Wednesday, November 15, 2006

How I'd fix health care: Part 1

In a previous post, I talked about how I think health care has gotten so advanced that we may not be able to afford it. Of course, that does nothing to suggest a solution. Open enrollment is this month (for most people, I think), and another problem came to light for me during our company's benefits meeting.

A large number of the people I work with have coverage with Health Partners. It and Blue Cross are the two insurers we could choose from the last few years. This year they decided to drop Health Partners, and replace that choice with United Health Care. Because the company I work for has more employees out east, and Health Partners is nonexistent out there, and United Health Care is big out there, they can negotiate better prices with United Health Care. Unfortunately for us in the midwest, United Health Care's prices are a lot higher than Health Partner's. It's a decision that makes sense financially for the company as a whole, but is bad for certain employees (those of us in the midwest).

After the meeting, a thought occurred to me. Why do companies need to negotiate prices? Why do they get better rates if they have more employees? Why would I, as an individual, pay much higher premiums?

Volume discounts they would say. Companies get a break for bringing in more customers.

But that just doesn't make sense to me in this case. Sure, it makes sense for a business making some small number of widgets, to offer them at lower cost to a customer who wanted to buy a large number of them. It makes sense for two reasons. One, it's an incentive to a potential big customer to buy from that company instead of a competitor that doesn't offer a discount. Two, in many cases, it's actually less expensive for a manufacturer to make more at a time of a particular product. These reasons are amplified if your product is of limited demand.

But I don't think that should apply to health care. Virtually everybody wants and needs it. An insurer isn't going to have to worry about getting customers; there's plenty for all reasonably priced, competently run insurers, I would think.

I think insurers should be forced to have one price for a particular type and level of coverage, no matter how many people are signing up for it. Also, as an individual, I should be allowed to pick any insurer that does business where I live. That would be a good thing for the insurers, since they would have access to more potential customers. They could market themselves to everybody in their geographic market, not just to employers that choose to offer them as an option.

This would lead to more competition, which inevitably leads to lower prices and higher quality. Not low enough prices to solve the whole health care crisis, but it would be a very good start.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

No Moss, No Mas

What a great year for this sports fan. No hockey. (I'm not a hockey fan) (Or a basketball fan, in case you're wondering) Spring training in full swing. And now, the Vikings are trading Randy Moss to Oakland. It's official today.

Those of you who follow NFL football probably think I'm nuts. Moss has set all kinds of records in his first seven years in the NFL, and will doubtless set many more before he retires.

But has he helped us? Have we won any championships?

No, he hasn't, and no we haven't.

Mostly what he's done is act petty and juvenile. If I wanted that I could go hang around a junior high. Heck, I could just stay home; I've got two kids in junior high. And the last thing I need is some millionaire athlete giving my kids the idea they can succeed with that kind of attitude. I want them to think you have to grow out of that stage to succeed.

The way I hear it, a lot of the Vikings players were sick of his attitude, too.

So, good riddance, I say.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Curmudgeon in Spring

For 64 days now, the hours of daylight have been lengthening. And now today, another sign of approaching spring. I heard my first Twin's commercial of the season. That's the Minnesota Twins baseball team for those of you not from Minnesota or into baseball.

It's enough to make this old curmudgeon's heart feel lighter. This particular commercial was on the radio, as I was driving home from work today. It was a humorous ad, as they have been for several years, and it's subject was Johan Santana, last year's American League Cy Young Award winner.

Not only is Johan back, but for the first time in anyone's memory, all 11 pitching spots are already filled. Spring training began just two days ago, and it began with no openings in the pitching staff. That's an encouraging start. We did lose some good, and popular position players from last year's roster; so we will have a little suspense to see who fills the spots, and how well they fill them. But that's all part of the fun of a baseball fan. Watching a team grow, change and evolve. Can we make it four division championships in a row? We'll see; and hopefully have lots of fun doing it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Eminent Domain, or Illicit Claim?

The unconstitutional abuses of government has long been a hot button issue for me. Eminent domain is one area of potential abuse, although in and of itself it is not unconstitutional. Two recent stories which I link to below show the government at its abusive worst.

First, a little background, and a story from a few years ago.

The fifth amendment of the constitution says, in part:
nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation
It was always my understanding that "public use" meant things like roads, or power plants, or maybe even a park; something that was not there before, that the government decided was necessary for the good of its citizens.

A couple of years ago, the issue came up prominently here in the Twin Cities. It concerned Best Buy, the city of Richfield, and a couple of car dealerships located in Richfield.

Best Buy's headquarters was located in Eden Prairie, a suburb in the southwest part of the metro area. Richfield is a suburb in the southern part of the metro; and the two car dealerships were less than 6 miles to the east of Best Buy's headquarters. Apparently Best Buy thought Richfield was a better location for its headquarters, and Richfield was willing to offer up the land on which the car dealerships were located. So they forced them to move, and Best Buy got a new home.

I'm sure Richfield justified this by saying they could get more property tax revenue from the rich owners of the big new shiny building, and they would of course spend this money on projects that would benefit the public.

Of course, they are right that they will get more revenue. Will they spend it wisely? Maybe. But the real problem I have is this. What they are doing in effect is telling one business they're not good enough. We want this other business in our city. So therefore, you have to leave. Not because we need a freeway here. Just because your business isn't as profitable as this other one.

Is that enough abuse for you? Maybe you don't care because it's businesses that are involved. They're rich, right? Who cares about their problems?

What if they did it to your house?

This story on the local news last night, and this national news item, shows government doing just that.

As these two stories show, it does happen to individual homeowners. And again, they're not condemning them to make way for a road, or because they're garbage houses. They're just saying, "You're not really well off enough for us. Your house isn't very fancy. We want rich people with big houses to live here."

Too strong a wording, you say? Here's a quote from the first story:

Mayor Boynton says eminent domain laws allow city officials to redevelop areas considered to be blighted, “This area has substandard housing, substandard parking, and aging housing stock. I think it is just prime real estate that is ripe for redevelopment.”

From what I hear, there's no blight in the neighborhood in question. Aging housing stock? Aren't all houses aging? Sounds like a code word for what I said earlier. They want newer houses that contribute higher property tax. His last sentence confirms that, let me repeat it:

I think it is just prime real estate that is ripe for redevelopment.

It's just real estate, not someone's home. A home someone has lived in for 28 years in their persuit of happiness, which, as I recall reading somewhere, is our right.

I don't care how much extra money the city could raise with this tactic; it's just not right. It's evil. It's another example of government arrogance, and in my opinion, unconstitutional.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

How a Curmudgeon Builds a Snowman

We got about 4 or 5 inches of snow today. Nice heavy, wet snow. Time to build a snowman. But not some wimpy little thing the kids make, no sir. The ol' curmudgeon doesn't do things that way. I grew up when it was colder than it is now, and we got more snow than we do now, and the snow was deeper than it is now. And yes, I did have to walk to school in it; thanks for asking.

So of course I have to build a big snowman, just like we used to do when I was a kid. This first picture shows my son standing in front of it. He's standing just inches in front, and there has been no manipulation of the photo. He's just about 11, and oh, I don't know... 4 foot... 5 foot... something like that --- how should I know, why would a curmudgeon keep track of that.

Anyway, I got my tape measure; and using a level on the crown for accuracy, I measured from the top to the ground. 7 foot 8 inches he is. That's right, you read that correctly; taller than most NBA players even. And he's wearing a crown because he's the king. And he's smoking a cigar because he's politically incorrect, just like me.

Now just don't go spreading any rumors that I sometimes like to have fun. I'm just trying to show the kids the proper way to make a snowman, that's all.

Friday, February 18, 2005

A "Religion of Health"

This interesting article
caught my eye in today's St. Paul Pioneer Press. It's from the Vatican, and presents a theological/moral perspective on a notion I've been thinking about over the last few months. My idea was engendered by rising health care costs, and is mostly financial in nature. I found it interesting, and encouraging, to see a similar conclusion arise from a moral framework.

In case the first link above no longer works, here's the text of most of the first paragraph:

VATICAN CITY — Vatican officials on Thursday held out Pope John Paul II's stoic suffering with Parkinson's disease as an antidote to the mentality that modern medicine must cure all, calling this a "religion of health" that is taking hold in affluent countries. "While millions of people in the world struggle to survive hunger and disease, lacking even minimal health care, in rich countries the concept of health as well-being figures in creating unrealistic expectations about the possibility...

Here's the actual Vatican article the above brief was taken from.

Like I said, I was thinking about rising health care costs, and it occured to me that probably a large part of the problem is, ironically, the great successes the medical field has had. There seems to be no end to the list of diseases, ailments, and even annoyances that can't be helped with modern medicine.

Unfortunately, this comes at ever increasing costs. More money for research, more money for proper testing and to satisfy ever more stringent safety regulations, more expensive equipment and drugs. I think we have had too much success too fast. I have this feeling that society just will not be able to provide the level of health that we are quickly coming to expect. I just don't think we can afford it financially.

It's only natural to want to relieve suffering whenever possible, but unfortunately I don't think we're to the point we can put to use everything medical science has learned. I think we have to back off on some of our expectations.

So there you go, the solution to a large part of the health care crisis. I don't know how to implement the concept, but the idea is free for anyone to use.

You're welcome.

Did you hear there's no hockey this year?

Actually, I guess the better question is: Do you care?

It seems to me that for many people, the answer is no. Now, I've never been a hockey fan. I didn't grow up with it in the small town I was raised in; and now, I just don't have the time to follow a lot of different sports. But Minnesota is a big hockey state, and nobody I've talked to seems too upset.

Probably one factor contributing to that is the endless whining by professional athletes for more money, and the endless whining by the owners of professional sports teams for more new stadiums. Frankly, it's taking a lot of the enjoyment out of being a sports fan.

The people I do feel bad for, and who, I'm sure, do care a lot about this, are the small business owners of establishments like sports bars and memorabilia shops. They sure aren't going to enjoy the irony of having their income go down this year, all because millionaire athletes and billionaire owners are fighting to get just a little more.

But, for a lot of those who even realize there is no season this year, I think their answer to the question I asked in the title is: So?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

What are you looking at?

So I've started my own blog. What's it to ya? I've thought the idea of one is pretty cool, but I don't consider myself a writer. But my friends and I at work discuss the issues of the day, every day; and we solve most of them. So I'll make an attempt to present my wisdom for all the world to see.

I'll try to post something interesting soon.

Now go away.