Big announcement

Okay, it's been forever since I have updated and probably no one even remembers who I am any more with me working 60 hours a week and going to school for another 20 hours or so... But since time is at such a premium I am going to break with tradition and make a big LJ announcement rather than calling people.

My wife is pregnant :) She is due in late August/early September, and there is only one little tyke in there :) We don't know the gender yet, but we will be finding out and there will be much frantic shopping and purchasing of gender specific items by us and our family! Everything is going normally right now and last week we actually heard the little guy's (or girl's) heart beat and the doc said it sounded "awesome"! His word not mine :)

My wife and I are deliriously happy and excited, and neither one of us can really believe it just yet. I wish I had some more time to call everyone to deliver the news, and I apologize if anyone is offended finding out in this way.
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Fear of Flying

I'm not afraid of flying, but I can definitely understand the fear of flying. In a car wreck the body count is in the single digits, in a plane crash the body count is usually in the hundreds...

Google Sites and Apps

I've been playing around with Google Sites recently and finding the application very enjoyable! It is definitely more about content management than web development, so if you are looking for absolute control over your website this is not the solution for you. But, if you are looking for a way to set up clean and easily managed content Google Sites is perfect. It's has what I would call a semi-WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) interface where most of the elements are simply click and type. This is definitely something your website laymen can dive right in and have a solid site up an running in very little time.

With the addition of Google Gadgets you have an almost unlimited number of ways to customize your page. Basically it seems like anything you could add to your iGoogle page could be included here as well. They also include some site specific gadgets like text boxes and other utilities. Combine the gadgets with Google Apps and even more customization is available. You can add a calendar to your page with the ability to control access in almost any way you want. You can link to documents. You can create forms where user entry is stored in a Google Docs spread sheet for your personal use or to be displayed on the page. The possibilities are almost endless and there is a great community springing up in the help sections of Google to explore as many of them as possible.

For the webmasters out there you can tie your sites into Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools very easily. Creating a Google Apps account (Standard edition is free and Premier edition is $50/user) gives you one central location to manage your site, email, docs, and calendar in a very effective collaborative environment. You can very simply add users and set their privileges to full access, just viewing, or almost anywhere in between. You can make your sites world viewable or viewable by invitation only. Google will even help you set up your own URL for a small fee ($10 if your URL isn't already taken), Google has partnered with to provide this service.

The long and the short here is that Google Sites is a very simple and fast way to get a basic site up and running and Google Apps can give you a much more well rounded solution that even seasoned webmasters might be impressed with.

Congrats Roy!

Love him or hate him, he took his Tar Heels (whatever that is...) to a vic in the big game! So, while I may have been bitter when Roy left KU I am happy for him and his recent success. I am glad I can finally put the contempt I initially felt for Roy after his leaving behind me... it helps that we got a better coach in Bill Self :)

Gay Marriage in Iowa

More and more I have started to look at myself as a republican because I tend to agree with other republicans more often than not... But, I know that same sex marriages are not big on the republicans agenda and they are something I definitely support... So I was wondering exactly how do you define a republican? For this I fell back on WIKIPedia!

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So I guess you could best classify me as a socially liberal republican? Or maybe I am a republicrat? demoblican? Who knows...

By the way, these thoughts were spawned after reading that Iowa is the latest state to legalize same sex marriage.

$0.62 more for a pack of smokes! Gasp!

I'm actually pretty torn here... On one side I am really against smoking and anything that will help people do less of it is a good thing in my book. On the other side I think this is a tax that is getting out of hand, not to mention self-defeating. So in an effort to order my thoughts I thought I would go with the good ol' pro's and con's list.

The Pros

  • People will smoke less.

  • The money is going to a good cause I have no trouble supporting, health care for kids. I think a lot of kids suffer from second had smoke so in some ways it is only fair that the smokers help pay for their care.

The Cons

  • It's a tax increase. And, I might add that Obama said that for something like 95% of Americans there wouldn't be any of those...

  • It's self defeating in the sense that if people stop smoking as the tax gets further out of control, less money will come in and the tax will have to be raised again to keep a consistent level of funding for the projects sustained by tobacco taxes.

  • It unfairly targets the poor? I heard this one on the radio on my way to class and I am not sure I buy it, or at least I am not sure I care in this case. Sure, more poor people smoke, but they don't have to and they are the ones who most likely can least afford to... I guess the best I can say is that it unfairly targets the stupid?

  • It takes advantage of people with an addiction. This is one I can get behind, I would say most smokers are addicted to cigarettes and it seems kind of underhanded to profit from people's addiction. I am pretty sure there are some companies out there that we give a lot of crap to about that...

  • It's a vice tax. I debated putting this in the pro's since I don't think it is a good thing to drink (at least in excessive amounts) and smoke, but really, that isn't for the government to decide in my opinion. If I want to drink I should be allowed, but those pot smokers are evil, law-breaking, vandals! So I guess really where do you draw the line? McDonald's cheese burgers are bad for you too!

In the end definitely more Cons than Pros... So I think I am against, well... vice taxes in general. I think smoking is a vile habit that when done in public shows a horrible disregard for the health and comfort of those around the smoker, but that doesn't mean it should be taxed like this.

Talk to people who disagree!

If there is something you believe in, something you support completely, or even ideas you are pretty sure are right... Find someone who disagrees with you and talk to them! I think this day in age that is the challenge facing people. It is too easy to find people who agree with you, to listen to talking heads on TV that tell you what you want to hear, or just altogether avoid the other side of an issue. And, don't talk to them like you are trying to convert them, that is a good way to make sure they never come back, show them you are honestly interested in their opinion. Do your best to encourage further conversation by listening more than talking, and maybe they will return the favor by listening to you in return. Many of them are just as smart as you and I, so don't be afraid to change your opinion in light of new information or better reasoning.

God knows I am not all that good at this... I tend to just go off the deep end at times, so sure I am right, they are wrong, and they have to admit it! So this is advice for myself, and I'm working on it. But I hear conversations around me in school, work, etc where people who disagree just part ways to go find someone more pleasant to talk to. I say talk to, not with, because these people aren't looking for a discussion they are looking for reinforcement. I think this is the mental equivalent to coasting down hill. The more you do it the harder it is to see the side streets (alternative points of view) and the faster you go the harder it is to change course (your opinion).

So I guess my goals are to try to listen more, talk less, and to stop mentally coasting down hill.

Obama says blame management! UAW is fine?

from the WSJ:

In prepared remarks Monday, Obama said, "The pain being felt in places that rely on our auto industry is not the fault of our workers... And it is not the fault of all the families and communities that supported manufacturing plants throughout the generations... Rather, it is a failure of leadership."

I think this is typical Obama. Blame management and ignore the UAW who was a big supporter of his campaign...

I think leadership was lacking, but I also think the UAW (and by extension, the workers) had something to do with it as well. This Wikipedia link talks about some of the criticisms of the UAW policy and some of the changes they have made to address the situation. A little above the criticism section is some information about auto workers wages.

I would have to say, with the UAW and some of the labor union conflicts in the KC area recently, I am not a huge fan of unions these days since it seems like they are holding their employers hostage with the threat of strike. But, on the whole I don't know a lot about labor unions or their history. I do wonder if they have outlived their usefulness at this point as the conditions that led to their necessity seem to be long past and maybe irrelevant in todays world? Or maybe the problem is that the leadership of the UAW is too far separated from the true views of the average worker? Anyone who knows more feel free to fill me in or point me to some good reading material!

After looking at the this article on the UAW web site they state that the average worker gets about $28/hour which comes out to $58,240 a year. That seems a little high to me given the average salary of say a programmer or other technical positions I am familiar with, and on top of that they receive some fairly unheard of benefits from what I understand. But as stated in the article linked above, they are working to remedy the situation it is just going to take years and a lot of tax payer money! In the end though, I am glad the article ended with the following paragraph:

"Make no mistake: The argument over a proposed rescue package is complicated, in no small part because over the years both management and labor made some truly awful decisions while postponing the inevitable reckoning with economic reality. And even if the government does provide money, it's a tough call whether restructuring should proceed with or without a formal bankruptcy filing. Either way, yet more downsizing is inevitable."

Obama's Healthcare Solution

I wrote this a while ago and have been thinking about posting it for a while now... It's long, but I enjoyed researching and writing it so I thought I would share it. I apologize in advance :) First though, here is where I got most of my information:

Obama's site on Health Care
Obama's Health Care FAQ
Obama's Health Care Plan

I also looked and some different census data and polls to verify some of the numbers on people without health care, total health care costs, etc. I found them all with really simple Google searches.

The Article

I started looking into Obama’s health care plan expecting to hate, disagree with, and ridicule every word. Much to my surprise, however; I actually agree with a surprising portion of the ideas outlined in the bill, but (perhaps predictably) I still disagree with the bill as a whole. This health care plan seems to have taken some quality ideas and used them to advance a political agenda that possesses more popularity than sense.

The first thing I would like to point out that this healthcare plan is presented as a $50-$65 billion initiative to provide health care to the uninsured, to help small businesses provide health care if needed, invest in electronic health care IS, and other smaller initiatives. Depending on who you believe, last year anywhere from 15%-33% of Americans spent at least some time without health care. Total health care spending last year was around $2.2 trillion. So, using my impressive mathematical skills, I have calculated that it should cost around $330 billon to $726 billion to provide the care specified before any of the expected savings. $10 billion is going to electronic health care technology, so on the low end Obama is expecting $275 billion (83% cost reduction) and on the high end $686 billion (94% cost reduction) to make this plan only cost $50-$65 billion. I call BS on this and for the rest of this exercise I am assuming the plan is going to cost around $300 billion and most likely much more.

The next opinion I got from reading this bill is there are basically three classes of health care participants that are targeted by this bill. (1) Those that don’t have health care and would only use it for emergencies even if they had it, (2) Those that don’t have health care and would use it for preventative care, and (3) Those that don’t have health care and are in desperate need due to some health condition. For everyone else the only thing that would change is the money you spent for everyone else’s health care. The point is, if you already have health care through an employer nothing really changes for you.

Now if you belong to the first group, thanks for wasting tax payer money! You will be getting free health care but won’t be contributing to any of the savings the plan hopes to generate to make the plan even remotely fundable. In the FAQ on the Obama Health Care Plan it is stated the plan will realize “tremendous” savings within the health care system to help fund the plan, and these savings come mainly from the benefits of preventative care. The rest of the funding will come from allowing the Bush tax cuts on people earning over $250,000 per year to expire. Now consider most people earning over $250,000 a year in the U.S. are small business owners who create the majority of the jobs, and the easiest way to come up with the extra money is to just not hire someone they otherwise would have hired. Don’t worry, the person they don’t hire won’t have a job but at least he will have health care… The other thing these small businesses might do if they earn right around $250,000 a year is manipulate their income a little bit to earn just under $250,000 a year which is a fairly simple exercise in accounting.

Now if you are a member of the second group I believe there is a good possibility a government program is the right answer and I even believe in some of Obama’s ideas. I’ve read many studies that say preventative care has a great chance at reducing the likelihood of sever illness or health issues in the future, and it is these severe health issues that burn through the dollars! 5% of people using health care account for 49% of total health care spending, and $1.7 trillion a year is spent on treatment for chronic conditions many of which onset could be delayed and/or overall treatment costs could be reduced by preventative care. Currently preventative health care accounts for about 4 cents out of every dollar spent in health care, or $80 billion dollars total, so let’s say we spend $160 billion to expand preventative care (about half of what is currently planned) and see if we gain the benefits expected. If it succeeds then, depending on the state of the industry, then there is potential for expanding the program. But, under the current plan Obama is not waiting, he is spending the money before he has realized any of the savings he requires to fund his program, and there is no guarantee those savings will materialize let alone in the amount the plan requires. The feasibility of Obama’s health care plan is dependent on the size of this second group of people and the savings realized due to the benefits of preventative care. This is important, if this second group of people is too small or the benefits of preventative care don’t materialize the plan will have a huge funding problem and you can guess where the money will come from in that case…. More taxes… Now, preventative care is not the only source of savings Obama is counting on (I will talk about those more in a bit) but it is the crucial one.

The last group, those with existing health problems and no health care coverage, is addressed only by saying pre-existing conditions cannot prevent coverage and through the expansion of disease management programs. This group of people accounts for $1.7 trillion (77%) of health care spending and they aren’t going anywhere. Even if preventative care lowers costs it won’t do it tomorrow. These people will still require coverage. The real question is, how many of those without coverage fall into this category? If the number is large (i.e. larger than those in group two) then implementing this plan will increase spending rather than realize any savings.

So, where are the other areas Obama expects to see savings? These savings are predicted to come from the use of electronic health information system technologies and attacking “anti-competitive” business practices in the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

I agree that electronic health information system technologies are a great idea! Let’s do it! All we need to do is define how it will work, create standards, get the infrastructure in place, retrain doctors and other staff, get the current back log of paper records keyed in… the list goes on and on and on. It is not impossible, and it needs to be done, but none of the specifics have even been hinted at. On top of that, there are many companies out there that are working on exactly this problem, and it isn’t easy. They have already spent billions with no solid standard emerging. Is $10 billion enough? I seriously doubt it. Can this be done in 4 years? I seriously doubt it. Will this result in any savings short term? Absolutely NO! Will this result in any savings long term? 100% yes!

Now, as for “anti-competitive” business practices, let’s start with the insurance industry. First thing to consider here is health insurance is a misnomer. The concept of insurance implies a chance expenses will not be realized, and the “risk” of a claim can be mitigated by having a sufficiently large customer base paying premiums. Now in the current health insurance industry, the insurers are insuring many fixed costs. They know you are going to have doctor’s visits, check ups, and all these general expenses and they have to pass those costs down to their customers or they don’t make money and they don’t stay in business. They are providing health care, not insurance. Now under Obama’s plan they cannot turn someone away due to a pre-existing condition. In this situation a risk has already been realized, the person is sick, and this becomes another fixed cost. How does the insurer pay for this? They have two options, (1) charge the sick person more or (2) charge everyone else more. So, even if Obama creates more competition and lowers profits in the insurance industry which has the potential to collapse the industry, he is still going to raise costs (or at the very least not lower them) by increasing insurance companies fixed costs. Now let’s take this a step further, if the health care industry becomes so competitive that profit becomes non-existent then businesses will leave the industry and take their money elsewhere. Who does that leave to provide health care? The government.

The pharmaceuticals, though; those guys are evil! I mean they make money hand over fist right? So in Obama’s plan says we need to import “safe” drugs from overseas to lower costs. This is stupid on so many levels it is mind boggling. First and foremost, how do we know these are safe drugs? The FDA has no power in these other countries! With out a huge investment in oversight how can we guarantee the safety of drugs? We haven’t been able to do it in the past that is for sure! Second, this ignores how pharmaceuticals work. They have extremely large investments in R&D that more often than not do not pay off. The R&D that results in an effective drug must generate a HUGE profit to pay for all of the R&D spending that led nowhere. If you undercut their profit, you hinder future research, and long term over all health care suffers. Third, other countries have undercut US pharmaceuticals in a similar fashion forcing them to lower prices, so what had to happen for these companies to continue to fund their research? They had to raise prices in the US. Yes, pharmaceutical companies make a lot of money, sometimes, but they also take on very large amounts of risk. Obama says people have a right to what they produce independent of any compensation they might receive for their product. That is another way to say slavery and all that will happen is businesses will leave the industry and take their money elsewhere.

The Obama team does not seem to understand that if you take all the fun (money) out of the game (industry) the players (investors) will take their ball (money) and go home (invest somewhere else). How does that improve health care in the US?

So time for an overview, I agree with (but did not necessarily discuss above) the following:

- Preventative care should be available to all, but we need to define what preventative care means.
- Electronic health information systems should be implemented.
- Malpractice law and insurance should be reworked.
- Hospitals should be required to collect and report quality health care data (transparency is a good thing).

I disagree with (but again did not necessarily discuss above) the following:

- The estimated cost of the proposed plan. Obama is dreaming!
- The estimated/assumed savings of the proposed plan. Obama is REALLY dreaming!
- Forcing health insurance companies to accept pre-existing conditions unconditionally.
- Undercutting profits in the pharmaceutical industry
- Providing comprehensive health care to everyone

This is what I think will happen under the current plan:

- Initially small businesses will suffer due to increased taxes, or they will limit growth and manipulate income to avoid the taxes.
- The plan will be horribly under funded for the first year and then more taxes will be raised to make up for the deficiency.
- Electronic health information systems investments will be the first to get cut as funding gets tight.
- Profitability in the insurance industry will plummet as the government creates unfair competition and companies will start to go under.
- Profitability in the pharmaceutical industry will plummet as other countries will import cheap versions of drugs developed in the US and companies will start to go under.
- As pharmaceuticals go out of business spending in R&D will drop and improvements in health care will stagnate.
- As the health care industry falters the government will be “forced” to step in and pick up the slack at the tax payers expense.

This is how I would do it:

- Start off with an increase in the investment for preventative health care and the most effective disease management programs.
- Fund this with stimulus money. We are printing so much of it might as well use some of it for creating effective jobs in the health care industry.
- Create a health care record standard with the help of major players in the industry and enforce it. Let the companies who know what they are doing run with it.
- Create a schedule for hospitals receiving any federal money to work towards electronic processing over the next 10 years or what ever is deemed realistic by industry experts. And provide certain levels of stimulus money to help fund the conversion if needed.
- Allow pharmaceuticals to depreciate their R&D expenses rather than writing them off. The proportion that is depreciable will scale based on the effectiveness of their R&D program (i.e. the health benefits per dollar spend in R&D) and their participation in price negotiations with large health insurance parties such as Medicare and Medicaid.

If we did it my way this is what I would expect to see:

- Some savings due to preventative health care and disease management programs, and a slow trend of stagnating or decreasing overall health care spending over the next decade.
- Decreased costs in hospitals over the next decade as they fully integrate with electronic systems.
- A boom in the electronic health information system industry
- Lower drug prices as pharmaceutical companies benefit from the tax savings realized from depreciating R&D expenses. This will happen due to competition, one company will lower prices to undercut the rest, and the rest will have to follow.
- Increase in R&D spending due to new tax benefits and higher quality medication as a result.
- Decrease in health insurance costs as we remove the fixed costs associated with the industry. Again, normal competition will enforce this.

Some final thoughts:

- If you can afford health insurance and choose not to purchase it you deserve what you get.
- If you can’t afford health insurance and you do not take advantage of current government funded care programs you most likely deserve what you get.
- Society does have a responsibility to help care for those who cannot care for themselves, and very few people fall into this category.
- There is no such thing as a right to health care, just like there is no such thing as a right to a house or car.
- From the little I know about McCain’s program I think it might have been worse than Obama’s…