Archive for September, 2009

What’s Next–Debtor’s Prison?

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

Okay posts on printing and Self-Publishing are going to have to wait once again. It seems that the last post, We Sure Swallowed the Health Care Lie, I seriously stirred the pot. If you go back and read my post and the attached comments, you will find that sentiments are all over the place. The truth is we don’t know what to do about the corporate Godzilla’s wreaking havoc in our lives. We know who they are, and there is plenty of finger pointing to go around, but our backs are against the wall and there isn’t a rescuer in sight.

Does this sound a tad dramatic? It is, but unless we see the monsters for what they really are we won’t muster the will to fight them. Tracy commented on my post, and I quote, “I emphatically agree with you regarding your views on health insurance…perhaps because I, too, am self-employed and have been for 31 years. My Blue Shield plan just increased about 3 months ago by 22% and is going up another 18% in December (when I enter a new age bracket). I worked in the housing industry and my income is down 90% while my health insurance will have increased 40%. I have been charging my health insurance premiums since January of this year because I am afraid to cancel it because, as you stated, it will be impossible to get health insurance then. Something has GOT to change!”

Tracy’s example is representative of the trouble many of us are finding ourselves in; let’s look at the the history of the unholy trio: US Congress, Health Insurance Companies, and the Financial Industry; and discover the careful step-by-step path that led us into this unconscionable position.

  • 1920’s Health Insurance created by Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
  • 1929 estimated annual average health care expense for American families totaled $108.00.
  • 1933 Federal Government passes Glass-Steagall Act wherein “banks, brokerages, and insurance companies were effectively barred from entering each others’ industries, and investment banking and commercial banking were separated.” Post by Kitty Wampus
  • 1940′s saw the entrance of commercial insurance companies into health insurance  after seeing the success of Blue Cross/Blue Shield (source EHNet).
  • 1960 Health Care expense rose to an average of 6.6% of a family’s annual income. It was no longer a luxury–it was now a necessity.
  • 1973 the last year middle-class and poor Americans saw an increase in real earnings–only the top 20% saw gain–the bottom 80% has been stagnant for 36 years.
  • 1980 congress passed Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control which broadened lending powers and banks rushed into real estate lending and speculative lending.
  • 1980 Ronald Reagan elected president, took office 1981 (note: Regan didn’t start banking deregulation).
  • 1981 Economic Recovery Act spurred a boom in real estate.
  • 1982 Garn-St.Germain Act authorized money market savings accounts in banks and savings and loans. Seriously undermining their security.
  • 1999 President Clinton, Republicans agree to deregulation of US financial system effectively nullifying all of the protections of Glass-Steagall Act of 1933.
  • 2001 Health care insurance premiums risen three times more than wages. With company health care the average person paid $2,827.00 including premiums and deductibles. Health Reform.Gov
  • 2005 Bankruptcy laws changed to protect banks at the expense of customers. Banks who encouraged consumers to participate in reckless free-spending credit card lifestyles feared to face the results of their own actions.
  • 2006 Average spending on health care including premiums and deductibles rose 30% in five years to $3,744.00. For those without company sponsored group insurance the costs were even more. HealthCare.gov
  • 2008 ushered in the biggest financial failing since the Great Depression. US Government offers bailout money to head off economic collapse. Banks promise to renegotiate home mortgages, instead raise credit card interest rates by double or more

So here’s the bottom line as I see it:

  1. The way to unimaginable wealth is to create and market a product that becomes a necessity, like cigarettes and cocaine. The health insurance industry did just that. How? By allowing costs to spiral up. Since medical providers have had unrestrained ability to charge outrageous fees, i.e. the ten dollar dose of Tylenol, ancillary costs and services have skyrocketed too. Who now can afford treatment for even simple procedures without insurance? Furthermore, should a policyholder contract an illness or suffer an injury while covered, their options of changing insurance companies becomes impossible. Pre-existing condition clauses keep people stuck. Drop your insurance with a pre-existing condition and you may never qualify for coverage again.
  2. The financial industry has manipulated the government into lifting all of the protections that were implemented to prevent the collapse experienced during the Great Depression. What happened? Is it any surprise that the country is experiencing a deep recession? It is okay with the CEO’s because they take their bonuses whether the company makes money or not. It is the workforce and small businesses are hit hardest. Big banks are recovering nicely because of bailout money, higher credit card charges, and tougher bankruptcy laws.
  3. People like my commenter, Tracy, find themselves charging their rising
    New & Improved Card

    New & Improved Card

    health insurance costs on credit cards that can, and do, double interest and fees without restraint. If she can’t find another way to pay those usurious interest rates and outrageous policy premiums she will lose everything she has.

  4. Congress, the health insurance, and financial industries have us just where they want us. We have become slaves of the system just as surely as blacks were plantation slaves over 200 years ago. If you want proof, just try to get away without paying income taxes. Go to a hospital without an insurance card. Refuse to pay exorbitant credit card fees. Do all of those things and see what happens.

What’s next, debtor’s prison?

We Sure Swallowed the Health Care Lie

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

Maybe the Health Care issue affects me more because I’m self-employed and have been for the last twenty years. We do tend to get more worked-up over things that impact us directly, don’t we? I don’t really know who reads this blog, but I suspect that many of us are in the same boat. Writers, salespeople, and small business owners have all felt the crunch of rising health care costs.

Health Care Without the Care.

Let me tell you a story. Years ago, I worked as a life and health insurance salesman. I was sent to a week-long seminar in Denver, Colorado. At the training was a speaker. I don’t remember his name, but I can say he was an engaging executive type fellow and the story he related stuck with me to this day.

It seems that when he was much younger he was just an average guy working at an average full-time job. One day a favorite cousin came by to visit him. The cousin had taken a position selling a new product called health insurance. The speaker said that he laughed out loud and told his relative that it was the most ridiculous idea he had ever heard. After all, hospitals at that time were primarily community facilities and often run by religions or other charitable organizations. A hospital bed ran around 10 dollars a day. No patient was ever turned away, and doctors would accept terms, trade, or dismiss debt entirely if the patient couldn’t pay.

As much as the speaker tried to persuade his cousin, he held firm. So, he decided to prove his relative wrong by conducting an impromptu survey. He got a clipboard, a pen, and some paper and started ringing doorbells. When the door was answered he would lead with the worst opening ever conceived, “You wouldn’t be interested in buying health insurance, would you?”

“No” was the answer he received door-after-door-after-door.

Just when almost satisfied that he had collected enough no’s to make his cousin see the light, he got a “Yes.” The people invited him in and asked him to tell them more. Of course, he wasn’t knowledgeable about the product, so he phoned his cousin and invited him over. Together they wrapped up a nice sale. Then the new policy holder said to his wife, “We have friends and neighbors who should hear about this.”

So they invited other people over. Before long, they earned more in commissions than the speaker earned in a month of full-time work. He was so excited, he quit his job the next day and became an agent.

Health Insurance Took the Care Out of Health Care

Health Insurance Took the Care Out of Health Care

It was a compelling story and got the crowd of insurance agents wound up and ready go out and sell, sell, sell, but the enthusiasm of the speech is not what I want to convey. Let’s take a look back at some of the facts: $10.00 per day hospital beds, charity run hospitals, no one turned away, and doctors more interested in treating patients than in paying their country club dues.

Follow the Money–Who Really Benefits from Health Insurance?

Think about it, since the inception of health insurance who has benefited? The patients? No. Health insurance has made it possible for a one day hospital stay to rack up thousands of dollars. It created the 1 dollar aspirin and the $2,000.00 per dose medicine. It has made Doctors wealthy. It has made health insurance executives millionaires. But it hasn’t done anything for policy holders except drain our wallets and gets us to believe the big lie that we have the finest health care in the world. Ha–that’s a laugh.

Who runs health care now? CORPORATIONS. It is no longer about the patient it is about the profit. Hey, that would be a good slogan for them, “Profit Over Patients.” How do they make those profits? They make them by denying claims. They aren’t really in the health care business they are in the claim denial business. One has to wonder, if they are so good at the art of minimizing their risk, and they are, why does your insurance go up 20% or more every year? Can you say Corporate greed? The Lund Report said that the CEO of the Oregon Blue Cross/Blue Shield in 2008 was the highest paid insurance executive in the state taking home nearly a million dollars. “So what did Regence do that resulted in its leaders being rewarded so well? If you take a look at the company’s performance last year, it’s hard to find the merit. Not only did the state’s largest insurer lose 32 percent (334,228) of its members, bringing its enrollment down to its lowest level in five years (776,647), Regence’s profit margin barely reached 1 percent. However, the company collected more in premiums than during the previous year.” Where did the increases come from? Duh, from raising premiums on the policyholders.

They’ve Got Us Over a Barrel.

Doesn’t this sound suspiciously like the greedy Wall Street titans? They take theirs, and then some, while everyone else suffers. If health insurance executives want more money they raise premiums, after all, what can you do? If you have been sick while under their plan, you now have a preexisting condition. No other insurance company will cover you. And if you drop your current coverage because it is too expensive, they will never take you back. Talk about having us over a barrel. We are screwed. As long as health care in America continues business as usual, we will be paying twice as much per person as any another other country in the world. But do we have the best health care in the world? NO! According to W.H.O., we rank No. 37. We are 37th and we pay more than anyone. Double in many cases.

How Stupid Are We, Paying Double for Half the Benefits?

Let’s stand behind the president and give the public option a chance. Private industry has had its chance and unless you’ve got your head buried in the sand, you’ll agree that it has been a failure on a massive scale.

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Greenwise or Green-Foolish (Continued)

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Electronic Communication or Paper What’s Greener?

I promised to continue with the subject of International Paper’s brochure that asks the question, “Are pixels greener than paper?” As I said in my last blog, before reading their information I would have answered, “Of course, pixels are greener than paper.” After all, no trees have to be sacrificed to create electronic blips. Now I see that there is an argument to be made. You may disagree with International Paper, it’s no skin off my nose. I’m only serving as a purveyor of information.  When it comes to hot potato issues like the environment, I tend to run to the middle ground myself. The hostility that surrounds such issues tends to be fierce and in the end neither of the more radical views will prevail anyway. That being said, I think it wise to listen to all points of view so I can find  the middle ground for myself.

The previous post discussed energy use.  From I.P.’s  brochure Down To Earth I quote, “Every decision to communicate has some impact on the environment. For example, whether we email or send a letter, we consume energy and resources. There are environmental trade offs in every choice we make, and there is no simple ‘right answer.’ Effective stewardship requires a careful examination of the larger picture that compares the entire life cycle, from raw materials to energy use and end of life, to fully understand the impact and performance of both electronic media and paper. The facts may surprise you.”

Negative Carbon Footprint

More Planted than Harvested

More Planted than Harvested

In this post we will focus on sustainability. “One of the great things about paper is that its primary raw materials are renewable. The paper and forest products industry replenishes more than it takes and ensures the sustainability of our forests by planting 1.7 million trees every single day, more than three times what is harvested. And the U.S. Dept. of Energy has stated that the carbon sequestered on forested lands in 2006 was greater than the carbon released from harvesting wood over the same period.”

Side-by-Side Comparison

Is it recycled? Paper is biodegradable, recyclable, and reusable. Nearly 60% (57.4%) of paper used in the U.S. is recycled and more than 63 percent of fiber used to make paper products comes from recycled paper. Paper waste won’t kill you unless a skid falls on your head, but that isn’t true of electronics, according to earth 911, “Electronic waste accounts for 70 percent of the overall toxic waste currently found in landfills. In addition to valuable metals like aluminum, electronics often contain hazardous materials like mercury…in 2005 alone, almost two million tons of e-waste were landfilled. While toxic materials comprise only a small amount of this volume, it doesn’t take much lead or mercury to contaminate an area’s soil or water supply.”  There is even a report that says the dust collecting on our computers can be harmful to our health (see CNET). Sources say 150 million PC’s are expected be discarded annually, with only approximately 3.6 percent recycled.

Is it sustainable? The great thing about paper is that its primary raw materials are renewable. In fact, as stated earlier, three trees are planted for every one harvested. We may be in more danger of being crowded out than we are of risking barren landscapes. To create a computer for example “typically requires the mining and refining of dozens of minerals and metals, including gold, silver, and palladium as well as the extensive use of plastics and hydrocarbon solvents. (DTE brochure)” Plus computers are short lived. A five year old computer is about as productive as a paperweight, which is partially the reason that “electronics have become the fastest growing waste stream in the world. (DTE brochure).

I could go on, but there are massive amounts of information available to anyone who wants to research these matters further. International Paper in their brochure would refer you to the following resources: ipsustainability.com; iplifeoftheforest.com; abundantforests.com; epa.gov; fsc.org; iea.org; pefc.org and sfiprogram.org.

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© Bill Ruesch, Talking Through My Hat, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bill Ruesch, Talking Through My Hat with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.