Saturday, August 31, 2013

Princeton study: Poverty drives down intelligence

I think I've always known this.

I remember watching the early seasons of "The Waltons" and my Dad, who remembered the Great Depression, refusing to watch.

"It's a lie," he'd say.  "They want to show you this family closing ranks and prospering despite their poverty, but the reality is that being poor tears families apart."

Late I encountered Ruby Payne's work on the culture of poverty, and it reinforced what my Dad had said; everything I saw there matched to everything I saw in the real world.

But now it turns out that there may be measurable cognitive deficit associated with being in poverty.

Here's what a Princeton study recently published in Science shows:
In a series of experiments, the researchers found that pressing financial concerns had an immediate impact on the ability of low-income individuals to perform on common cognitive and logic tests. On average, a person preoccupied with money problems exhibited a drop in cognitive function similar to a 13-point dip in IQ, or the loss of an entire night's sleep.--snip-- 
"Previous views of poverty have blamed poverty on personal failings, or an environment that is not conducive to success," she said. "We're arguing that the lack of financial resources itself can lead to impaired cognitive function. The very condition of not having enough can actually be a cause of poverty."--snip-- 
"Stress itself doesn't predict that people can't perform well -- they may do better up to a point," Shafir said. "A person in poverty might be at the high part of the performance curve when it comes to a specific task and, in fact, we show that they do well on the problem at hand. But they don't have leftover bandwidth to devote to other tasks. The poor are often highly effective at focusing on and dealing with pressing problems. It's the other tasks where they perform poorly." 
The fallout of neglecting other areas of life may loom larger for a person just scraping by, Shafir said. Late fees tacked on to a forgotten rent payment, a job lost because of poor time-management -- these make a tight money situation worse. And as people get poorer, they tend to make difficult and often costly decisions that further perpetuate their hardship, Shafir said. He and Mullainathan were co-authors on a 2012 Science paper that reported a higher likelihood of poor people to engage in behaviors that reinforce the conditions of poverty, such as excessive borrowing.
No, this is not a suggestion that we could make all the poor kids in school smarter by giving their parents money.

But it does raise food for thought with that anxiety about your family situation (money, living conditions, divorce, drugs, illness) is playing hell with low SES children's concentration and cognitive abilities in a way that most teachers have intuitively always known.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

PA judge rules that it's OK for "non-profit" Highmark to make "incidental" profit of $1.2 billion

From the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

Highmark Inc. has not accumulated "excess profits" in violation of state law, and its executives make a "reasonable" salary, according to a judge's dismissal of a lawsuit that had been filed against the insurer. 
The state's largest health insurer was sued two years ago by Philadelphians Herman Wooden and Thomas Logan, both former nonvoting "lay" members of a since-disbanded Highmark advisory committee serving the company's board of directors. 
Both of the plaintiffs argued that the $1.2 billion in profits that Pittsburgh-based Highmark had earned from 2005 to 2009 was excessive. 
This month, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Patricia McInerney also rejected arguments that Highmark shouldn't be able to reinvest money in its for-profit subsidiaries and that the company awarded improper bonuses to its executives. 
In an Aug. 8 order, the judge wrote that the "plaintiffs' argument is logical and compelling. However, the judiciary is not the proper arm of government to restrain this particular charity's acquisitiveness." The legislature and the executive branch "are the ones who must say whether the accumulation of substantial profits by a nonprofit health insurer is improper."
Clearly feeling hamstrung by the letter of the law, Judge McInerney ruled in favor of Highmark of narrow technical grounds, but included in her opinion phrases like:
this particular charity's acquisitiveness... 
the public may look ... aghast at the high level of compensation paid to the executives of this supposedly 'nonprofit' corporation...
And, yes, those of us in Delaware were part of the Highmark "incidental" profits:
In 2012, Highmark reported $432.3 million in profits, a figure that includes assets absorbed when the insurer acquired Blue Cross Blue Shield of Delaware. Much of that income was driven by the company's three main subsidiaries -- vision, dental and reinsurance units -- which, together, had net income of $193.6 million. 
The company's "surplus" reserves grew slightly, from $4.1 billion in 2011 to $4.14 billion in 2012.
One of the reasons that Highmark's "surplus" reserves grew by $30 million in 2012 was being released from a requirement (thanks, Patti Blevins and Karen Weldin Stewart) from a requirement to maintain such a "surplus" reserve in Delaware to the tune of $175 million.

Free markets are a great thing.  But a market in which a company like Highmark can claim non-profit status while racking up $1.2 billion in "incidental" profit from it 35 for-profit subsidiaries is NOT a free market.

It is a market "regulated" (and I use the term with vomit in the back of my throat) by the State government to the advantage of Pittsburgh profiteers (and Delaware sell-outs) who are laughing all the way to the bank.

I think I actually did throw up (just a little) when Judge McInerney described Highmark as a "charity."

The New York Times: F**k the Constitution

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

President Obama threatens to do for Syria what we have done for Iraq and Afghanistan

... because US military intervention ALWAYS makes it better ...

Syria and Delaware

Seriously?  Yes.

Because this issue is big enough, and far enough beyond partisanship, that Senators Carper and Coons, as well as Congressman Carney, need direction from us.

And if they don't follow those directions, there need to be consequences.

First, here is the most sane thing I have read on the subject, by my friend Jess McVay (and you could have voted for him for Governor last year on the Libertarian ticket):
I'm not in a position to know all the facts about Syria. Neither are you. None of the players can be trusted, including (especially?) the US government. So what do you do? Read as much as you can. Read all sides. Learn from all of it. Trust none of it. Then make up your own mind. No one's claims deserve the benefit of the doubt. No one deserves the expectation that we defer to their experience or their more seasoned judgement.
It is particularly important to stay grounded in that understanding of just how little we can trust our own government.  We know from painful experience (remember Colin Powell at the UN) about those WMDs in Iraq.  We recall (some of us) how the US not only stood idly by but appears to have clandestinely supported Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s.  And we know that the current administration has joined the pattern of lying its ass off regarding damn near anything to do with foreign policy or intelligence. 

But let's assume they are telling the truth.  Let's assume that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons in a desperate attempt to win its civil war.

So what?

Somebody's got to say it, and it might as well be me.

It's not the specific morality of a horrible weapon that's at issue.  As the only nation to use atomic weapons, as the nation that used napalm and Agent Orange in Vietnam, as the nation that still refuses to abide by international sanctions against cluster bombs, as the nation that employed fuel-air explosives against Iraq in 1991, and as the nation that continues the indiscriminate drone killings of innocent men, women, and children in the hopes that an Al Qaeda target might be standing next to them in Pakistan, Yemen, and across Africa, we've precious little room to talk about the morality of weapons.

Besides, why are 1,000 dead people from chemical weapons somehow more significant than the 100,000 Assad has already killed in just this war?  Now, suddenly, for the US it is not good enough to be murdered, you have to be murdered by precisely the right weapon for it to matter?

Reality check:  the Middle East has already entered the conflagration stage.  There is no "Arab Spring."  There is a steady descent back into chaos.

Nor can a utilitarian argument be made for war in Syria.

If we help defeat Assad we can hope for no gratitude (nor any regional stability) from the installation of another Islamist regime in Damascus.

It is past time to instruct (yes, "instruct"--they work for us) Carper, Coons, and Carney not to vote their consciences, but to vote ours.

A vote for war in Syria is to spend the blood of Americans for no great cause, for no great gain, and for a guarantee that more flag-draped coffins will arrive at Dover Air Force Base, about which distraught moms, dads, husbands, wives, and children will sob and ask, "Tell me again, why was this death necessary?"

On light blogging, political activism, personal living

Apologies to those accustomed to regular reading here (both of you).

Blogging has been light for the past week because real life keeps intervening.

The semester started at DSU on Monday, and the older I get the more that first week kicks my ass.

But there are also elements of personal activism outside the blogosphere that intervene to keep me away from this keyboard.

Several I can mention:

1.  I am working with Rep. Paul Baumbach and the Certified Midwives of Delaware on an informal task force that seeks to revise the criminalized situation of midwives and home birth created by the passage of HB 194 last session.

2.  I am not just writing about the issue of Highmark in Delaware, but am also engaged in working with the local Medical Aid Units to help keep them in business against what appears to be a State-supported (or at least State-condoned) attempt to create a virtual monopoly for Highmark and MedExpress.

3.  I have been representing special needs children (especially those with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Dysautonomia) in IEP meetings around the country.  Since a lot of western schools go back in early to mid-August, I have been in IEP meetings in Arizona, Oklahoma, and (latest) New Jersey.

Of course there is also "life its own self" (sorry, Dan Jenkins), with college visits, kids going back to school, and my son's own IEP to be revisited.

But, in essence, my current philosophy is that when given a choice between writing about it and actually getting out to do something about it, I'm tending to get out more.

I will keep writing, however.  Wouldn't want the next "Around the Horn" to report that I had said nothing.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Highmark footprint in Delaware is both deeper and wider than you think ...

I have, of course, been going into great detail to explain the relationship between Highmark and MedExpress, and to lay out what appears to be the Highmark plan for establishing a monopoly on health insurance and even health care in Delaware.

This is apparently worrisome to some of the leaders of Highmark Delaware, who appear to have become new followers of this blog, like President/CEO Timothy Constantine and (this title is not only a mouthful but quite unintentionally revealing) Senior Vice President for Provider Strategy and Integration Paul Kaplan.

Well, I always welcome new readers, even aggrieved new readers.

It is important right now to step back and take an even broader look at the overall Highmark empire, to include specifically the parts of that empire that impinge on Delaware.

I will warn you at the outset that this is a long, LONG post, but if you actually care about free-market competition, monopolistic business practices, or government corruption, you need to read it all.

What you have to know to begin with is that Highmark (the parent company) is a not-for-profit (no, I'm not kidding) corporation that includes in its holdings a fascinating mix of both non-profit and for-profit subsidiaries.  Time to read below the fold if you truly want to be informed:

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Hey, Christiana Care and BayHealth! Here's Delaware in about two years ...

... when Highmark follows through with its current strategy of imposing a health insurance/health care monopoly.

This is what has happened to University of Pennsylvania Medical Centers after Highmark not only drove most competing urgent care clinics out of business, but then purchased its own hospital chain ...

That's right--documents filed with the state indicate that in order to make its own hospital chain viable, Highmark has to use its clout as the state's largest insurance company to drive 41,000 patients away from UPMC hospitals.

The situation is grave enough now in PA that even conservative Governor Tom Corbett has entered the fray:
Corbett further said he has directed the state's insurance and health departments to create a task force to monitor the Highmark and UPMC ads and "maintain the state's role in protecting consumers."
A task force to monitor Highmark's activities and protect consumers?

Here in Delaware we can't even get the Insurance Commissioner to respond to complaints that have already been filed by a local activist, a state senator, and an urgent care owner.

So my advice for the administrators running Christiana Care and BayHealth is to watch this video again, and realize it is only about two years until Highmark comes after you ...

Friday, August 16, 2013

Once again: it is all the teachers' fault

Maybe if we say it again and again, education "reform" advocates appear to think, people will finally believe that the most dysfunctional part of our public education system is not the US Department of Education, not No Child Left Behind, not Race to the Top, not Wall Street data coaches, not Vision 2015, not tests that don't actually employ reliability and validity, not inadequate funding models, not the withdrawal of School Resource Officers, not the elimination of the Minner Reading Teachers, not the failure to fund special education, not the creation of a charter "slush" fund, not the emphasis on high-stakes testing that lacks any real research base ...


None of those.

Once again the News Journal editorial page places the blame squarely where it belongs:

It's all the teachers' fault.

Who knew that nice Ms. So-and-so who spent all those extra hours working with your son who can't quite read up to grade level was really plotting to leave him illiterate?

Who knew that passionate Mr. What's-his-name who sponsors the yearbook, works with after-school study groups, and calls parents at night and on weekends because he can't get them during the business day was secretly part of the Educators Illuminati?

Who knew that Coach Growler who laid down the law to his football front line that if they didn't pass algebra they weren't playing on Friday night was a conspirator deftly undermining America's potential educational success?

The News Journal knew.

The Rodel Foundation knew.

Governor Markell knew.

It's all the teacher's fault.

Oh, and Matt Damon's.  Don't forget him.  In one impromptu thirty-second set of remarks the actor appears to have driven a stake into the heart of public education.

And here I just thought he made mediocre movies.

The future for hospitals in Delaware under Highmark ...

... is already being played out in Pennsylvania.

Read this, and realize that today Highmark and MedExpress are after a monopoly on the urgent care market, but that tomorrow ...

... Christiana Care and BayHealth ...

They are coming after you.

Funny, I thought the point of having an Insurance Commissioner, an Attorney General, a Governor, and a General Assembly--you know, all those instruments of GOVERNMENT--was to protect the citizens of Delaware from predators like Highmark.

Secretary Schiliro: Delaware State Police incompetent to discipline their own

Not what you think.

The DSP actually held hearings and went through the process to throw a bad cop off the force, only to be over-turned by Secretary of Safety and Homeland Security Louis J. Schiliro.

I want you to stop and think for moment, in a state where indiscriminate use of tazers and head-stomping are considered acceptable police work, how bad does it have to be for the Delaware State Police to get rid of one of their own?

And let's not forget that Mr. Schiliro has now had nearly five years of watching the DSP operate under his supervision to figure out that something is not quite right.

Maybe the trooper in question did not need to go, but Mr. Schiliro certainly does.

Al Gore may have invented it, but John Kerry dislikes the internet ...


Because citizens having access to lots of information makes it difficult to govern, apparently:

“Well, folks,” he said, “ever since the end of the Cold War, forces have been unleashed that were tamped down for centuries by dictators, and that was complicated further by this little thing called the internet and the ability of people everywhere to communicate instantaneously and to have more information coming at them in one day than most people can process in months or a year. 
“It makes it much harder to govern, makes it much harder to organize people, much harder to find the common interest,” said Kerry.
And here you thought having an informed opinion was just your civic duty.

You evil twit.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The new trick from Highmark and MedExpress ...

I can't yet verify that MedExpress is the only urgent care clinic in Delaware with this neat new practice, but I'm pretty sure that the partly owned functional subsidiary of Highmark introduced it.

When you go to a MedExpress and give them your insurance card, you also have a co-pay, right?

So you pay your $10 or $25 co-pay for the visit with your credit or debit card.

What you probably don't know is that you are also signing a pre-authorization agreement that allows them to bill the full cost of the visit from that card if the insurance company turns down the claim.

Without any further notice to you ...

Now we aren't talking after the insurance company turns down the claim and you appeal it and then they turn it down again.

No, as soon as MedExpress receives the first turn-down they charge your card.

If you want the money back, then you have to collect it from the insurance company yourself.

This is particularly convenient when the largest insurer in the State of Delaware, Highmark, is a part owner of MedExpress.

Here's why this is such a great little money-maker for Highmark-MedExpress:

Highmark has an official policy of rejecting all claims automatically that lack the slightest piece of information or have the most insignificant error:

Saturday, August 10, 2013

An addendum to the Highmark/MedExpress saga

Actually, two interesting points:

1.  The silence is deafening from the Insurance Commissioner's office.  Not only has Nancy Willing inquired at least five times regarding any investigation of this mess, Senator Petersen requested an Insurance Commissioner's inquiry when I sent her the materials, and Dr. Vince Schaller, Medical Director of the Lantana/Hockessin Walk-in Clinic has filed multiple complaints and inquiries.

From Karin Weldin Stewart's office:

... crickets ...

2.  This has also been an ongoing primer in who does and doesn't respond to real inquiries from citizens and constituents.  I live neither in Petersen's district, nor in John Kowalko's.  Both responded almost instantly when I asked.  I also always get quick responses from legislators like Paul Baumbach, Brian Bushweller, and Ernie Lopez--again:  I live in none of their districts.

On the other hand, I have sent all the same information (repeatedly) to Senator Greg Lavelle and Representative Joe Miro.  I do live in their district, and Dr. Schaller's clinic is a small business within their district that employs several dozen people, and is the only such clinic in our district.  From the two of them:

... crickets ...

Let's not make this into a partisan thing (with Lopez there is at least one R on the list who has been responsive, and I would generally count Senator Dave Lawson on that list as well).

And Lord knows that John Kowalko and I don't see eye-to-eye on single-payer, that I don't agree with Karen Petersen or Brian Bushweller on casino bail-outs, or with Lopez on trans-gender rights or gun control, etc. etc.

But all of these individuals have--in my experience--always taken their positions seriously enough that when anyone brings them a substantive issue, they do their jobs and look into it.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

I can't believe last Wednesday was National Orgasm Day ... and I missed it.

Of course, according to this handy info-graphic, missing out on orgasm is an all-too-common problem these days.
All You Need To Know About Female Orgasms

Chuck Hagel: Boo f--king hoo

Ah, remember that the sequestration was going to gut our national defense?

Now Chuck Hagel has formally announced he found enough pork in the Defense Department budget to reduce furlough days for civilian employees from 11 down to 6, and if you read carefully he may not be done yet.

Somehow dear old Chuck managed to find a way to offset over half the $30 billion in cuts imposed by the sequestration.

But, of course, it's still awful there in Defense Department land, with the largest military budget on the face of the planet ...

Since Chuck's this good, what say we test him out with a $100 billion cut next year?

How Highmark is attempting to build a monopoly for MedExpress in Delaware, Part One

Don't get me wrong:  I love free market competition.

But the current incestuous relationship between Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and MexExpress urgent care clinics is a classic example of government utterly failing at "regulating" a market.

To begin with, let's go back and recall that Senator Patti Blevins and Insurance Commissioner Karin Weldin Stewart teamed up to exempt Highmark from the Attorney General's authority to require the insurance company to set aside $175 million in reserves for a foundation to benefit taxpayers.

This was Highmark's condition for entering the Delaware market--$175 million plus multiple other exemptions and exceptions to existing insurance law.  If you bother to go look at either Blevins' or Stewart's campaign donation pages at the Delaware Commissioner of Elections page, and you take the 2-3 hours necessary to trace down the bewildering array of PACs and healthcare related donations that each woman received in 2012, you will discover that they were well compensated for screwing Delaware taxpayers out of $175 million.

Next, you need to recognize that Highmark holds a $51+ million stake in MedExpress urgent care clinics.  To put it as clearly as open sources allow:  Highmark holds at least a 10% ownership stake in MedExpress, probably more.

So it was no surprise that, as in Pennsylvania, when Highmark came to Delaware, MedExpress quickly followed behind.  In the past year, MedExpress has dumped FOUR new clinics into New Castle County, and is (or has) added four more in Kent and Sussex.  These new clinics arrived with tens of thousands of dollars worth of smaltzy advertising about "your new neighbor."

Here are the harsh realities:  the arrival of MedExpress is only the FIRST STEP in a tried and true Highmark business model for vertical integration.  Basically, the plan involves four steps:

Friday, August 2, 2013

Delaware needs a new law ...

... and you usually don't hear ME saying that.

Delaware is one of the states in which, if you are arrested, the Delaware Code is currently silent on whether or not law enforcement may seize and examine everything on your cell phone without a warrant.

The Florida Supreme Court recently ruled that such searches are not appropriate with a warrant:
“We refuse to authorize government intrusion into the most private and personal details of an arrestee’s life without a search warrant simply because the cellular phone device which stores that information is small enough to be carried on one’s person.” 
Given that, in Delaware, we already know that law enforcement is prone to invading your cell phone without your foreknowledge or permission [the DIAC "See something, say something" APP that converts your phone into a device to spy on you], it is not unreasonable to believe that our police are routinely examining the cell phones of people they have stopped or arrested.

[Ironically, a Delaware public official in a meeting on another subject verified that for me yesterday.  She noted that she had been stopped by an NCCPD Officer who accused her of having been talking or texting while driving.  When she denied it, the officer then demanded to examine both her private and work cell phones to determine the times of her last calls and texts.  Amazingly (because the lady in question is actually an attorney) she agreed to this demand, only to realize later that by doing so she had granted him basically an unlimited ability to snoop into her private records based on nothing more than a (possible) minor moving violation infraction.]

Somebody find me a state legislator who actually cares about civil liberties, so we can get a bill written for January requiring police to have a warrant before they get to access your cell phone.