Sunday, October 15, 2017

How much is too much?

How big is too big?

For better or worse, I live in one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country.  I say "for better or worse" because for years now I've been looking for that sweet spot that's big enough to have everything I need/want, but not too big to be overwhelmingly congested.  Everywhere I look these days all I see is more construction.  I'm losing ground to "overwhelmingly congested"!

Smaller towns love growth.  More people means more grocery stores, and retailers, and more tax revenue to support filling potholes and building new, state-of-the-art schools.  More restaurants and theaters and maybe a few more doctors and even a new hospital, too.  The improving "quality of life" in turn entices companies looking to relocate or expand to move in, and the cycle repeats itself.

My DF/W Metroplex is now pushing 7.2 million residents.  Houston has 6.7M, Chicago has 9.5M, LA has 13M, NY has 20M, London has 18M, and Tokyo has 38M (metropolitan areas in total).  Which begs the question:  How big is TOO big?

At what point does growth stop being a positive and become a negative?  How many steak houses or burger joints do you need?  Or pediatricians and 24-hour corner urgent care clinics? Or AMC  theaters?  However many you might think appropriate, ask yourself if it's worth the traffic congestion, and road rage, and crime, and the daily frustrations that tie us in knots?  At some point are we really just taking one step forward and two steps backward?

Who benefits, really, from all this growth?  The landowners and developers, for sure. And the select few contractors who can build all those highways and mid-high rise buildings.  And of course the bureaucracy.  More people means more tax revenues, and higher salaries for those who hustle new businesses and make more rules for the rest of us to follow.

It seems like it's all just a giant ego trip.  "My city is bigger than yours.  My airport handles more flights.  My skyline is more dramatic."   Virtually everyone benefits a little I suppose, but IMO most of us are just treading water at best.

My fear now is that someday I might actually be able to move to my dream destination, some comfortable mid-size town in Colorado, only to be run over by a stampede of people fleeing Dallas and LA and Chicago who are following my lead.

Umm, now that I think about it....I didn't write this.  You never read this.  Nice not talking to you.  Bye-bye.  ;)

S

 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Some Medicare info for you....a good read if you're 65>, or have insomnia



Last week I received from my Medicare adviser a simple overview of what the next round of Medicare will look like.  I thought I'd share it with those of you who are at or near Medicare age.  This info is for supplements, insurance that covers what Medicare doesn't.

NOTE:  These are NOT Medicare Advantage programs.  In those, Medicare just gives an approved company a lump sum and then bows out.  For better or worse you're then their problem.  Many of the Advantage plans seem to cover more, but there is always small print.  They are basically HMO's/PPO's, meaning you have to use THEIR doctors and hospitals.  They may also say they include prescription drugs, but not ALL drugs are on their included list (their "formulary").  Be careful!

MEDICARE SUPPLEMENTS


Medicare has deductibles and co-pays ... lots of them. These deductibles and co-pays change every year, but this is what they look like in 2017:


PART A DEDUCTIBLES AND CO-PAYS (the hospitals)

Day one deductible: $1,316
Days 2-59 co-pays: $0 per day
Days 60-89 co-pays: $329 per day
Days 90-150 co-pays: $658 per day

Skilled Nursing Facility co-pays: $164.50 per day (Maximum 100 days)


PART B DEDUCTIBLES AND CO-PAYS (the doctors)

Annual deductible: $183
Co-pays after the deductible is met: 20% co-pay of everything WITHOUT LIMIT.

Whoa!

You don't have to be a Mensa member to see that an unexpected illness could cost you a ton of money if you had original Medicare and nothing else.


THIS IS WHERE SUPPLEMENTS COME IN

Medicare supplements (Medigap plans) are private insurance plans, regulated by Medicare, that pay all or part of the aforementioned deductibles and co-pays.

There are eleven different kinds of supplements, identified by letters A to N, each one covering different pieces of those deductibles and co-pays. The most popular plans are Plan F and Plan G since they cover the most.
 

A Plan F covers ALL of Medicare's deductibles and co-pays. Plan G covers all of them except the Part B annual deductible of $183. Since Plan G has a premium that's $400 per year less than Plan F (on average) it's always the better value.


Here's a little known fact: Because supplements are federally regulated, those with the same letter are identical except for price! They have to cover the exact same things.


WHAT DO THEY COST?

Premiums are based on your age and your zip code. In Frisco, TX, there are at least 26 different companies offering Plan F supplements. The premiums for a 65 year old female range from $120 per month to $369 per month - for the exact same thing!

The least expensive plan is not usually the best value because those are the plans that have the largest renewal increases. If your plan costs $120 per month in year one but jumps to $180 per month in year two, it's no longer a good deal. And if your health is bad, or your medications give the insurance companies a scare, you'll be stuck with that plan and its ever-increasing premiums.


MY RECOMMENDATION

There are some supplement companies that have proven to be reasonably priced and have relatively low annual premium increases.


They are, in alphabetical order: AARP, Aetna and Blue Cross. As those of you who have been to my office know, Aetna has always been the plan that starts out the least expensive of the three and stays that way over the years, so that's usually what I recommend. In addition, if a husband and wife both go on the plan they get a 12% discount.


Once you have a quality supplement, there should be no need to change. They will all have some rate increases each year on your anniversary date, but those increases should be manageable.


CAN YOU CHANGE SUPPLEMENTS?

If you have a supplement that is NOT priced right, can you do anything about it? Maybe. You can apply for a different supplement any time during the year, but the plan you're applying for will ask you three pages of health questions, review your medications and talk to your doctors. If they don't like what they see, they will decline you and you'll have to stay where you are.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

Hope this helps.

Regards,

S  


Monday, October 9, 2017

Ahhh....America....we have a problem


We seem to be a very odd bunch.  By "we" I mean the upset, disillusioned, gun toting Americans among us.  First the "upset, disillusioned" part:

We have a lot of societal issues.  Minorities feel the deck is stacked against them, and they want fairer treatment.  White supremacists feel that if minorities receive better treatment, it will be at their expense.  

Every kid who can strum a guitar thinks he's going to be a rock star, and every kid who has any athletic ability thinks he's destined for professional sports stardom.  Virtually all hit the reality wall eventually and find their life's work will instead be on a loading dock or at the paper mill. 

Too many seniors had expected a comfy retirement, only to find their life savings vanish when they found themselves with unexpected and overwhelming medical bills, or their 401K's cratered, along with the company they worked 40 years for.  At least they still have their Medicare and Social Security, right?  Umm...maybe not.  Hungry tax-cut vultures are eyeing them both. 

It's been a given that each generation of Americans will be better off than their parents.  Not so fast.  The middle class has been losing ground for the past several decades.  Kids are told they need a good education, then find themselves saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans they have trouble paying back.

Blue-collar middle class Americans have been especially hard hit.  Many have seen their jobs outsourced to Mexico or Asia, and the replacement jobs they can find don't pay nearly what they need to maintain their former lifestyle.

Even comfortable white-collar Americans, who seem to have it all, say they feel overwhelming, intense pressure trying to keep it all.

Obese / short people know they'll never make it to a company vice-presidency.  Those offices are reserved for beautiful / handsome people.

And then we have our addictions....alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc, all impairing our ability to attain the good life.  Even those who take legitimately prescribed medicines....have you read the side effects today's meds bury in the fine print?  Besides the ever popular constipation and / or diarrhea, they often include "violent reactions and suicidal tendencies".  Yikes!

And scorned lovers, and lost promotions, and...

Which leads us to the "gun toting" part:

We do have a LOT of guns in America.  An estimated 300,000,000 plus.  The problem comes when some of those mentioned above just snap, unable to contain their anger.  Then they go after those who they feel are responsible for their misfortune, such as what happened in Las Vegas last week.

Now we're hearing calls once again for gun control.  "Stop making and selling 'assault rifles'", they say, "and we'll see less gun violence."  OK, fine.  Outlaw "bump stops", and suppressors, and even new AR-15's.  (Note: an AR-15 is NOT an assault rifle, legally speaking.)  With 300,000,000 guns already out there, does anyone really believe a disturbed person won't be able to get one?  (Another note: 1,000,000 guns are stolen and presumably resold every year on the black market.)

The fact is, unless we can get a handle on these (and other) societal issues we face, we're just putting a tiny band-aid on a sucking chest wound with gun control.  Once again, as has become the American Way, we're looking for a quick, easy way out.  We're in denial.

S


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Reverse psychology


Remember back when you were a teenager, under intense social pressure and loaded with raging hormones, and your parents told you you couldn't see "that boy" or "that girl" because blah blah blah?  What did you do?  You probably fabricated an elaborate scheme, maybe with the help of your friends, to see him/her anyway.  That's an example of reverse psychology, and it pervades our society today more than ever.  When someone tells us we MUST do something, we'll fight to NOT do it.  If someone tells us we CAN'T have it, we'll go to great lengths to GET it.

The day after the recent horrible massacre in Las Vegas, MGM (they own the Mandalay Bay hotel) stock was down substantially, while Smith and Wesson stock was surging.  Investors knew there would be an immediate call for gun control, and they knew the result would be the public, even those who had never desired to own a gun before, would rush to buy one before they were outlawed.  *guns outlawed in America...hahaha!*

But reverse psychology can be more subtle, too.  For example, the NFL players "take a knee" movement was originally meant to publicize the social injustice Black Americans face every day in America.  It has no doubt brought attention to the subject and attracted many supporters, but it has also driven a wedge into society and alienated many who might have otherwise been on board.  

The "I have a constitutional right to protest" position (absolutely true) was also sometimes paired with "and if you oppose my right to 'take a knee' during the National Anthem, you're un-informed, ignorant, un-American and/or a racist".  (Yes, this happened...I heard commentators actually say that on national TV.)

The reverse psychological effect was that many ordinary people, often of a generation who grew up reciting the Pledge of Allegiance the first thing every morning at school, and stood with their hand over their heart and sometimes even sang the National Anthem at football games, recoiled and dug in their heels.  

As I tried to subtly say in a previous post, apparently unsuccessfully, sometimes you need to find a way to get your message across while not stirring up a reverse psychological reaction. Take a group knee before the National Anthem, or right before the kickoff at mid-field, for example.  

Gen Dwight Eisenhower led a diverse group that defeated the Nazi's by building a cohesive coalition, not by pitting one group against another.  Build coalitions, don't drive wedges.  (I can already imagine the reactions I'll get over those five words!)

Our society is becoming more rough edged, more confrontational, more "in your face", and I see that as ultimately counterproductive.  

Just my opinion.

S

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

General Dwight D. Eisenhower....his legacy was simple: "He got the job done"



General Dwight David Eisenhower was the Commander, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) in Europe in WWII.   He was responsible for putting together a diverse coalition to execute a successful invasion of Europe, with the ultimate goal of defeating Hitler's Germany.

It would have no doubt been easier for him to just appoint his fellow American Generals and Admirals and charge them with carrying out his orders, but he (and US President Franklin Roosevelt) knew there were allied "national sensitivities" that needed to be massaged.  While Eisenhower sat at the head of the table, Brits Bernard Montgomery, Bertram Ramsay, and Trafford Leigh-Mallory were respectively in charge of the actual land, sea, and air components of Operation Overlord.

Stay with me here...

Eisenhower knew how to play the diplomat.  Of course he had his opinions, but he often listened to the little voice in his head that told him "No, don't say it."  He knew that to say what he really wanted to could sometimes be counter-productive.  The ultimate goal, defeating Hitler, was of paramount importance.  He was focused on the prize.

Eventually the Allies committed 39 divisions to the Battle of Normandy: 22 American, 12 British, three Canadian, one Polish, and one French, plus a scattering of Belgians, Dutch, Czech, and a few others, totaling over a million troops, all under British field commanders, who answered to an American.  Somehow Eisenhower managed to keep them all pulling in the same direction.  It was a constant exercise of give and take.  He gave in on a few internal battles along the way, acquiescing to one ego or another to keep them on board, BUT HE WON THE WAR.  Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 8, 1945.

Every good leader knows it's pointless to win battles if you somehow manage to lose the war.  And they know building coalitions offers the best chance to win wars.  It's a timeless, winning strategy.  They also know alienating potential allies seldom gets you where you want to go.

Too deep?

Monday, September 25, 2017

To take a knee, or not to take a knee, THAT is the question


The coast-to-coast talk today is whether it was appropriate for NFL players to take a knee at the games yesterday or whether Prez Trump was right that it was disrespectful to our flag/anthem/country to do so.  My opinion:  Like beauty, appropriateness is in the eye of the beholder.

Of course NFL players, or anyone else for that matter, have the RIGHT to take a knee as our National Anthem is being played.  And President Trump has the same First Amendment right to say anything he wants, short of "FIRE" in a crowded theater, regardless of how obnoxious it might be.

But, as the original purpose of Colin Kaepernick's statement was to bring to light the systemic injustice African Americans experience daily, it appears the "take a knee" protest is taking at least some attention away from the original issue.  IMO many people who might have otherwise gotten on board with CK's message have been sidetracked, insulted even, because of their reverence for the anthem.

Isn't there a better way to make a statement for social justice for everyone that would not be as divisive?  Here's an idea...find a time and a place in every city that has professional sports teams (football, basketball, baseball, hockey), and professional sport icons of all races, and have giant rallies, with all of them on stage at the same time along with maybe some big name musical groups.  Wouldn't that make one helluva statement?  

Wouldn't that be something any reasonable person could get behind? Wouldn't that make people think, and maybe bring about some real change....without squabbling over a song or a flag?

  
Now as for the POTUS, maybe we could just confine him to the Alabama While House that weekend.

S


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Follow the money



The Senate is currently on their third....or is it their fourth or fifth....iteration of a "Repeal and Replace ObamaCare" attempt, and this one is no better than the ones that came before it.  As bad as ObamaCare supposedly is, all their attempts to date have been giant steps BACKWARD.  The highlight of the current Republican bill is to give each state a "block grant", essentially a pot of cash, and then tell them to figure out what to do with health care.  "Not my circus, not my monkey" the Feds can then say.

Polls show less than 20% of Americans like this giant step backwards.  Neither does AARP, or the American Medical Association, or the various hospital associations, or the insurers, or the drug makers, or the American Cancer Society, The American Heart Association, the Diabetes Foundation, or any other group advocating on behalf of people with health issues.  So why are Republicans so hellbent on ramming this "reform" down our throats?  Who wins in this deal?

FOLLOW THE MONEY

The only logical explanation I can come up with is that, to Republicans, "Repeal and Replace ObamaCare" is simply a means to a greater goal.  They have told their ultra-wealthy mega-donors that they will deliver to them a giant tax cut, but before they can do that, they first have to come up with a pile of cash from somewhere.  That "somewhere", they have decreed, will be from the Federal healthcare kitty....cut a few hundred billion here, transfer it on to there.  But if they can't realize big savings via a repeal/replace bill, their promised wealth transfer, their REAL goal, is dead in the water.  

If you can think of another reason why congressional Republicans are pushing so hard to pass such a supremely unpopular bill, please let me know.

If they should ever succeed in achieving this goal, hold on!  Their next target will be Medicare and Social Security.  Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has already (correctly) labeled them as the two most expensive Federal programs that can be looted...er..."reformed" in order to realize great savings.  He just never tells us where those savings will go.

So, as is always the case, FOLLOW THE MONEY.  That will show you who is pulling the strings, and who the big winner will always be.

S