Archive | February, 2013

How to Fix the Healthcare Crisis

26 Feb

12 tactics for reining in an out-of-control industry: 

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After reading Steven Brill’s engaging/appalling Time magazine article, “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us,” about the rampant price gouging by the American healthcare industry (targeting people fearing for their health—or their very lives), I realized that the Maximum Know-How team needed to take on the issue to put things right.

The author’s path to uncovering moral corruption is commonly trod: Follow the money. But I disagree with his explanation that the problem is “lopsided pricing and outsize profits in a market that doesn’t work.” Really, it’s just plain selfishness and greed. A hospital charging $77 per gauze pad or $3 for one-time use of a reusable marking pen honestly can’t be considered anything else.

So how do we fix it? Brill’s realistic suggestions include things like tightening antitrust laws, outlawing the “chargemaster”—a hospitals’ price sheet of colossally exorbitant charges they affix to services and supplies—or taxing hospital profits at 75% (based on the belief that healthcare problems would subside if the government had more money to spend, or just because the government would put sick people’s money to better use than they could themselves). But we came up with some better ideas.

How to conquer the selfishness and greed of the healthcare industry:  

(These first two come from Brill himself)

  1. “Limit administrator salaries at hospitals to five or six times what the lowest-paid licensed physician gets for caring for patients there.”
  2. “Require drug companies to include a prominent, plain-English notice of the gross profit margin on the packaging of each drug, as well as the salary of the parent company’s CEO.”
  3. All hospital administrators must pay—out of their own salary—for every office supply they or their secretary uses. They are charged at their own hospital’s chargemaster rates: e.g., $3 for every single use of a ballpoint pen, $8 for each Post-It® note ($5 if generic brand), $65 for each phone call (local numbers only), $315 for each unsealed box of 300-count facial tissue (includes $15 recycling fee), $5,000 daily to sit in a room with a desk, chair, functional computer, and lighting.
  4. On an annual basis, call hospital executives before the senate committee in charge of “sentencing medical executives to prison for corruption” and have them explain each item in a randomly chosen patient’s bill.
  5. Drug companies who barter with people’s lives to ensure obscene profits must pay suppliers with a markup that matches their own. For example, just add a zero to the end. Or two.
  6. Put President Obama and his congressional backers on live television to explain what percentage of the healthcare reform bill they’ve actually read and what realistic good it will do. They must also defend the “unforeseen” repercussions that the entire country can see coming miles away. (Okay, this might not fix anything but it would sure feel good to watch them squirm.)
  7. Require any hospital manager exceeding a given annual salary (say, $150,000), to spend one day each week hand-delivering hospital bills to patients and then explaining and defending each cost.
  8. Considering that the healthcare industry spends about $360 million annually to lobby politicians, require that a thin slice of that amount fund signs in hospitals that accurately state your congressional rep’s payoff (“Hi, I’m Pinkerton Rumblebottom, your senator in Washington. As you stew impatiently in this emergency room, shackled by pain and paperwork, it’s important that you know I’ve taken $280,000 from healthcare companies to make sure your services here—and the meds you’ll need tomorrow—remain as expensive as possible! I did not approve this message.”)
  9. Permit patients to resupply the hospital with any materials used and receive a refund equal to that hospital’s chargemaster rates. For example, a patient can purchase a 500-count bottle of acetaminophen tablets for $10.00 or a 25-pack of sterile gauze pads for $5.00 and receive refunds of $750 or $1,925, respectively (minus a $5 restocking fee).
  10. As is done with cigarette packaging, require medical manufacturers and suppliers to include the average retail price and manufacturing cost of a comparable product so hospitals, doctors, and insurance companies can make educated purchasing decisions. For example, “Surgical tubing, 10-foot roll—Your price: $280 (available for $9.95 on Amazon.com; true manufacturing cost is 85¢).”
  11. Limit executive incomes for “non-profit” medical institutions to what the president of Doctors Without Borders pulls in.
  12. Require insurance company executives to navigate their own incomprehensible maze of red tape and doubletalk every time they want to receive a paycheck or get an expense reimbursed.

Now let me hear your ideas for correcting this wayward industry!

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Song of the Week: “I Feel It (Synthe Mix)” – Moby

25 Feb

I first encountered Moby on the Cool World soundtrack album (and no, I’ve never bothered to watch the movie). “Next Is the E” is on there, but like most of Moby’s work during that era, it was a bit too hard-n-fast for me. Then years later I discovered this mix on his Rare collection, and it completely hit the sweet spot.

How to Be an Internet Troll

19 Feb

Seven steps to losing your soul online: 

A troll's true joy

What with the decline of Nazi-centric movies—along with the social pressure to respect foreign cultures and civilizations even if they’re harboring terrorists—our society is experiencing a shortage of despicable cultural icons. Luckily, nature abhors a vacuum so we’ve seen that gap filled with the Internet Troll, a truly hateful individual who is a cultural composite of a hacker, serial killer, and Beavis and Butt-head. And judging by the number of trolls stomping their way through the comments section of many an online news article, it’s apparently become a highly lucrative and satisfying occupation. So if the recession has left you underemployed or worse, here’s your guide to becoming the plague of Internet culture.

  1. Absolve yourself of all ethics. Nothing is below your contempt; no tragedy is unworthy of your scorn. Millions dead? Children tortured? Widespread pain, suffering, and hopelessness? LOL, that’s entertainment.
  2. Absolve yourself of all allegiances. You do not endorse a political party, a religion, a sports team, a rock band. You are “pro-nothing.” You will never be supportive of anything except maybe whimsical genocide and your own hubris.
  3. Create your persona. It’s best to make multiple disposable identities, each appropriate for a certain venue. Each persona’s name should be inspired by some degenerate practice or brutal obscenity. And if your avatars don’t evoke scandalized embarrassment or vomiting, you haven’t applied yourself.
  4. Seek appropriate venues. The best places to inflict yourself upon others are those corners of the web that involve emotion, such as amateur fan sites or local news postings on hot-button issues. Avoid heavily commercialized sites that can afford moderators (unless you are advanced enough to communicate without profanity).
  5. Choose your prey. Your enemy is not a person, not an idea, but a practice. Precise, respectful, well-reasoned discussion is anathema. Politeness and morality your bane. For novice trolls, simply seek out emotional posters to taunt—watch for all-caps, misspellings, and heavy use of exclamation marks, and you’ll have your target.
  6. Strike without honor or restraint. Remember steps 1 and 2: You are thoughtless, soulless, free from integrity or morals. Insult, demean, condemn. Engage with flawed logic, answer rebuttals with abuse, refuse to see reason. Your role model is Sauron on a bad day—but more capricious, more volatile.
  7. Keep telling yourself it’s “just for fun. To keep up your intensity, you must convince yourself that everything you write is “harmless hate.”  Your online persona is not the real you, not even some hidden personal id you are setting free. It’s just a game—like those console games of simulated murder you play for hours late into the night. Counseling is unnecessary, and family and friends would probably think your posts were funny if they knew they came from you. (But don’t tell them. Trust us.)

Good “step-up” jobs for retired Internet trolls:

  • Political pundit
  • Radio shock-jock
  • Celebrity journalist

Song of the Week: “57821” – Janelle Monae

18 Feb

Even though “Cold War” is my favorite tune from The ArchAndroid, hearing “57821” was what convinced me to purchase the album. The production is dreamy and luscious, yes, but this track is not at all shaped as a single—fitting neatly into the record’s Metropolis theme. With such a great song created only for album listeners, I figured the record was truly and seriously concept-driven and worth buying.

Wrestling Leaves the Rings

14 Feb

Five Olympic sports we should lose instead of wrestling

The secret revealed

Can you believe it?! The International Olympic Committee has axed wrestling from the games starting in 2020. This is shocking because I thought wrestling was one of the five original Olympic sports from ancient Greece, along with javelin, archery, philosophy, and thinking up new deities (such as Cleotius, god of heating vents and polyester fabric).

According to ESPN, the sport was rejected because of low TV numbers (23 million viewers on average) and having sold only 97% of its seating during the London games. But that seating percentage is better than two-thirds of NBA teams, and the viewership numbers are more than seven times the NHL’s Stanley Cup average viewership. The only other argument the IOC can have is that the sport isn’t popular enough—but I know a lot more ex-wrestlers than I do platform divers and speed walkers. In fact, I’ve never even met a speed walker.

So in the name of futile, after-the-fact protest, here are five sports the IOC could have dropped instead of wrestling:

Synchronized swimming

Now, I know that this is a hugely difficult event, and physically demanding beyond my understanding—but so is fleeing a pack of wild dogs across snowy Russian tundra. I don’t think difficulty alone should be a qualification; we should also consider marketability and sponsorship opportunities. Half the time we can’t even see synchronized swimmers (except for their feet), so the audience doesn’t know which sporting celebrity’s branded nose-plugs to buy.

Equestrian

I suppose this event is a devolution (or, as some would have it, “refinement”) of traditional Greek chariot racing. But I bet those ancient horsemen would be stunned at how tame and dapper it has become (“where are the flaming hoops?”). On a side note, “equestrian” is a great word if you’re playing hangman.

Fencing

There is no question that sword fighting should be a popular spectator sport. If not a full-tilt, Aragorn-level battle then at least something off of Wii Resort. But I like my sporting events to last longer than 3 seconds.

Modern pentathlon

You might not even know what this is, and that alone should put it on the endangered list. It’s a combo event that features five challenges: fencing, equestrian, full-contact origami, fleeing a pack of wild dogs across a snowy tundra, and golf. The pentathlon almost got the boot already, but it turns out they have a massively influential team of lobbyists funded by an anonymous Asian paper empire and Tiger Woods. Who knew?

Judo and Taekwondo

They don’t need to eliminate these, just combine them. Call it, I dunno, “mixed martial arts” or something. Oh, wait….

Pin-it Quotes: Bad Valentine’s Day Gifts

12 Feb

Bad Valentine's Day Gift #12

Bad Valentine's Day Gift #15

Bad Valentine's Day Gift #16

Bad Valentine's Day Gift #18

Bad Valentine's Day Gift #22

Post-Papal Job Opps

12 Feb

Six new career paths for Pope Benedict XVI during retirement

Simply a matter of changing hats

  1. Lobbyist—This is a no-brainer. The very definition of lobbying is to wield influence, and who on the planet has greater influence? He’d have to be careful about which special interests he represented so as to avoid the embarrassment of appearing at public functions or in TV commercials  with protestant movie stars or singers like Madonna or Lady Gaga.
  2. Corporate consultant/board member—While many detractors, both in and out of the church, would argue whether he “has a finger on the pulse of the people,” conservative corporations worldwide would scramble to have him on their team, even if he didn’t do anything except show up at the annual board meeting.
  3. Pitchman for Italy/Vatican tourism board—The Italian economy is still in grave crisis and can use all the help it can get.
  4. TV show host—At first I thought of something like Robin Leach’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, though more along the lines of Grand Religious Monuments of the World. But that would require a jet-setting lifestyle. So maybe he should follow the lead of John Bunnell or the late Alistair Cooke, who stayed in a studio or on-set introducing segments. I’ll bet the Catholic church has plenty of thrilling historical accounts of priests or nuns in peril that could be reenacted.
  5. The man behind the curtain—Imagine keeping much of the power and influence of the papacy without having to fulfill its public duties. How much could he accomplish now that he can expend his cultural capital on getting things done instead of giving speeches and waving from cars and balconies?
  6. Movie cameo actor—I haven’t seen many films where the pope was an actual character in the screenplay, but he would be great in cameo appearances. And not just globe-trotting franchises like James Bond and Jason Bourne. Think of the great response if he silently shared a NYC cab with some hapless comedic heroine, or was sipping a latte with Stan Lee in the next Avengers movie.