Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A little help navigating changes in health care system

Since health insurance is on everybody’s mind these days, I thought I would inject an experience I had last week having to do with my own coverage.

But first, allow me to thank everyone who responded to last week’s essay on my analysis of what the government calls the Affordable Care Act and what most everyone else calls Obamacare.

There were more responses than I could tabulate without mechanical help. Virtually all the comments were thoughtful and articulate. I did my best to at least acknowledge all of them. It took a while.

Though I didn’t do an actual count, I would guess the sentiment was about 15 to 1 in favor of what I had to say. Thanks to all of you who took the time to respond. I appreciate it.

It was a pleasant interlude from the agony of another sorry exhibition by the Browns, who are what Paul Brown used to call “snake bit.”

I can’t think of anything that can be done to correct the trend, but whatever the team’s ownership does to take remedial steps, I would offer one bit of advice that I think is an imperative:

No matter what, DON’T FIRE THE COACH. We have had enough of that. It is not a solution. It doesn’t help. Leave Chud alone. It’s not his fault. Get better players.

But I digress.

My own health care plan is called Humana. I’m sure you have heard of it. It is advertised on TV every day. I think it is great. But unless you are 65, you can’t qualify for it. If you are too young, sorry about that. But if you are old enough for Medicare (that great socialistic program we elders appreciate so much) and you haven’t looked at Humana, you would be well-advised to at least check it out.

Last year, my premiums were $72 a month. A few months ago I got a notice in the mail they would go up next year to $82 a month.

I had my sales rep stop by so we could talk about it during the current enrollment period. Her office is in Parma Heights, but she was perfectly willing to come by, as she does once a year.

“Don’t pay any attention to that,” she advised. “It is going up $2 a month, to $74.”

Great, I exclaimed. I can live with that. Some of my friends are telling me their premiums are going sky high, to $700 or $800 a month. And mine is rising to only $74 a month! That is fantastic!

I don’t know how they do it!

I can’t begin to tell you what all I get for that modest premium. A doctor’s office visit is $15 (unless it’s a specialist; that goes up from $40 to $45 a visit), and my prescriptions (I get four of them) are absolutely without cost, as in free, as long as I get them by mail, which of course I do. Do I look dumb enough to go someplace to pick them up when I can get them by mail, a 90-day supply every three months, for nothing? (Don’t answer that).

“You will be getting a new premium booklet in the mail,” Luba (it’s a Lithuanian name) told me.

Well, nothing is ever simple. In the mail last week I got TWO premium books, one for $74 a month and the other for $82. I was on the phone with Humana before Dave the mailman had left the driveway.

After the usual pushing of buttons and admonitions that the conversation might be recorded, I got an extremely nice guy with a pleasant drawl on the phone.

“Pay the $74 amount,” he said. “Throw the other book away.”

“Done,” I said. “And by the way, what is your name?” I think he said it was Howard, or Raymond, or something like that.

“Where are you?” I asked next. I always ask that.

“Dallas,” he replied. That set off a 15-minute conversation as I told him of the three-day passes I spent in Dallas when I was in the Army.

“Where were you stationed?” he asked. Fort Hood, I told him. Me too, he said. He spent 10 years in the Army and was stationed at Fort Hood twice. Elvis was there, too.

“Ever go to Waco, or Temple?” he asked. Many times, I replied. Or, as they say in Texas, minny tams.

“How about Killeen?” Every weekend, I told him. “That was a wild town when I was there,” he offered. Not when I was there, I said. It was pretty tame. I spent all my money at the record store and most of my time at the USO, where my buddy, Dominic Sarno, and his Ohio friends from Youngstown would stand in front of the TV and defy anyone who dared to turn off the Browns game. Nobody dared.

The real excitement came on payday weekends, and my friend from Humana talked about that for a while, but then I had to go. Dinner was waiting. We barely got around to talking about payday weekend in San Antonio. Now that was exciting.

So that’s my report on health insurance. I hope you find it helpful.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Taking an unbiased look at Obamacare

I was standing behind the front counter, rummaging through Paula’s candy basket in search of a Payday candy bar (miniature variety) when a man standing there, presumably putting an ad in the paper, asked me, “What do you think of Obamacare?”

I offered a couple sentences, trying to put into words what I thought about the Affordable Care Act enacted by Congress, but then I got to thinking about it at a different level.

Like, what difference does it make what I think, or what anybody thinks? It has been enacted into law, so who cares what anybody thinks about it? The only way to approach it now is to look at it part-by-part and try to decide how to make it work — if that is even possible.

And my thoughts drifted back to Blanton Collier, a Browns coach from many years ago whose theory to approaching any problem was to employ cybernetics. That’s what he called the process. He was a brilliant coach, tutored by the one and only Paul Brown. Blanton approached a problem by breaking it down into its most basic elements.

Only then, he reasoned, can you solve difficult problems.

So here is my approach to Obamacare, devoid of all emotion and employing nothing but its simplest elements in order to analyze it.

Here is what we know: There are (we are constantly told) 30 million people in this country who have no health insurance.

There are a total of 330 million people living in the country. If you subtract the 30 million who are uninsured, then presumably the rest have insurance. And since insurance is not free, the remaining 300 million must be paying for their own health insurance. Or somebody is.

President Obama feels the 30 million should have health insurance. And he is determined they will have it, even if they cannot pay for it. This is pure socialism, but never mind.

He wants them to be insured, so if they get it, somebody will have to pay for it. So who will pay? The only block of people available to pay for it are the 300 million who already have insurance.

Since they are already paying for their own insurance, or at least, somebody is paying for it, it is conceivable that they don’t want to pay the insurance bills of the 30 million who are uninsured.

That group of 30 million includes many people who don’t want insurance. Not all of them, but some of them. They have thought about it and have decided against purchasing it. But the government is now saying that the 300 million insured people must pay for the insurance of the uninsured 30 million.

Again, this is pure socialism. Our country was not founded as a socialist country, but some people in power have now decided that we are to become a socialist country.

Remember, the voters of the country elected the people who are making socialistic decisions for everybody. But those decision-makers will someday be up for election again.

About the only thing the voters who don’t believe in socialism can do is to carefully study the candidates on upcoming ballots and determine who is for socialism and who is not, and govern themselves accordingly.

There is another problem lurking in the background. Do we have enough doctors graduating from medical schools to care for an additional 30 million people who will be added to the rolls of the now-to-be insured?

If not, it would seem an additional burden will be placed on the doctors and medical facilities we already have.

Are they up to the task? Who knows.

Perhaps Nancy Pelosi, who was speaker of the House when Obamacare was passed, knew what she was talking about when she proclaimed that we must pass the legislation so we can read it and see what’s in there.

It turns out she was correct. Nobody in Washington knew what was in there. At least if they did, they were not telling us.

I never knew she was that smart, but by golly I guess she is.

So that is what I know about Obamacare, without any emotion. Only the bare facts.

Me? I don’t have an opinion about it. But I know what facts are, and in theory they should speak for themselves.

But still, I don’t know where we’re going to get all those extra doctors to care for 30 million extra patients, and how we’re going to convince the 300 million who already had insurance that it’s a good idea to pay for coverage for people who didn’t have it.

They can debate the subject in Washington forever, but eventually, if all those extra people are going to have insurance, someone is going to have to pay for it.

Remember, the government doesn’t have any money. It is already $17 trillion in debt from paying for things it cannot afford, and the only way it has of getting its hands on money is from the people (it’s called taxation) or by borrowing it from China.

That seems to be the way the country solves all its financial problems these days.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

To few take too little time to have their say

I was sitting next to Rick Stenger last Monday at Rotary and we were sharing stories about how we are saving money bundling cable TV, phone lines and Internet access.

I had written about that last Sunday, and as a regular reader of these thoughts, Rick ranks right up there with Bill Crosier, Jim Wuerthele and Bud Boylan. In other words, they never miss.

Rick is a very bright guy. That is one of the reasons he became publisher of The News-Herald a few years ago. He is on top of things.

“Are you going to write next week about the miserable voter turnout in the election?” he asked.

“Have you been reading my mail, or possibly my mind?” I responded. “That is exactly what I intended.”

We went on to talk about widespread voter ignorance and apathy, typified by the attitude, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”

We couldn’t understand why a huge portion of the electorate doesn’t take the trouble to vote, which in essence means they are leaving the decision making up to others. And we agreed it is a shameful state of affairs.

Here are the numbers: In Lake County, voter turnout on Nov. 5 was 30.56 percent. Horrible! In Geauga County it was 35.56 percent – a tiny bit better but still disgraceful!

I cannot understand it. With the voting machines we now use, voting is as easy as putting jelly on your morning toast.

I would NOT THINK of not voting. No way would I leave the decisions up to others without putting in my nickel’s worth.

To the people who think it is important to vote only in presidential elections, I say, “You’ve got it backwards. Your vote has much greater impact in local elections, where the win-lose margins are much smaller.”

My favorite example of a close election was the Eastlake mayor’s race of 1957. The incumbent, Jack Barrett, was challenged by Mable Johnson, another longtime city official. Both of them were very nice people.

There were six young men who lived in a cottage on Lake Erie that entire summer. I was one of them. We all had worthwhile careers, but we wanted to try something different. (It is of no consequence that in 90 days we had 89 parties. It just worked out that way.)

I knew Jack and Mable very well because, at that point in my career, I had covered dozens of Eastlake council meetings.

One day Jack was out campaigning and he knocked on our cottage door. We were right next to the police chief, Dick Taylor. He didn’t seem to mind our partying. But I digress.

I told Jack I couldn’t vote for him because I was a resident of Willoughby, and I would be voting there.
Jack just wanted to pass a little time. “Can you see Mable Johnson, in a rainstorm, standing in a ditch full of water wearing hip boots, which is something a mayor does from time to time?”

Mable won the election by ONE VOTE. I say again, she won by a single vote. You can look it up. She went on to be mayor for several terms before becoming county treasurer. Jack moved to Kirtland and became the city administrator.

Don’t ever tell me your vote doesn’t matter. I will differ with you.

I have never failed to vote in any election, general, primary or special, going back to 1952. A guy named Eisenhower was running against a guy named Truman that year.

I lived in Wickliffe at the time, and we voted at what was then the high school. It was the most crowded election I had ever seen. There were hundreds of people waiting to vote. They had chairs all around the perimeter of the gymnasium. Every time someone went to vote, everyone moved over one chair.

It took a long time. Nowadays there is not much waiting. I have figured out that the best time to vote is right after lunch. It is never crowded. So at  2 p.m. on Election Day the lady of the house and I went over to Immaculate Conception Church in Willoughby, walked in, signed up and voted. It was over so fast I could have left the car running.

By the way, I am tired of being moved around. For 45 years I voted at Browning School. Then we moved, and for a couple years we voted at Andrews Osborne Academy. Then they moved us to the basement of Willoughby City Hall. This year, for the first time, it was Immaculate Conception.

Where will it be next year? The Eagles hall?

As an election footnote, I got a kick out of the people who predicted doom and gloom for the Willoughby-Eastlake schools renewal and the Laketran issue.

I was certain both of them would be big winners. How did I know? Call it intuition. I have been around a few elections, and I know how the waters are running, so to speak.

All four issues on my ballot – those two plus a library issue and the human services issue – were huge winners, about 2-1, as I was sure they would be.

Too bad I didn’t check the odds in Las Vegas. I could have made a fortune.

Friday, November 8, 2013

All bundled up with some new technology

Since we live in an age when consumers are constantly being confronted by “aggressors,” as we called them in my Army days at Fort Hood, Texas, I feel compelled to spend at least another week giving unsolicited advice on how to keep from getting suckered when bills arrive in the mail.

I am not talking about legitimate bills. I am talking about bills that raise questions in your mind and small hairs on the back of your neck, commonly called “hackles.”

I think that is what they are called. But I don’t have any way of looking up hackles without resorting to Google. And I want to move along.

I told you last week how I got Sears to cancel a small amount it claimed I owed (about $21.10) by appealing to the company’s sense of fair play. Several readers told me I could avoid such confrontations by paying bills on the Internet. I have never learned how to do that and I don’t intend to start now. I have enough trouble looking up college football scores on the Internet for my Football Prognosticators League. It is because some of them draft such small, obscure college teams that their scores are not listed in the papers.

I am not going to mention any names, but there several prominent citizens among the Prognosticators, including some judges and a few lawyers. They shall remain nameless because many years ago I wrote a column about the group and the late and highly respected judge Jim Jackson, one of the Prognosticators, had a fit because he thought I was linking him to gambling.

My response was that if you call a competition among friends in which you can win or lose as much as $7 over the course of a season “gambling,” then I plead guilty.

Other readers told me I prevailed over Sears because I buy ink by the barrel and paper by the carload.
Please be advised that I don’t “buy” anything around here. They have other people who do that.

But I digress. Let’s get down to the consumer case at hand. A couple months ago the lady of the house and I went over to Verizon to get new cell phones because our old ones were running down every day, which was a severe pain in the posterior.

I learned from the chap who waited on us that Verizon is now hooked up with Time Warner Cable, and if we got our cable TV and our computer line from TWC, I could save some money.

All I had to do was drop the AT&T phone and computer line. I hated to do that, because I always liked AT&T and I have friends who work there. But it was a business decision.

Here’s the math: I was paying Time Warner $108 a month, and I was paying AT&T around $72 a month, for a total of $180 a month. According to the chart I got at Verizon, I could get all that “bundled” for $130 a month ($129.99, to be precise, but I think it’s fair to call it $130.)

Swell, I said. Sign me up. A guy from TW came over and put a new wire in my modem (those are wonderful gadgets with blinking lights, and when they go bad you unplug them for a minute and “reboot” them. That is a technical term that I don’t understand, but it doesn’t matter. I am not an electrician, I am a typist.)

When the first bill came, it was for $193.65!

Whoa! I said. Hold the horses! That was not what I had agreed to. Five minutes after the mail came I was on the phone to TW. There are some things I don’t understand,  the guy advised me. The regular bill is going to be “only” $139.88, but that includes a new modem for $5.99 a month and some taxes and fees (it sounds like the government).

OK, I agreed. But you promised me free HBO (I never really wanted it. I cancelled it once before because I never watched it.) However, I wanted to make a point.

All right, the guy said. I will turn on HBO for you, and the new monthly bill will be $139.17. So get this! I add a new service and save 71 cents a month. Figure that one out.

I calculated I should be getting a refund from AT&T because they charge you a month in advance on your phone bill (while you’re at it, figure that one out), and sure enough, I got a check in the mail for $31.65.

Hey, it all adds up.

Here’s the hooker (if you’ll pardon the expression) in the deal: The price is guaranteed for 12 months. What happens after that, only time will tell.

I do know this: If I turn down the price increase and they come to get my new modem, they will be met at the door by five angry females. One of them is two-legged and the other four are four-legged. If that happens I am going to get out of the way lest there be some fur flying.