How Weird are Medical Expenses?

Trivia: This summer, I dealt with a kidney stone and my son broke his arm. How much do you think the total charges were?

Answer (a): Just over $50,000.
Answer (b): Just over $6,600.

You see a few things when you look at the bills.
1) Lots of charges for things I never really consented to. I never consented because they were never really discussed. Certainly not in terms of financial impact.
2) Lots of high charges. Most seem pretty reasonable considering how well our bodies were fixed. But then you see the charge for someone standing in the room for ten minutes, over $100.
3) Huge discrepancy between pre-insurance and post-insurance. That’s the difference in those two numbers.
4) Huge discrepancies between the percentage insurance paid. Most were paid off at ~90%. But half the final bill, $3,387 dollars came from one charge that was paid at only 50%. And it was very similar to a previous charge. I should have investigated more on this one.
5) The exact same thing, for $883 dollars, was done on two different days (part of pre-op). The description was printed on the bill the exact same way both times. One time, insurance covered all but $61.20, the second time it was $55.20. I assume the difference is because of the intricate vagaries of exactly how someone coded it.

Goodbye Tom Price

Tom Price was a terrible congressman for Georgia. I don’t mean he was ineffective, I mean he fought for terrible policies firmly in line with hard right ideology. It was a pleasure to see him go to Washington and fall on his face. After a hard fought race, the GOP retained his seat with a narrow win over Jon Ossoff, but Karen Handel will be that much less effective than Price was, and is lower on the seniority later. All in all, a net loss for the Republicans.

Good riddance to bad trash.

Trump: Picking the Worst

As Donald Trump prepares to become the most powerful person in the world, it is hard to know where to push back. There are so many aspects to the awfulness, you have to step back and prioritize the outrage. As bad as he is with women and other groups, the march on Washington is small potatoes. Who cares if he’s a sexist pig. Who cares if he builds a wall or not. Doesn’t matter if Jeff Sessions was a racists. In the larger picture, these don’t matter. So what does?

    Existential Threat to Human Existence: Nuclear Annihilation

After Reagan/Gorbachev/Bush, the world became significantly safer. Nuclear weaponry was gradually reduced and controlled. Successive administrations continued this trend. The threat of nuclear global war by superpowers has more or less gone away. The greater threat has been rouge actors. (In the 2004 election, Bush II and Kerry agreed the biggest threat to national security was nuclear proliferation via terrorist groups.) Follow The Doomsday Clock for a fascinating view of this threat.

Conversely, Trump has been consistent about expanding America’s nuclear capabilities, as well as our allies and the world in general. This is despite gross ignorance (not understanding Japans relationship with the military, the nuclear triad, or much of anything).

As I write this, Trump is again talking about disbanding NATO. Likely he holds this view primarily as a negotiating tactic. America has an enormous strength in nuclear weaponry, and we should leverage that threat to get what we want. In addition, unpredictability brings its own benefits. This is usually referred to as “The Madman Theory”, first played out by Trumps hero, Richard Nixon. The benefits of this strategy are real, but they pale against the possible consequence, the end of all human life. It’s amazing that sentence ever needed to be written. You don’t screw around with nuclear war. Policy that wagers human existence against geopolitical advantage is literally insane.

    Existential Threat to Human Existence: Global Warming

On all of Earth, there is only major political party that denies the existence of global warming and the role of humans in it. That is the Republican party of The United States of America. It’s incredible that this one political coalition could imperil life on earth, but there it is. Trump has taken on these beliefs as well. Per usual, it is difficult to understand if he has a clear stance
or has thought very hard about the issue. There may be “some connectivity”, but it’s all a Chinese Hoax. Or something.

Divining his stance is fascinating, but action is where the rubber hits the road. He has been consistently against efforts to control global warming: promising rollbacks of regulations, backing out of the Paris Treaty, nominating deniers to positions of power. Once again, it is hard to overstate how real a threat this is. The consequence of insufficient action is the elimination of our species.

    Threats to American Democracy

These are harder to categorize, but Trump and the current GOP represent a real threat to the American Experiment.

America under control by a foreign power: There is little doubt that Russia attempted to influence the election. There is little doubt that Trump and his inner circle have deep connections to the Kremlin and Russia, and will never reveal what they are. Whether you believe Trump is a willing participant or not, it is self-evident that he has allowed a foreign power to strike at the core of our democracy.

It is great to see elements of the GOP pushing back on this, though it’s a bit late. (Hey John McCain, you endorsed Trump, remember!?)

Corruption of the presidency: Trump is already monetizing the new presidency. The mixing of his commercial and political roles is self-evidently corrupt. His model is Russian kleptocracy. He has shown no remorse or any inclination to stop. Pushing through nominees before background checks and conflicts of interest are vetted.

Partisanship above country: The GOP in general keeps moving further down a bad road. Undermining of the democratic process, both in law and accepted norms: Gerrymandering, vote suppression. Casting unfounded doubts on the voting system, pre-emptively accusing opponents of cheating. Blanket refusal to consider Russia’s influence. Refusal to allow consideration of a Supreme Court nominee, and other judgeships. Refusal to fill executive positions. Playing blackmail and brinksmanship, notably the willingness to shut down the government or default on debt over narrow partisan issues. Escalation of filibuster and similar extraordinary procedures to everyday barriers. Refusal to compromise as an ideological position. Abandonment of positions if the other party supports them (health care, cap and trade for examples). One could go on.

Degradation of facts and free-speech: The modern GOP is anti-fact. (My last real post spoke to this.)
Building their own media echo chamber, banning research in forbidden topics (gun control, marijuana) ideological denial of global-warming, etc. Trump represents a new low. He doesn’t even pretend to deal with facts. I dare any reader to discover Trump engaging with any policy issue in a meaningful, in depth, fact-driven, way. I’ll be waiting. Even on his signature issues of Trade and Immigration he seems to not know what he is talking about or be able to speak past the catchphrase. And he doesn’t care. He lies consistently, continuously, on any topic for any reason. Politifact and similar organizations have been neutered. In any normal election, these graphs would matter.

In addition, Trump is actively pushing back on free speech. He consistently demonizes journalists and journalism. He will not give a press conference. He is open about using his wealth and power to punish journalists, and pre-emptively keep them from reporting on him. He wants to loosen libel laws so he can go after journalists.
Taken together, these add up to genuine threats to American Democracy. Taken together, these add up to genuine threats to American Democracy.

Threats to America, threats to humanity. These outweigh everything else.

The Barry Gibb Talk Show

One of my favorite skits ever is The Barry Gibb Talk Show. From a comedic perspective, I love schticks like this that are several concepts piled on top of each other. The crazy voice, the great song, the anger issues, the juxtoposing of serious political though, the vapidity of Robin, that they are clearly the 1970s version of The Bee Gees, the ad hoc harmonies, so much to love.

Today I realized I had one part wrong. I always assumed that Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon had written the song, much as Timberlake and Samberg did for Dick in a Box. I am now aware there is a fairly famous song by The Bee Gees, Nights on Broadway.

I don’t know if this makes the skits funnier or not for me.

My Latest Favorite Song: #14

Have you ever had a song that you didn’t really like, and then one day you just “got it”? This week, I suddenly “got” Babylon Sisters by Steely Dan.

I like music that takes a while to get. It is what I don’t like about most pop music. There are a fair number of pop songs with some substance to them. But for the vast majority, once you’ve heard it twice there is nothing left to hear. There is no subtlety you missed, no bass line that you plays with the harmonies in a way you didn’t notice before, a out-of-key chord that you can hear the tension — it’s all done. That’s one of the reasons children don’t like jazz or classical music — it takes years to develop the ear that can hear what is going on in those genres.

The Internet Delivers: Glasses

I stepped on my glasses this morning, a lens popped out. A little googling, a little youtubing and the below video showed me how to fix it easily.

It is amazing how I take this for granted. Ten years ago I would drive to a glasses store, and hope they would do it for free. Odds are I would pay $20 and spend an hour doing this. Instead, it took me five minutes. We just assume this level of knowledge is out there for everyone to share in. Amazing.