Sunday, March 9, 2014

Levels of health care in the USA

For people between 18 and 65

  1. You're rich. You can afford the care you need
  2. You're well-to-do. Insurance companies are required to sell you a policy and you can afford it.
  3. You're on the edge of well-to-do. Insurance companies are required to sell you a policy, but it's going to hurt, and it's going to hurt some more if you're over 50 or get really sick.
  4. You're doing OK. Insurance companies are required to see you a policy and there will be a subsidy to help out. Getting sick will hurt your wallet. If you're unlucky and have a modest windfall, the IRS will demand the subsidy back.
  5. You're squeaking along. Insurance companies are required to sell you a policy but the subsidy won't be enough.
  6. Your family savings are circling the drain. (a) In Medicaid expansion states, the government pays your health care, but you may have difficulty getting the subcontracted care-managment companies to pay. (b) In Medicaid-limited states, you are SOL, and will have to rely on charity. Don't get sick.
  7. Your family savings are gone, or never existed. The government pays your health care, but you may have difficulty getting the subcontracted care-managment companies to pay. You have many other problems, and time spent working the health care system makes them worse. Don't get sick.

This is an improvement over the pre-ACA situation.

For people 65 and over

  1. You're rich. You can afford the care you need.
  2. You have retired well, were able to purchase supplemental insurance early, or have a retirement medical benefit. You will get most of the care you need, but may run out of money for long-term care, in which case, see "You're poor."
  3. You can afford Medicare parts B and D (A is automatic, and there is no C), but not much supplemental coverage. Your doctor visits are not covered. Some of your medications are covered.
  4. You cannot afford Medicare parts B and D. Hospitalization is covered, but not the ambulance in emergencies.
  5. You're poor. You are required to spend most of your savings on care and then Medicaid steps in.
Don't retire poor.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Websites: there oughta be a law

A list of web practices that I wish were outlawed:
  1. Data mining. There are far too many abuses possible when large dossiers are compiled on individuals. Easy marks for con games, blackmail victims, people with unpopular political views—you name it, they can find you. And everyone is vulnerable in some way, when the dossier is large enough; if they can't get you, they can get your friends. For the sake of individual freedom, I want to see the compilation of large numbers of dossiers by anyone outlawed.
  2. Internet stalking. This is what the big social media sites like Facebook, Google Plus, and  does, whenever you visit a site that has their button on it, unguarded, it records your presence there. Ever had a scary ex? Suppose they worked for Google. Scared now? Likewise, I want to see this outlawed.
  3. Abuse of social media access by monopolists. The condition for socializing ought not be the rights to use what you say or your images in any way, or stalk you.
If a web site or, especially, a smartphone app asks you to accept a big long “agreement,” odds are it's a ripoff, either of your intellectual property or your personal data. This is most major corporate sites, alas. But it may also be your doctor's office.

A medical center I work with employs a major third-party service provider as their "secure" e-mail service. In its terms of service, it claims that data passed through it is not covered by HIPPA, the US medical privacy law. It claims the right to use your correspondence and records data in any way, though it does promise to conceal your name. Medical records are as individual as fingerprints, so one is no more anonymous than one is if one gives a photograph of oneself. And, finally, it uses web bugs to track your web activity. So this medical e-mail provider is compiling a dossier on you which it can sell in any way, it stalks you, and abuses social media access. I do not advise accepting the Terms of Service.

[Added] UPS now requires one to agree to a 79-page ToS document in order to track packages. Hmmm, guess I'll just wait for the packages to arrive. [Update 2014.03.09] This turns out not to be correct; you are shown the "agreement" when their web site gets confused. However, their subscription services require that you accept that agreement.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Thoughts about Paul Krugman's remarks on the information economy

(Cross-posted from my comments at Paul Krugman's blog. These were approved, and you can read them, and perhaps see some followups.)

Paul Krugman:
What do I mean by the role of rents? Consider the changing identity of the most valuable company in America. For a long time, it was GM, then Exxon, then IBM. These were companies with huge visible production activities: GM had more than 400,000 employees, which was amazing when you consider that the overall national work force was much smaller than the one we have today, Exxon had oil refineries. IBM was an information technology company, but it still had many of the attributes of an old-style manufacturing giant, with many factories and a large, well-paid work force.
But now it’s Apple, which has hardly any employees and does hardly any manufacturing. The company tries, through fairly desperate PR efforts, to claim that it is indirectly responsible for lots of US jobs, but never mind. The reality is that the company is basically built around technology, design, and a brand identity.—
I am delighted to see you considering these issues. These are very important questions, and of great interest to writers, musicians, illustrators, publishers, and so on, as well as to media device manufacturers like Apple and Amazon.

Kraw… It is a half-truth to say that "Apple has hardly any employees and does hardly any manufacturing." Their subcontractors have many employees in China. In the long run, it doesn't seem likely that the brand will survive; touch-screen computing devices are becoming commodities and other firms can also hire good designers and marketers.

Apple stands in the relation to the various content producers—publishers, recording firms, television and movie producers, and so on—as NBC used to stand to RCA. NBC was founded by RCA as a way to sell radios and transmission equipment. Apple instead licenses content. Amazon, on the other hand, is following the Sarnoff model; it is becoming a publisher. It is also following the Walton model, and pressing hard on the price of its "suppliers;" if the Amazon model of publishing becomes the standard, very few professional writers will be able to make a living at it.

One especially significant area of products: applications, especially games. By and large, apps are not portable between platforms without considerable effort. It is apps that make the platform brands like iPad, PSP, and X-Box so strong.


No economic thoughts here, but perhaps some grist for the mill.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Apple v Samsung

Or, what PJ said.

(Image from Elin Rønby Pedersen's design portfolio.)

Coverage at Groklaw. More Groklaw. There were irregularities in the jury's decision process, and this has already caused the judge to reduce the settlement, and may ultimately lead to its being set aside.

Perhaps more tomorrow.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Grading Customer Service

I just wrote up a really bad customer service experience at Yelp. (It was at the Seattle Apple Store, and you can read it here.) While I was doing this, I discovered that Yelp's grading system is lopsided. One star is "Eek!" two stars is "Meh" and it goes up from there. So--how do I distinguish between "bad customer service experience" and egregious deception or price-gouging?

This is how I rank stores. Using a 1-5 scale, if a store does a basic good job, I give it a three. Extra-ordinary service or pricing rates a four, and both together rate five. Two means a serious deficiency in service or over-pricing. One means egregious price-gouging or deception: illegal or near-illegal activity.

Croak! [2011.12.06 An omitted pronoun added and a bit of grammatical cleanup done.]

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Housing Price and Home Ownership Croak

[Written in comments on Balloon Juice where, as usual,  it sank without a trace. I am rescuing it here.]

Prices are plummeting because the bubble is still bursting. Take a look at the charts on this page. I think we’ve got about two years to go. See also this Calculated Risk article. Note this:

The aggregate data suggest that in 2010 the homeownership for most age groups was probably below 1990 rates! Last week’s report, then, was clearly the BIGGEST STORY ON US HOMEOWNERSHIP in many, many years. So … why the lack of media coverage?

So I suppose prices will drop below pre-depression levels, unless the large number of houses with clouded titles—thank you banksters—reduces availability sufficiently to create a shortage.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Google Voice and Sprint Wireless: the Quiet Telecomm Deal

(Reposted from FDL about a month ago, where it go no attention. The service is rolling out Tuesday, and this seems a good time for a repost.)

The media is all agog with the planned purchase of T-Mobile’s US operation by last-wave carrier AT&T. The combined carrier would be a force to be reckoned with, and be in a much better position to pressure Apple and Google and consumers and terrify Sprint management. Meantime, Google and Sprint have quietly announced integration between Google Voice and Sprint Wireless.

Over time, we’ve worked to bring an integrated Google Voice experience to your mobile device by building mobile apps, introducing Google Voice Lite, and most recently Number Porting. But we felt that ultimately, the most simple solution would be to partner with carriers to seamlessly integrate Google Voice with your mobile phone. Today, we’d like to share that we’ve teamed up with Sprint to do just that. (link)
OVERLAND PARK, Kan., March 21, 2011 – Sprint (NYSE: S) and Google announced today a new integrated Google Voice™ experience that will allow Sprint customers to set their existing Sprint wireless phone number as their Google Voice number. Sprint customers will be able to take advantage of all the features and benefits of Google Voice without the hassle and fees associated with porting their number. Sprint is the first and only carrier to offer this capability, which will be available soon on all Sprint CDMA phones. (link)

I’m still thinking over the implications. Google has long wanted access to the wireless tele­com­mun­i­ca­tions market, but the history, business practices, and regulatory clout of the major carriers have limited their ambition. With this deal with the relatively smaller carrier Sprint may have given Google their in, much as AT&T gave Apple their in. Sprint has an excellent wireless data network, second, so far as this bird can tell, only to Verizon, and Google gets to distribute its services–and advertising–through that network. Sprint, of course, gets the support of one of the largest and most successful internet firms. If Google acquired Sprint the deal would be subject to careful anti-trust scrutiny but, so far as I can tell, there is no anti-trust issue here: neither Google Voice nor Sprint is a large enough service to create a combined monopoly, or even much of a market force: this deal is made in the hope of growth, rather than to purchase market share. On the other hand, there is a clash of corporate cultures. Google takes as its motto, “Don’t be evil.” Sprint, on the other hand, provides notoriously poor customer service, apparently by policy. How this will play out in the marketplace is hard to imagine: Google does not take kindly to brand dilution and Sprint is not likely to deal well with requests from Google to provide better service to Google Voice users.