Tuesday, July 10, 2012
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Healthcare Part 2
Last week I promised you a follow-up with healthcare options to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The legislation commonly referred to as Obamacare contains some valuable provisions. Nobody can argue the fact that everyone should have access to affordable healthcare. Yet the definition of affordable differs for each individual situation. It's a great buzzword but offers no distinct dollar value, nor even a relationship to family income.
Those with pre-existing conditions should not be denied healthcare. Yes, they're more costly to insure. But insurance companies rake in plenty on the young, healthy policyholders who derive no benefits from their monthly premiums. Or those who can only afford plans with high deductibles in case something catastrophic occurs. Rarely are those deductibles met, yet premiums are paid monthly.
Affordable is the keyword here. Yes, we're back to that again. I've spoken with people who have been denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions who now qualify under these new guidelines. Rates quoted ranged between $800 to $1,100 per month. That's equal to a mortgage payment.
Tax subsidies are available to help offset the cost of insurance for those households earning less than 400 percent of the national poverty level. It kicks in beginning tax year 2014. In 2012 figures, this equals $44,680 for a single person and $92,900 for a family of four. Funding for these subsidies was discussed in last week's issue of GCFlash.
In addition to the subsidy, those that qualify will have their annual out-of-pocket costs capped as well before the health plan will pick up 100 percent of everything. Today's On the World Wide Web section has a link to a calculator where you can estimate what this means for your family.
But you must buy your insurance on the state's health exchange to qualify for both the cap and the tax subsidy. If you remain in your private plan, you're on your own.
Provisions of the Act provide Americans with healthcare security. It offers hope to those unable to purchase health insurance on their own.
Yet this writer wonders how it can achieve its goal without addressing the underlying problems in the healthcare industry that led to its downfall. It didn't reach a catastrophic stage overnight. Healthcare reform has been a hot topic in the political arena for decades now. It can't be fixed by a single mandate that ignores its weaknesses, no matter how many pages the legislation may contain.
Tort reform is essential to the future of healthcare in the U.S. There is currently no limit to the amount a jury can award someone who sues for medical damages. Make no mistake, a surgeon who mistakenly removes the arm of someone going in for an appendectomy should compensate the patient for loss of limb.
But in this country, anyone has the ability to sue anybody else for virtually anything, no matter how frivolous. And that's what has to stop. The victim of unintentional human error who suffers no lingering effects should not reap over $1 million for damages.
It happens all too often. Doctors will pay a settlement for a frivolous claim to keep their pristine record intact. If you think maintaining an office and staff or equipment are a physician's biggest expense, guess again. It's malpractice insurance.
Even the best of the best pay outrageous premiums. Because there are too many unscrupulous people out there who are willing to pay shady lawyers to create a case where none truly exists for what they consider easy money. It matters not to them if they're bringing down good doctors in the process. Or discouraging young people to pursue medicine as a career.
There has to be defined limits as to appropriate compensation for true damages, and a stop put on frivolous lawsuits, before we can declare victory on healthcare reform.
If a New Jersey resident is in an automobile accident while driving their car in Maryland, they expect their insurance to cover any damages. But if you slip while hiking in Maryland, don't expect your healthcare insurance to cover that broken leg.
Health insurance is regulated on the state level. It will pay that emergency room visit on an out-of-network basis, typically only a small fraction of what they would pay in your home state. Even if you deal with a national company that offers coverage in other states.
The same goes for purchasing your coverage. It has to occur in your state of residence according to the governing rules of individual state insurance commissions. This can be good on one level as states are more qualified to understand the needs of their citizenship.
Yet it can also create a market vacuum where certain companies may not want to adhere to a set of standards and choose not to do business in a particular state. Those left are free to charge whatever they please as competition is so limited.
Allowing healthcare insurers to compete for business on a national level would force lower rates. Risk would be divided among a larger pool of customers, allowing them to lower costs for all. Consumers would have more options. Companies would have to offer competitive rates or risk losing their customers.
Not all of those uninsured want to purchase coverage. Rather than pay a monthly premium to a company that will dictate your care, put an equal amount aside in a Health Savings Account. Contributions are made on a pre-tax basis, allowing you to build up a nest egg for future medical services. You would remain in control of your healthcare rather than an insurance provider or the government.
Obamacare is a step in the right direction. It brings to light a situation that has been neglected for far too long. Its provisions offer hope to those struggling to get the healthcare they need.
Yet without fixing the fundamental problems, it just won't work.
The Elusive Higgs
For almost five decades, scientists have been trying to uncover the identity of mass estimated to make up a quarter of the universe. They gave it a mysterious sounding name and went in pursuit of the elusive form of matter.
Physicists believe they have found it. Two separate groups announced similar findings on July 4, 2012, based on experiments conducted in the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN laboratory outside of Geneva, Switzerland pictured to the right.
Nestled 100 meters underground in the Swiss Alps, or roughly 328 feet, the collider is used to accelerate particles to the speed of light where they collide. Fragments are examined to determine their composition before they instantly decay.
To perform this experiment, the physicists had to recreate the exact energy environment they calculated responsible for the Big Bang. Therefore, the creation of the universe. Hence the moniker "God Particle" is attributed to the matter form commonly known as the Higgs boson.
The amount of data is so huge it can take 24 months to completely analyze. A definitive discovery cannot be verified just yet. And while results indicate they're over 99 percent certain they found the actual Higgs boson, a group from Cornell University is already doubting its authenticity. A paper they filed today offers other possibilities derived from the same data.
The discovery itself is groundbreaking, whether or not it proves to be the long sought-after Higgs boson. Whatever it is they did find was previously unknown. And can change the way we view the universe forever.
The Higgs boson is suspected to be what gives all matter its form and mass. It's the glue that holds the universe together, so to speak. Without it, there would be nothing but particles flying all around. No sun, no planets, no rocks, no people. Higgs boson is what holds us all together.
It was first predicted by Peter Higgs in 1964 to explain why some particles, such as quarks and electrons, have mass while others, such as the light-carrying photon particle, do not.
Higgs believed that the universe was filled with an invisible field similar to a magnetic field. Every particle feels this field to a different degree. A particle that moves through the field with little or no interaction has little or no mass. Particles that interact significantly have a higher mass.
The scientific community has spent the past 48 years trying to prove or disprove this theory. Waiting another 24 months for a complete data analysis is time well spent.
Discovery of Higgs boson has huge implications. It's the missing piece of the Standard Model, current theory of the interactions between energy and matter. The Standard Model is based on behavioral patterns of three categories of the smallest observed particles of matter. Quarks and leptons provide matter, bosons provide the force to carry them. All particles have been observed to behave as predicted except for the Higgs boson. Until now.
The Higgs boson is also thought to be responsible for how the two fundamental forces of the universe are unified. Every force in nature has an associated particle. Something causes a charged particle to decay. That "something" is thought to be the Higgs boson.
Some wonder if this discovery would mean the end of scientific research. What's left to find?
Plenty. When Galileo proved the Copernican theory of the earth rotating around the sun, scientists thought they knew it all. But it only opened doors to more questions, more theories to prove or disprove. This will do the same.
Science will continue to seek whatever secrets the universe still has to hold. For until they unravel the truth, mankind will never truly understand its place in it.
The New Normal?
Eurozone finance ministers released a statement overnight reaffirming their "strong commitment to do whatever is necessary to ensure the financial stability of the euro area." Few details of course, but at the very least Spain's banks would be recapitalized through the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF), the bloc's temporary rescue facility. It is hoped that the soon-to-be introduced European Stability Mechanism (ESM) will alleviate longer term problems. Traders in the U.S. were cautiously optimistic, as stocks traded slightly higher, reversing three days of declines.
Yet any European euphoria on Wall Street is quelled by yet another very disappointing monthly jobs report, showing a mere 80,000 being jobs added during the month of June. This represents a return to a seasonally adjusted employment level of (approximately) August 2005. Unemployment has actually begun to TREND HIGHER in the last three months.
The economy, badly damaged, continues to limp along through what may soon be referred to as "the lost decade," the same fate that many in the west mocked the Japanese a decade ago for so badly handling. To put this in perspective, during the same two months in 1984 a much stronger recovery was in progress, as nearly four times as many jobs were created during the very same time period.
But the economically optimistic years that graced the Reagan and Clinton administrations are a far cry from the trepidation that is so prevalent in U.S. board rooms today. Companies are sitting on a mountain of cash, hesitant to invest. The liquidity levels of private corporations are near 50 year highs! And make no mistake about it, until private capital reenters the marketplace, a weak or nonexistent recovery is virtually assured. As one prominent economist succinctly quipped, "Recoveries ain't what they used to be." This may be the new normal. Wish I had better news.
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