graduating college or completing tech school.
Paul Krugman is one of exactly two things: an absolute idiot or a devious liar. Based on his education level and renown, I struggle to believe the first one (even though it would explain a lot). Let’s examine a recent New York Times column to become adept at lying with the facts:
#1 – “We all know how a democracy is supposed to work. Politicians are supposed to campaign on the issues…” When you’re already wrong in the first two sentences, you know you’re on the right track toward lying with the facts. Democracies don’t have politicians. This may seem like a minor point, but when you’re going to lecture the populace on how governments should work, it would be nice to know what you’re talking about. Krugman 1, Truth 0
#2 – “(Paraphrased) The deficit was down sharply under President Clinton.” That’s a fact. But it’s not “true.” Try another one “King George III united the American Colonies like no previous monarch.” That’s also a fact, but the implied positive correlation simply isn’t there. Krugman is retroactively giving President Clinton credit for fiscal responsibility that he fought tooth and nail. Check out this chart. Admittedly, the first year of the “Obama Deficit” was approved under President George W. Bush, but the President isn’t responsible for the budget. Congress is. President Bill Clinton clearly benefited from the rampdown of Operation Desert Storm (President George H. W. Bush liberated Kuwait and put Saddam back in his place) and a steadily growing economy. However, he wanted to institute “Hillarycare,” the precursor to Obamacare. The American people elected a Republican Congress which told him to get lost and actively sought to balance the budget (former Speaker Newt Gingrich likes to take the credit for their success). They were successful until 9/11 and the ensuing economic downturn and wars. Further, the big increase in spending in 2008 under President Bush was driven by a Democractic Congress. Politically, he couldn’t do a thing about it (I’m skeptical he wanted to stop it). Krugman 2, Truth 0
#3 – “Paraphrased) The deficit has gone down a lot since January 2010.” The Democrats were successful with their “too big to fail” big business garbage and increased the deficit to over $1.4 trillion in 2008. Since then, it has decreased to around $1.0 trillion. Decreasing by $450 billion is a big deal since that’s the largest the deficit had ever been until 2008. To put that in perspective, the US has overspent in the last 4 years over TWICE as much as the previous eight years. Ouchie. The real question is “WHY has the deficit gone down since January 2010?” What happened in 2010? The American people rejected Obamacare and elected a sweeping change in the House of Representatives (the House of Congress responsible for starting spending bills). The deficit has decreased IN SPITE of President Obama, not because of his fiscal leadership. Krugman 3, Truth 0
#4 – “Eric Cantor, the second-ranking Republican in the House, declared on Fox News that we have a ‘growing deficit,’ while Senator Rand Paul told Bloomberg Businessweek that we’re running ‘a trillion-dollar deficit every year.’” Rep. Cantor meant “debt,” not “deficit.” He was also right. The national debt is growing. Further, 90% of Americans probably couldn’t explain between the national debt and the budget deficit. Senator Paul was incorrect that the United States has run a trillion dollar deficit the last four years. It has actually been LARGER than a trillion dollars. How about that for misleading!!! Krugram 4, Truth 0
#5 – “We have an ill-informed or misinformed electorate, politicians who gleefully add to the misinformation and watchdogs who are afraid to bark.” Finally, some truth. Unfortunately, Krugram is part of the problem, not the solution as he claims. Krugman 5, Truth 0
I love the idea of living in a post-racial America but it’s pretty clear we’re not there quite yet. Strangely enough, it won’t be the fault of the “racists” on the supposed right; blame should rest squarely at the feet of the fear-mongering left. Consider this gem regarding the George Zimmerman murder trial.
Let’s start with the supposed “facts” and then consider the conclusions we can draw from this tragedy:
Fact #1 – George Zimmerman is “white.” FALSE. If Barack Obama is black (one black parent and one white parent) then George Zimmerman is Hispanic (one hispanic parent and one white parent). Unless we’re going to start classifying people based on their skin hue, the only other option racial profiling based on names (Will Smith is white and Peakaboo Street is black). I’m not comfortable with either.
Fact #2 – Trayvon Martin was a “good kid” with good grades. FALSE. Trayvon Martin was probably cheerful and kind to his family and friends. Most people are. However, the fact that the prosecution convinced the judge to bar evidence of his character makes one wonder what there was to hide. The media is trying to make Trayvon out to be Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old Honor Student who performed at the Obama inauguration in January and was shot in a seemingly random killing in Chicago a week later. Trayvon is not Hadiya Pendleton. Trayvon Martin skipped school, got in fights, did drugs, and portrayed himself as a thug (including with handgun references) on social media. A simple google search turns up most of the evidence not allowed at trial. It’s quite a list.
Fact #3 – George Zimmerman outweighted Trayvon Martin by 100 lbs. TRUE. Finally, some truth. Unfortunately, George Zimmerman is 5’9″ and Trayvon Martin was 6’2″. Further, George Zimmerman was 100 lbs heavier because he was (and is) overweight. Anyone in their right mind would put money on a younger, taller, more athletic fighter in the ring. It’s also an accepted fact that in the ensuing scuffle, Trayvon was on top. Weight only helps in a fight if you’re on top. It’s actually a disadvantage for an out-of-shape fat guy to be on the bottom.
Fact #4 – The losses of both Hadiya Pendelton and Trayvon Martin are tragedies. TRUE. But they’re not alone. The millions of poor decisions that lead to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths each year are all a tragic part of life. People make bad choices. If George Zimmerman hadn’t been overzealous, Trayvon would still be alive. If Trayvon hadn’t confronted the guy following him, he’d still be alive. Gang violence in Los Angeles and Chicago, war in the Middle East, and the epidemic of drunk driving are just some of our problems.
Conclusion - We all have the freedom to draw our own conclusions from the George Zimmerman murder trial. Some will choose the path of fear-mongering (“Step right up, get your racial tensions here!”), some will choose the path of racism, and some will ignore skin color and focus on the tragic loss of Trayvon and collateral damage to the Martin and Zimmerman families. I dream of a day when most Americans find themselves in the third group. Only then will we achieve a “post-racial” America.
It’s with great sadness that we note the passing of Michael “Mike” Patterson, 43, of Rome, Georgia. My blog is all about fixing society’s problems, so I probably don’t spend enough time talking about our successes. I didn’t know Mike Patterson, but I do know that his life was a success. Here’s what happened:
On June 8, 2013, a young girl named Javea Jones (aged four years) fell from the Silver Comet Trail in Rockmart, GA into the Euharlee Creek. The water was moving too fast for Javea to get out. That’s when Mike Patterson showed up. Even though Patterson had never met Javea, he didn’t hesitate to immediately jump into the creek and push her to safety. Unfortunately, Patterson suffered multiple injuries saving Javea, including severing his spinal cord, respiratory acidosis, pneumonia, and a bacterial infection. Patterson was paralyzed from the shoulders down as a result of his spinal injury and succumbed to his injuries on June 28, 2013 leaving behind a nine-year-old son. Mike Patterson lived as a hero and Mike Patterson died as a hero.
What I find most encouraging about Patterson’s story is how it flies in the face of the current news. Patterson was a Georgia native and likely owned a gun but this story isn’t about gun violence. Patterson is white while Javea Jones is black but this story isn’t about racism. Many white southerners are both religious and conservative but this story isn’t about “hate.” This story is about a man who acted immediately to save another and paid with his life. I hope that Patterson’s young son always remembers his father as a hero. We need more Mike Pattersons in this world.
[Note: More information can be found at http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/06/28/good-samaritan-who-saved-drowning-girl-dies-from-injuries-weeks-after-rescue/]