Thursday, December 31, 2015

The U.S. Health Insurance System Sucks

United Health Care (UHC) is my current health insurance company, through a private policy bought through a broker.

Recently, UHC said they were getting out of Obamacare policies.  This was attributed to costs, but I just found out why - it is due to incompetence and bad service.

They cancelled the type of policy I bought in 2015, and tried to auto-enroll me in a more expensive policy.  By the way, I got no claims paid in 2015 due to my deductible.  I was paying over $650 a month for coverage.

I tried to cancel the auto-enrollment via fax.  I sent an application for a new UHC policy to my broker who forwarded it to them.

By letter and phone, I was told:

  1. I am auto enrolled in a new expensive plan.
  2. I am not auto enrolled in the new plan
  3. I am enrolled in the new plan
  4. My old insurance is cancelled.
  5. My new insurance application is being processed
  6. My new insurance application needs payment information (it was included in the application)
  7. They need payment confirmation (whatever that is) for my new plan.
  8. I tried phoning their number 4 times, and they hung up on me due to call volume
  9. I cannot do anything online except deal with my old 2015 policy.
  10. Finally, they accepted my call and I was on hold for 90 minutes trying to update the payment information, and then I finally got them to cancel the auto-renewed plan.
  11. But the premium is $100 more than I paid last year, and the coverage is less.  I will likely spend at least $10,000 on health insurance and health costs (copays, deductibles..) in 2016.  I probably will not even get a tax deduction for this.
  12. It only took me about 3-4 hours on the phone and 2 hours on the computer and an hour filling out forms to get enrolled.
The Canadians have it right with government provided health insurance.  It costs less per person as a percent of GDP, and Canadians live longer.  No time and money wasted on all the bureaucracy of US private health insurance.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

There is No Santa Claus but Trump is for Real

I am sure that all expatriates living in the USA are running into this problem.  You go home for the holidays and all your relatives and friends want to discuss is Trump.

  • Does he really mean what he says?
  • How much support does he have?
  • What do you think?
Unfortunately, you have to explain that yes, he is for real, he has supporters (I know some), and he represents the worst of America.  Then you try and change the subject to something more pleasant like your recent colonoscopy or the service on US airlines.

Monday, December 21, 2015

USA Falls Behind Brazil?

In Soccer (Football) yes, but in economic performance??

A recent Pew study in the USA found that the middle class is now in the minority, 49.9% of the population.  Meanwhile, in Brazil, the middle class is around 50%+.  What the F happened?!

Of course the easy thing to do is blame Obama.  He is responsible for everything including the poor record of the New York Giants.  However, it is pretty clear that this started under President Ford, and continued under Carter, Reagan, H Bush, Clinton, W Bush, and Obama.  So what are my theories?
  1. The USA has a poor record on education, and typically ranks below average on the performance of its students versus other countries.  This means a less educated less skilled work force.  Why?  Governments in the US do not organize or fund education properly and the culture does not value education.
  2. Corporations figured out how to send most low-medium skill manufacturing work offshore to Mexico, China..  This means fewer middle-class-pay jobs available to the poorly trained workforce.  The only low skill jobs left are those that cannot be offshored, like serving at McDonalds or mopping the floor at the office.  Illegal immigration has contributed to keeping the wages of these jobs at the poverty level.
  3. Taxes became less progressive over time, allowing the rich to keep more of their wealth, squeezing the middle class.  Health care is expensive and is not provided by the government, so the middle class must pay these high costs themselves.
  4. No safety net is available in the US.  If you are middle class and run into problems, like the loss of a job, a serious illness, or an accident, you are on your own.  Unemployment insurance is very low, there is no help with medical costs until you are impoverished, and there are few government programs to help.  Often, people never recover from the setback and remain in poverty for the rest of their lives.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Increasing American Democracy

The USA likes to think that it is a model democracy, the best in the world.  Unfortunately, I do not agree with this view.  The US has a number of undemocratic characteristics:

  1. It is constitutional to redraw district boundaries to benefit your party, i.e. gerrymandering.  This technique is used to increase the number of representatives of your party and effectively devalue or eliminate the votes of citizens for the other party.  You can take a state that has a slight majority for party B and 10 districts and elect 8 representatives of Party B and 2 Party A representatives.  Just draw the boundaries so Party A's voters are concentrated in two districts.  Check out Figure 1 below for some gerrymandered districts.
  2. There is effectively no limit on the money raised to support a candidate due to the "Citizens United" ruling by the Supreme Court.
  3. People seem to vote blindly for incumbents, even though they hate Washington and Congress in general.  This I cannot explain.
  4. There are ways to remove citizens' voting rights by demanding tests that they cannot pass, like having a government-provided picture ID.  My niece does not have such an ID as she does not drive and has no passport to my knowledge.
  5. The only thing the two parties agree on is that there should not be a third party.  They make sure that no third party will ever take hold in the USA.  So we have a situation today where the two parties are polarized left and right, socially and economically, with no moderate alternative.
Figure 1: Gerrymandered Districts
So how to improve on this less-than-good democracy?

My idea is that we should combat gerrymandering and the lack of a third party by voting in the other party's primary.  If I am a Democrat in a Gerrymandered district that favors Republicans (and I am), then I should vote in the Republican primary for the district representative.  I will vote for a more centerist candidate than your anti-abortion, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-gun control, anti-Fed, anti-tax, anti-union, anti-Obamacare Republican voter.  Maybe that more moderate centerist candidate becomes the Republican candidate, and then they win the election through Gerrymandering.  Now I have a more moderate representative than I have today.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Trump Explained to Canadians

I get a lot of questions and comments from friends and relatives in Canada about Trump and his pronouncements.  Let me say first that I could not stand the guy before he started his campaign and I like him less now.

But who is Trump and what is going on in the USA?

It is easy to think of Trump as a political Don Cherry with his hair substituting for the outlandish suits.  But it's not funny and there is no hockey game to bracket his outbursts.

Trump is considered by many Americans to be an attention-hog with a big mouth, a bully, rude, racist, with a thin skin, he loves to win, does not think before opening his mouth, and plays fast and loose with the truth.  Like me, he is entitled to say and do what he wants within the law.  He is a classic demagogue, which I looked up in the dictionary and it should have his picture next to the description:

Why do people support him?  The polls show that the bulk of his support comes from older less educated white people, but others do support him.  I posit that they are mostly scared and he seems like the big leader on a white horse who is going to fix things.  "Make America Great Again" means we are scared and need someone to fix things.

There are a lot of scared white people in the USA today.

  • Well paying manufacturing jobs moved to China and Mexico, leaving poorly educated people few options for a middle class lifestyle
  • A lot of folks lost money in the dot com crash, the housing crash, and the great recession.
  • The US media loves to run stories that scare people: mass shootings, terrorism, disease, and the like.  It sells newspapers and gets people to watch TV news.  The reality is that crime is down, lifespans are increasing, and technology is making life easier, but who needs facts when you can be scared by some media commentator?
  • A lot of folks did not save for retirement and they are getting to retirement age.  It does not look good for them.  Note that Trump is the only Republican candidate saying he won't touch Social Security and Medicare, which is all these people for their retirement.
  • A black guy got elected president, which horrifies a lot of people who are silent racists.
  • Non-whites are doing well.  Asian immigrants are doing well in technology, the illegals are working hard and building solid lives for their family, blacks are making slow progress (and Obama is President), and a lot of whites are falling behind.  Middle income white lifespans are decreasing.
  • Military power is less important and less useful.  The US has lost a few wars lately in spite of spending more on the military than the next 10 countries combined.  Meanwhile, the real field of battle is economic, where China and other countries are kicking ass.
  • The US has lost a lot of its courage as evidenced by "helicopter parents" who want to protect their kids and themselves from falling off bikes, losing a baseball game, or having some person who is not white or Christian from another country pass the screening and move to the US, become a terrorist and then go to their favorite mall and shoot them while they are ordering a soy sugar free peppermint spice extra hot latte.  Never mind my neighbor up the street with the NRA stickers on his pickup, Tea Party vanity license plate, and the permanent scowl on his face, he is harmless.
  • These Trump supporters long for the good old days.  Yet they forget that the good old days (50's and 60's) had segregation and race riots, domestic terrorism (remember the Weathermen?), a lost war in Viet Nam, the threat of annihilation by the USSR, and half of Europe and all of China under communist oppression. We had some great music back then, but also an awful lot of problems.
But the USA will come to its senses and Trump will go back to being a reality TV star like the Kardashians.  We only hope he does not follow their lead and make sex tapes.

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