Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for November 29th, 2008

What if your health insurer won’t pay?

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Turns out that help is available, as described in this article by Paul Raeburn in US News & World Report. It begins:

Timothy Stewart’s health insurance nightmare began in June of last year, when Tom, his 17-year-old stepson, complained of pain in his left leg. Doctors found a chondromyxoid fibroma, a rare benign tumor, on a bone of his lower leg. At the physicians’ urging, Stewart, who manages an RV park near Grand Teton National Park, took Tom from their home in Thayne, Wyo., to Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City for care. Treatment was successful, generating a bill of roughly $13,000 for surgery and a one-night stay.

But the hospital was not in the network of Stewart’s healthcare insurer—which he doesn’t want to name because it still covers his family. The insurer paid the hospital only about $2,600 of the bill, asserting that this amount was the “reasonable and customary” charge. That left Stewart, 53, on the hook for more than $10,000. His formal appeal to the healthcare insurer was denied. The Wyoming insurance commissioner’s office offered only sympathy.

“I was at my wits’ end,” says Stewart. “I didn’t know what to do.” Turning to the Internet, he unearthed Trudy Whitehead, founder of Advantage Medical Bill Review in Salt Lake City and one of dozens of paid “medical billing advocates” who negotiate with healthcare providers and insurance companies to lower consumers’ medical bills. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of hospital and insurance billing practices, Whitehead went to bat for Stewart to negotiate a better deal.

Billing advocates have several lines of attack they can follow. They often uncover errors such as services that were billed but never delivered and single procedures billed multiple times, says Nora Johnson, vice president of Medical Billing Advocates of America in Salem, Va. They also have tools to determine typical payments to hospitals and physicians by Medicare and private insurers, which are lower than the amounts charged to out-of-network patients and even lower than the charges levied on patients with little or no insurance. And they can drill down to a hospital’s bottom-line cost for specific services, which tells them just how much wiggle room there is for jawboning inflated charges lower.

In Stewart’s case, the insurance company had told him that the $2,600 payment to Primary Children’s was double what Medicare typically would have paid for the procedure and therefore was a reasonable reimbursement for an out-of-state, out-of-network procedure. But Whitehead knew that was wrong. …

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2008 at 11:28 am

Interesting site

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Go take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2008 at 9:07 am

Posted in Daily life

How the media talks about torture

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Glenn Greenwald has an excellent column dissecting the way that media talk about torture. It begins:

Yesterday, The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti, in reporting on John Brennan’s withdrawal from consideration for a top intelligence post, wrote:

The opposition to Mr. Brennan had been largely confined to liberal blogs, and there was not an expectation he would face a particularly difficult confirmation process. Still, the episode shows that the C.I.A.’s secret detention program remains a particularly incendiary issue for the Democratic base, making it difficult for Mr. Obama to select someone for a top intelligence post who has played any role in the agency’s campaign against Al Qaeda since the Sept. 11 attacks.

I quoted that paragraph yesterday to show how the establishment media is acknowledging the role blogs played in this episode, prompting Billmon to materialize in the comment section and make this point:

Glenn should have noted the sly way that asshole Mazzetti slides from “the CIA’s secret detention program remains a particularly incendiary issue for the Democratic base” — because, of course, only those wacko lefties worry about war crimes — to the completely bogus assertion that said concerns have made it “difficult for Mr. Obama to select someone . . . who has played any role in the agency’s campaign against Al Qaeda since 9/11″ (emphasis mine).

So, according to the New Pravda (sometimes known as the New York Times) to criticize crimes against humanity is to oppose the entire campaign against the people responsible for 9/11. Dick Cheney couldn’t have put it better.

Now THAT’S some sleazy journalism we can believe in.

Digby noted the same passage and made a similar point:  that to object to someone like Brennan — who advocated and defended the Bush administration’s rendition and “enhanced interrogation tactics” — is hardly the same as objecting to anyone who “played any role in the agency’s campaign against Al Qaeda.”  And Andrew Sullivan made a related point about an AP article by Pamela Hess which contains this wretched sentence:  “Obama’s advisers had grown increasingly concerned in recent days over Web logs that accused Brennan of condoning harsh interrogation tactics, including waterboarding, which critics call torture.”  As Sullivan notes:  “no sane person with any knowledge of the subject disputes the fact that waterboarding is and always has been torture. So why cannot the AP tell the truth?”

All of this underscores a crucial fact:  a major reason why the Bush administration was able to break numerous laws in general, and subject detainees to illegal torture specifically, is because the media immediately mimicked the Orwellian methods adopted by the administration to speak about and obfuscate these matters.  Objective propositions that were never in dispute and cannot be reasonably disputed were denied by the Bush administration, and — for that reason alone (one side says it’s true) — the media immediately depicted these objective facts as subject to reasonable dispute.

Hence:  “war crimes” were transformed into “policy disputes” between hawkish defenders of the country and shrill, soft-on-terror liberals.  “Torture” became “enhanced interrogation techniques which critics call torture.”  And, most of all, flagrant lawbreaking — doing X when the law says:  “X is a felony” — became acting “pursuant to robust theories of executive power” or “expansive interpretations of statutes and treaties” or, at worst, “in circumvention of legal frameworks.” …

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2008 at 8:59 am

How unconscious mechanisms affect thought

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Very interesting Scientific American article by Christof Koch, which begins:

What is consciousness? What is this ineffable, subjective stuff—this thing, substance, process, energy, soul, whatever—that you experience as the sounds and sights of life, as pain or as pleasure, as anger or as the nagging feeling at the back of your head that maybe you’re not meant for this job after all. The question of the nature of consciousness is at the heart of the ancient mind-body problem. How does subjective consciousness relate to the objective universe, to matter and energy?

Consciousness is the only way we experience the world. Without it, you would be like a sleepwalker in a deep, dreamless sleep, acting in the world, speaking, having babies, but without feeling anything. You would feel nothing, nada, nichts, rien. Indeed, in the most famous deduction of Western thought, philosopher and mathematician René Descartes concluded that because he was conscious he existed. That was his only unassailable proof that he wasn’t just a chimera. Maybe he didn’t have the body he thought he had, maybe he had fake memories (premonitions of The Matrix), but because he was conscious he must exist.

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2008 at 8:56 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Lies from the Right: the $70/hour auto worker

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Eric Boehlert takes down the canard about autoworkers making $70/hour:

It’s been one week since New York Times financial columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote that at General Motors, “the average worker was paid about $70 an hour, including health care and pension costs.”

The nugget was part of a column in which Sorkin argued that the government should not bail out the ailing Big Three automakers and that they instead should embrace bankruptcy.

Sorkin’s point was that labor costs were out of control — workers enjoyed “gold-plated benefits” — and that during bankruptcy, the auto companies could address those runaway wages.

As I mentioned, it’s been one week since the column appeared, which seems like plenty of time for Sorkin and the Times to correct the misleading $70-an-hour claim. But to date, there’s been no clarification from the newspaper of record or from Sorkin himself.

And he isn’t alone. Appearing on NPR last week, Times senior business correspondent Micheline Maynard told listeners that the “hourly wage” of Detroit’s union autoworkers had been driven up “towards $80 an hour.”

Somebody at the Times needs to clarify the record, because the average United Auto Workers member is not paid $80 an hour. Or even $70. Not even close. Yet (thanks to the Times?) the issue has become a central talking point in the unfolding national debate about the future of America’s automotive industry.

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2008 at 8:51 am

Former Mexican president: War on Drugs is a total failure

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Ezra Klein writes:

You occasionally have folks speak truth to power, but you rarely have folks in power speak truth. The closest you get is folks who once had power speaking truth. You see it a lot with past presidential candidates, and in Israel you saw it in Ehud Olmert’s outgoing interview where he lambasted Israeli attitudes towards the peace process and its “megalomania” on security, and now you’re seeing it from former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo who has partnered with Brookings to publish a report calling the US drug war a total failure.

Contrary to government claims, the use of heroin and cocaine in the U.S. has not declined significantly, the report says, and the use of methamphetamine is spreading. Falling street prices suggest that the supply of narcotics has not declined noticeably, and U.S. prevention and treatment programs are woefully underfunded, the study says.

“Current U.S. counter- narcotics policies are failing by most objective standards,” the report says. “The only long-run solution to the problem of illegal narcotics is to reduce the demand for drugs in the major consuming countries, including the United States.

You can read the full report here. No one in power will listen, of course, because they all remain subject to the same forces that buffeted Zedillo during his presidency, and led him to keep his mouth shut on America’s insane drug war for the duration of his tenure.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2008 at 8:46 am

Education: the new frontier for capitalism

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Taking over public schools and running them for profit—that sounds like a terrible idea to me, but some like it. Sarah Knopp has an article on the situation, which begins:

In a stock market prospectus uncovered by education author Jonathan Kozol, the Montgomery Securities group explains to Corporate America the lure of privatizing education. Kozol writes:

“The education industry,” according to these analysts, “represents, in our opinion, the final frontier of a number of sectors once under public control” that have either voluntarily opened or, they note in pointed terms, have “been forced” to open up to private enterprise. Indeed, they write, “the education industry represents the largest market opportunity” since health-care services were privatized during the 1970’s…. From the point of view of private profit, one of these analysts enthusiastically observes, “The K–12 market is the Big Enchilada.”1

The idea that our education system should serve the needs of the free market and even be run by private interests is not new. “Those parts of education,” wrote the economist Adam Smith in his famous 1776 work, The Wealth of Nations, “for the teaching of which there are not public institutions, are generally the best-taught.”2 More recently, Milton Friedman introduced the idea of market-driven education in his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom. With the economic downturn of the early 1970s, Friedman’s ultra-right-wing free-market ideas would become guiding principles for the U.S. government and be forced onto states throughout the world. The push toward privatization and deregulation, two of the key tenets of what is known as neoliberalism, haven’t just privatized formerly public services; they have unabashedly channeled public money into private coffers. “Philanthropreneurs,”3 corporations, and ideologues are currently using charter schools to accomplish these goals in education. Friedman chose as his last battle before dying in 2006 to use his clout to push for the privatization of New Orleans’ public schools.4 He advocated for vouchers—government-funded certificates permitting parents to send their child to the school of their choice—but those who support his ideas have switched tracks slightly, pushing now for charter schools.

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2008 at 8:42 am

The Minnesota recount

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Wonderful article on the recount by Matt Taibbi. It begins:

On a Saturday in mid-November, Al Franken stands in front of a roomful of volunteers at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. The former comedian and talk-show host knows that his campaign troops are fired up over the recount of his race to unseat the state’s Republican senator, Norm Coleman. The official tally ended in a virtual tie, with Coleman leading by only 215 votes out of 2.9 million ballots cast — a margin of seven-thousandth of one percent. To Franken’s campaign volunteers, it seems like Florida 2000 all over again.

The ballot recount, which is mandated by state law, is expected to last well into December — keeping painfully alive the already insanely protracted season of electoral combat between Democrats and Republicans. But rather than throwing red meat to the assembled volunteers, Franken is actually trying to calm them down. Walking back and forth, he leads them in a mock war chant that tweaks the old red-blue outrage:

“What do we want?” Franken shouts.
“PATIENCE!” the volunteers respond.
“When do we want it?” Franken asks.
“NOW!” the crowd demands.

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2008 at 8:10 am

Posted in Daily life, Election

Cute images

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2008 at 8:05 am

Posted in Daily life

Another exceptional shave

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Honeybee Spa’s Floral Euphoria shaving soap, the Simpsons Keyhole 3 Best Badger brush, and the HD with a previously used PolSilver blade delivered a very fine shave indeed, with Booster Oriental Spice providing a fragrant finish. The Lady Gillette I included because I like it quite a bit and I thought with the HD in the photo to provide scale, you’d get an idea of the handle’s length: handy if one is shaving her legs. As always, click the image to enlarge, and click the enlargement to see actual pixels.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2008 at 7:59 am

Posted in Shaving

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