Higher Education, No Cost No Value?

I don’t think FREE college education is a good idea.  Making a child work to buy that bike he wants has long been a way of making the child value the bike, they won’t leave it out in the rain if they had to sweat to get it.  I’ve seen too many students who are at the university because it’s what’s next and don’t take it seriously.  I propose that we set the cost to the undergrad student for a year’s worth of public university education to be 80% of a summer’s worth of minimum wage.  It’s an attainable amount is not a crushing sum if the student decides to travel for a summer of has other unpaid responsibilities, and yet it instills a sense of value in the student for the education.  The student needs some skin in the game…but not a major organ.

In the current debate about student loans, tuition, and higher education I am certainly in the camp of providing students with all the education we can get into them.  In an educated society we can have informed discussions about a host of troubling issues.  I believe a good bit of the difficulty we are having today is because rather than being informed by a good education people are being informed by information bits, some true, some false, and don’t really have the tools to discern one from the other.  The smooth delivery of the factoid they want to be true is the one they pick…so education.

If you are a parent with kids in college you know that the cost of education is ridiculous.  When we were in school in the 80’s the proposal outlined above pretty much held for all public universities, now a summer job is chump change compared with the cost.  Why? Well the facilities are pretty posh, it would be nice to be able to opt out of the student center with the climbing wall for the sake of cost…especially since serious students don’t have much opportunity to use it.  High powered research professors? undergrads seldom see these guys, they give the institution chops but do they contribute to your child’s education…I don’t know.  Whatever the reason, we need to get these cost down to an attainable level, the cost of both the student debt and the lack of education in our society is snowballing.

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The Other Price of Freedom

Let’s talk about the other price of freedom. Many of us have people who have served in the military, fathers, brothers, sons, and daughters. Some have died or had their lives changed forever by terrible injuries or memories. It’s certainly easy to see this price for our freedom, it’s pointed out all the time to motivate this or that action or behavior… but there is another price, one that it seems less and less people are willing to pay. It is the price of our safety.
It’s a risk to give your neighbor the freedom to be different from you, but if we don’t pay this price, if we don’t sacrifice our safety, a price that is sometimes paid in blood and violence at home, then neither your neighbor nor you are truly free. You may not like that your neighbor is gay and lives with his partner, or that she is a Muslim and wears her hijab to the store. You may not like it that he burns the flag, HIS flag on HIS front lawn. You may not like the confederate flag in his pickup truck, or that she’s disrespectful to your religion, or our country. That said, if we are a free county it all needs to be allowed.
We all have to follow the law, we should all treat each other with decency, but that doesn’t always happen, and we can’t be both free and safe. Sure, those who step over the line need to be found and punished, it is a travesty that some of the perpetrators of some of the most infamous violence against blacks in the 60’are just now being found out. When actual planned violence can be seen coming it should be stopped, but you can’t just ostracize a whole people because some of them MIGHT be dangerous, what kind of freedom is that, and how long before this preemptive justice is applied to you.
Allowing you only the freedom to do what I like is no freedom at all.

HSA

It’s a new year and one of my resolutions is to give this woefully neglected blog a little more attention.  So what have I decided to write about on this auspicious kick off you ask?  Well I’ve decided to write about:

The shiny new health insurance policy we have been blessed with this year.  My employer, and in their defense this is a national trend,  has switched us to a HSA/High deductible plan.  It saves a little on your premium, it saves a lot on the company’s premium, and you can save up for when you get sick since the HSA or “health savings account” can roll over into next year if you don’t use it.  This sounds good right?  We’re pretty healthy, well here comes the sticker shock.  Since you will be paying 100% of the first $3000 you might be surprised to find out that the doctor visit is between $60 and $90.  Multiply that  times how ever many are in your family and it adds up fast.  Now just suppose you need a prescription every month, thyroid around $160 per month, suppose you have a child with ADD, $330 per month, suppose you have more than one.  You’ll burn through that $3000 pretty fast this year…and next year and the year after.

The move to shift health care costs off of employers is national, and I can’t say it’s bad, but the shift to the employee is awful.  I can afford this, or at least it won’t break me, but what about all the people just getting by?  Obamacare was supposed to fix this but it seems like it just made it OK for employers to shift the costs faster.  Wages are stagnant, costs are going up, this system is going to crash and crash hard.  The sad part is it doesn’t have to be this way.

LISTEN TO US!

Right now, the rich and powerful are trying to marginalize the group called “Occupy Wall Street.”  They are saying that this mix of blue collar and professional, working and unemployed, fearful and the foreclosed, this group of regular people, don’t have a coherent message, that no one knows what they want.  Well it’s true that they don’t have a public relations rep, or a lobby group but they do have a unifying message.  Their message, and it runs through the whole spectrum of people involved is…are you ready:

WE ARE SICK AND TIRED IF BEING POWERLESS!

Yup, that’s it.  As individuals, they feel they have no voice against injustice.  They are:

POWERLESS to stop being abused by BANKS,

To demand an interest rate that approaches inflation instead of 100 times less than inflation (0.01% last time I looked).

To stop them from using fees as a gotcha profit center.

To demand accountability for their actions and for the use of our bailout money for…what?

POWERLESS to demand that our Government represent us instead of Corporations and whoever can buy their time and attention.

Why can’t we have a choice during an election, we are forced to pick who will do the least damage, the leper with the most fingers and then we are told that we are responsible for his actions.

POWERLESS to control the actions of Corporations.

The corporate person has all the rights that we have but is not held accountable for his actions, his only goal is to maximize profits, and he has a lot more resources to achieve his goals.

POWERLESS to stop the Wall Street and Corporate boards from dismantling and corrupting key institutions for short term gain.

POWERLESS to stop the Health Care Industry and the Insurance Industry from preying upon us at our most vulnerable and blocking every effort to reform them with fear, mistrust, and misinformation.

POWERLESS against a media that is more interested in selling the show, or representing a viewpoint (or an owner), than delivering news and information that could be used for informed decision making.

Here’s a real shocker for you, the Occupy Wall Street crowd and the Tea Party crowd are after the same thing, empowerment.  Unfortunately the Tea Party seems to think the problem is Government and want to remove of it as much as possible.  I believe that the Government is the only one with a stick big enough to represent us against the true enemy of individual and corporate greed and power, unfortunately they appear to be uninterested in representing us.

“The Question” and Yo Mama

If our society is to continue with any resemblance to what we think of as traditional American Society, we, as a people, need to start using “The Question.”  The Question is what you should ask yourself when given a choice or opportunity. It’s a simple thing really, you turn to yourself and ask, “Is this the right thing to do?”

I’ve had long talks with one of my more conservative coworkers about this and he tends to get hung up defining answer, but I contend that the important part is that you ask, with heartfelt sincerity, The Question. The answer, born of whatever rationalizations you can convince yourself of, is for you to work out. For instance, we’d like to give you $30M a year to be our CEO…is this right for the company, for myself, for my family, for the country? Can I justify my taking money that could go to hard working employees or for growing the company?

How about this, if I lay off a division of my company my bottom line will be high enough this year to get a big, multimillion dollar bonus. Is this good for the long term life of the company, or will short term gain benefit me at the cost of many. If you can convince yourself it’s right than do it, the answer to The Question is not nearly as important to society as that you asked, wrestled a little and then decided on an answer you believe to be honest. There are too many situations to make rules, but we have to find a way to institute a societal effort to do the right thing, an expectation that everyone is doing what they think is best. Think about this, if we disagree with someone, say a company president, a politician, or and insurance adjuster, but you believe they are doing their best to answer The Question, we are far more likely to cooperated to find a way to work together.

How is this different from what we have now? After all, we have laws and rules. True, but is it legal, or will I get in trouble, are not questions upon which a good society is built. Game theory has shown time and again that cooperation is mutually beneficial to all, individual benefit at the cost of others is a short term, unsustainable approach…unless you have so much power that others are forced to play on your terms. There have always been those who take at all costs, it’s just that now many of these individuals are out of reach of society as a whole. Worse, the example is bleeding down into society in general and the altruistic are seen as chumps.

Hence, part 2 of our problem, the Mama. If you are in a position of power, wealth or authority, and you are using it to acquire more power, wealth, or authority without asking “The Question,” your Mama should be calling you up and telling you, “Son (or daughter), you are shaming me by taking advantage of all those people.” Instead, it’s more like, “we are so proud of our son (or daughter), they are doing so well, look at what they bought me.”

I’ve tried to teach my kids that doing the right thing has a cost. It might be that you don’t take that last dollar for something you’re selling, but instead ask for a fair return. It might be that you give something back that you don’t have to, like the wrong change at the supermarket; the cashier might have to make your “windfall” up out of her pitiful pay. It might be that you don’t take all of that raise you are offered because the gas prices are hitting the lower wage workers harder than you. It might be that you are injured or even killed trying to help someone.

Sure we’ll get hammered by some opportunistic scum from time to time, but eventually they will be found socially unacceptable, instead of being held up as examples of captains of industry. We can’t wait for others to change, we can only change ourselves…and put pressure on those around us.

We, as a people, need to hold those who are willing ask “The Question” and to pay that price in esteem, instead of that they are somehow naive chumps, so our mama can call us up and say good job, I’m proud of you.

Health Care, What’s Broke? (Besides me I mean)

We are in the midst of what some call a health care crisis in this country.  The insurance companies say the medical costs are rising too fast.  The employers say the insurance costs are rising too fast.  We just see the cost of our health care rising, in many cases, out of reach.  We seem to pay more and more for less and less.

Is there anything in the system that we can fix?  Hmmm, well let’s take a stroll through the system and see if we can see what’s broke.

We take our child to the doctor, the doctor looks at him and prescribes some treatment.  If we are lucky, it works and our child gets better.  Seems like that part of the system works ok, even though sometimes with a serious illness a doctor is only about one step removed from shaking a rattle.  Still there is an honest effort to make the patient better.  A service is provided

Now in most every doctors office there is a person behind a desk whose whole function is to figure out how to get paid by the patient’s health insurance company.  They submit the bill and sometimes the insurance company pays it.  Or sometimes the insurance company pays some of it, or rejects it.  Then it’s this person’s job to bill you for the balance of the bill, SURPRISE!

In your mailbox you get a bill from the doctor that tells you how much the insurance company paid and how much you need to pay, only wait, this was a covered expense and you already paid the copay so what’s up with this.  So you pick up the phone and call the insurance company, maybe for an hour or more, at work!  Finally you think you have resolution, only to find out someone has dropped the ball and you get another bill, this one overdue.  So on the phone again, at work!

This has gotten so bad that there are companies whose whole function is to deal with your insurance company for you.  Yup, you or maybe if you’re lucky, your company (who is probably tired of all that time on the phone) pays someone to make the insurance company do what you pay them to do.  Kind of like hiring someone to watch the kid you hired to mow your lawn, hey kid you missed a spot.

So let’s see, we have a doctor who provides a service and you who, in a roundabout way, pay for it.  You pay for it with your premium, and with the portion you employer pays, which is really just another form of your wages.  So don’t let anyone say you don’t pay your own health care.  The only advantage you get by having it through your employer is he gets a better deal per person than you can ever get by insuring the whole company.

History Lesson, insurance was invented to spread risk.  If 100 ships go out to sea and in a year 10 are lost, all 100 owners will put a small amount into a fund and whoever happens to own the 10 lost ships splits the fund.  Next year you do it all over again.  If a trusted company holds these funds and invests them or loans them they can make a profit with the money, until they have to pay the owners of the lost ships.  It used to be that way for health insurance until some smart guy realized that if we only insure healthy people, or only insure cheap stuff, we get to keep all the money not just the return on the investment.

Today we have an insurance company who wants to maximize profits.  They collect all your premiums in the form of money deducted from your wages and the wages you never see in the form of EMPLOYER CONTRIBUTION.  Then their goal is to keep as much of this money as possible.

Wait, wait, the doctor performed the service, you got the service, why should the insurance company get to keep all that money, what did they do?  On top of that they are difficult enough to deal with that the doctor has to hire a specialist.  They are difficult enough to deal with that you have to hire a specialist, and for what?  In the end, doctors get paid by all of us.  Sometimes I pay for your child’s ear infection, sometimes you pay for my wife’s heart attack, but WE pay for EVERYTHING!  Insurance companies just skim off all they can and then pass through what they have to.  Insurance companies could evaporate tomorrow and if it was done right, we wouldn’t even know they were gone.

So why does it seem like we so intent on keeping this bloated parasite of an industry intact?  Well, of course there is the obvious answer that they have bought considerable interest in our government but that isn’t the only answer.  Take a look at your retirement fund, I bet it’s pretty heavily invested in health care industry.  HMO’s and insurance companies own a good portion of your retirement, and of grandma’s as well.  If we dismantle the insurance industry we hurt a lot of people in fixed income.

They are kind of like the parasitic worm that causes river blindness, if we leave it alone it destroys our eyes, but if you kill it, it can drive you mad.  So we leave it in place, root hairs wrapped tightly around some of the most economically vulnerable, and in the mean time the industry subverts our government with millions of dollars and pays the high level insiders even more millions in annual salary.

You know what?  I think I’d rather be mad than blind.