Blasts from past come unexpected in this business


Needless to say, I get a lot of unsolicited, pure junk mail in my line of work. Most of it goes into the round file with hardly a glance. But I guess I was moving slow or even more easily distracted than usual today (and folks, if I weren’t easily distracted, I wouldn’t be doing a blog), but I happened to notice something today that made me say, wait a minute… and actually open one of the pieces of junk.

The junk in question is this slick magazine with a snazzy cover called Edge. or Leader’s Edge (look at the cover and tell me which one it is). It’s a big one, as you can see compared to The Economist above. To the extent that it has registered on my consciousness at all in the past, I’ve just thought it was some generic thing aimed at business execs, a category in which I fit only technically (on account of having the title of V.P.). But today, I noticed there was, shall we say, a theme running through the headlines of the articles teased on the cover:

  • "Committing Insurance Without a License"
  • "Employer plans: best cure for ill health insurance market"
  • "Attacking group benefits — why destroy what works?"

The last one grabbed me, as it seemed to be about health insurance, and seemed to suggest that weEdge_006
currently have a system that works. Those of you who know me know that I strongly disagree.

So I opened the mag, and eventually found the masthead, and sure enough, this is a publication of "The Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers." It’s full of institutional advertising from such luminaries as UnitedHealthcare.

But that’s not the good part, the part that prompted me to write this. The good part is that in the few seconds I spent flipping through this thing, I ran across the name of an old friend, Joel Wood.

I first met Joel when I was a reporter operating out of a bureau in rural West Tennessee back in the 70s. He was a student who wrote for one of the local weeklies. Later, when I was the news editor of The Jackson Sun, he was one of my best reporters. But after the 1982 election, he left the paper to become press secretary to Don Sundquist, who had been elected to Congress over a candidate whose campaign press secretary was another former writer at the paper (whom I later hired back, as it happened). Sundquist later became governor of Tennessee. But before that happened, Joel became a lobbyist for the insurance industry. In one of those startling coincidences that make Washington seem like such a small town, I ran into him years later when I was showing one of my kids around the Capitol.

Anyway, I last ran into Joel three years ago at a Jackson Sun reunion. True to form, he kept doing deals via cell phone while the reunion was going on, as seen in the picture I shot below.

Now that I’ve read his mag, and read in his latest column (the one about destroying "what works," which isn’t on line yet; here’s a previous one) that "I’ve been blessed with terrific health benefits in my 15 years at the council," which he says is a good thing given his lifestyle, which he says consists of "attending political cocktail parties professionally in the selfless service of our member firms," all I can say is…

Joel, it’s not too late. Come home! All is forgiven. And don’t bring the phone this time…

28 thoughts on “Blasts from past come unexpected in this business

  1. Brad Warthen

    By the way, I agree with Joel that McCain’s health plan stinks (which was the point of his latest column). Nor do either Obama or Clinton hit the mark on that issue, in my book. But then, the only presidential candidate who advocated my kind of health plan was Dennis Kucinich (unfortunately, Mr. Kucinich and I don’t agree about much else).

    But Joel should agree with me that employer-provided group health insurance isn’t working any more, either. Increasingly, we can’t pay for it or navigate our way through its labyrinthine rules (which, of course, is part of the business model — insurance companies count on us giving up on the claims). As Joel himself wrote about recent changes in HIS wonderful plan, "Three months into the new system, damned if I can figure it out. I just know I’m paying through my teeth when I pick up my prescriptions."


  2. Lee Muller

    Buy your own medical insurance, and you won’t have to take whatever plan your employer or the government designs to suit THEMSELVES.
    Quit trying to game someone else in to paying for your medical care. Take responsibility for yourself.

  3. Brad Warthen

    Yeah, boy, THAT would make good economic sense…
    Where does Lee get this stuff? How can anyone adhere to ideology so vehemently when all logic and all facts militate against it? How many of you out there have tried paying for decent medical coverage outside a group plan?
    If you believe in market forces at all, you understand that the SMALLER the pool, the least economic sense the pool makes…
    Now watch — Lee will tell us how he pays for his own insurance personally, and it’s wonderful, and if other people weren’t so worthless as to not be able to afford it they’d do the same.

  4. Brad Warthen

    One more thing…
    I want to go on record, right here and now, as saying that Joel makes WAY more sense than Lee.
    Stands to reason. After all, I trained the boy, back before he went over to the dark side.

  5. penultimo mcfarland

    Mr. Warthen, when you last went job hunting, did you compare the health insurance benefits from your various offers?

  6. Brad Warthen

    When I was last job hunting, Teddy Roosevelt was running for president.
    I was for him, by the way.
    That’s my way of saying, “Who can remember?”
    I last moved from one company to another in 1985. I’m pretty sure I looked at the bennies, but the fact is that in the 80s, I was pretty well satisfied with my health care coverage at BOTH of the companies I worked for. That was before it got less and less helpful, and more and more expensive… this model has been failing for some time now.

  7. Doug Ross

    > But Joel should agree with me that
    >employer-provided group health insurance
    >isn’t working any more, either.
    For some people. Mine works just fine, thank you. Unless your “solution” is as good as what I have now, please don’t lump me (or the 25,000 other employees of my company) in with whatever plan your employer has been able to stick you with.
    The cost of insurance for my family plan went up by $1 this year. Reasonable rates, reasonable copays, reasonable prescription plans, never see a bill, never file a claim, and my tax free healthcare account is tied directly to my bank account so I get reimbursed for out of pocket within a couple weeks.
    There are literally millions of U.S. employees with similar plans… including members of the federal government.
    You want better insurance? Go work somewhere else… or write an editorial complaining about McClatchy’s poor treatment of its employees in order to serve the demands of Wall Street. That’s the real issue.
    You want me to pay more so you can have better insurance? Okay. What are you going to do for me in return?

  8. Doug Ross

    And before you make some sort of claim that I am being selfish (along with the rest of us who have good insurance), let’s remember that you have never provided anything approaching a reasonable analysis of how your healthcare plan would work.
    When you can answer the questions like:
    1) How will it be paid for? (and not just “taxes”
    2) Who will decide what healthcare providers will receive for compensation
    3) Who will determine how services are allocated? For example, when there is a limited supply of a new cancer drug, who gets it first?
    4) What services will be covered?
    5) Will illegal immigrants have equal access to all the same services free of charge?
    6) How do you encourage innovation in a price controlled environment?
    7) Will you allow doctors, hospitals, etc. to not participate in the plan or will you force them to only accept payments from the government?
    8) Will you set caps on malpractice awards?
    There are hundreds of factors that you have failed to even address when it comes to a government run healthcare plan. That’s why it will never happen. The general public has no interest in a system that provides a level of service equal to Medicare or the Veterans Administration. We see exactly how a government run system works and it is the pits. The healthcare providers will not work for the rates the government pays for services if there are no private insurers to cover the true cost.
    Again – if you have a problem with your company’s insurance plan, please do something about it. But don’t assume we are all seeking the same benefit at someone else’s expense.

  9. Gordon Hirsch

    Amen, Doug.
    The problem is your current employer, Brad. McClatchy decides plan cost-sharing, and passes more to you every year. That has been the trend for decades, starting at The State with KR – the very first change we saw after KR took over was an increase in employee share of health care cost.
    No doubt KR and McClatchy continued to blame the shift on the usual HR blather about “rising cost of health care,” but they left out the part about more of the company’s share of total cost shifting to employees every year. … For the same reasons you no longer have a Saturday page: to maintain profitability at anybody’s expense but shareholders’.
    The “model” is not failing you. McClatchy is.
    And cut the Methusala bit. You’re only 50-something.

  10. p.m.

    The reason I asked, Mr. Warthen, is that my insurance, a product of my wife’s retirement from BASF, has served me pretty well, and apparently will continue to do so until I reach the age of 65.
    If I could be so lucky, it seems like you might be able to find a similar deal for yourself.
    Mine costs me nothing but a minor co-pay on drugs and doctor visits.
    By the way, if you’ve been in Columbia since 1985, my condolences. No wonder you read newspapers from New York.

  11. Doug Ross

    Here’s a poll that is on one of Kucinich’s campaign websites regarding Universal Healthcare. You couldn’t come up with a better parody of a biased poll (and is indicative of why Kucinich has yet to be more than a quirky blip on the national level:
    ++++ Healthcare poll:
    Do you (choose one):
    Prefer a universal health insurance program
    OK a Pay Increase to have universal Health care
    Consider a separate deduction from your pay for universal healthcare
    Want the government to provide health care for all
    OK a tax increase in order to receive universal healthcare
    Agree that access to health care should be a right
    Pay more in taxes to provide every American with health care
    Want employers to be required to offer a health plan
    Uh, where is the NONE OF THE ABOVE choice???

  12. Doug Ross

    Do you think if we had term limits on state legislators that this bill would have passed?
    Because it sure looks like just a few powerful longtime members of the State House were able to kill it.
    These are the type of people you think we need more of – experienced politicians able to understand the complexities of the way the State House works. Wouldn’t want some new guy with fresh ideas and no political capital to trade in there doing what is right…

  13. bud

    How can anyone adhere to ideology so vehemently when all logic and all facts militate against it?
    You are kidding aren’t you? Just look in the mirror.

  14. Lee Muller

    Brad, you just have such limited work experience that you can’t think beyond a big company insurance plan or a socialist medical system. You never shopped for your own insurance, don’t know what is available on the market, and don’t seem to care about the fact that really very few people are “uninsured” for very long.
    Doug Ross asked some simple questions that you can’t answer. What’s worse, Obama, Hillary and Kucinich have no answers, either.
    The Brad Warthen idea of security is having someonen else take care of you, tell you when to come to work, what to do, when to take vacation, when to retire.
    Starting the mid 1980s, I worked for Swiss and German companiers. I saw the government relic programs being dismantled. Workers owned all their own benefits and retirement plans, and could invest 15% or more of their income from the first day of work, without waiting on the promise of becomingn “vested”. They were free to change employers without having to change banks or insurance carriers, so their employers treated them with a lot more respect than the Americans I saw being “RIFfed”, “downsized”, “rightsized”, and circumcised.

  15. bud

    Lee, as usual you are full of bull. I have a 401K savings plan at work and the stock portion has basically remained the same over the last 8-1/2 years. The ability to invest one’s own money is no guarentee of growth potential.
    As for the main point Brad makes about health care there are 47 million American currently without insurance. The average length of time without care is increasing. But let me put a different spin on Lee’s claim that few are without healthcare for a long period of time. That means a lot more than 47 million Americans are without health insurance for some period of time. Any way you look at it 47 million is just a stunning number.
    The bottom line is simple, this chaotic mess of a health care system is far more expensive than systems in other countries and it’s far less effective in dealing with medical treatment. That’s the main reason we’re suffering a relative lag in life expectancy. Like Brad I have health insurance and frankly it sucks. It doesn’t cover much dental or any optimologic care at all. My guess is that if asked 250,000,000 Americans would not be satisfied with their health insurance. The other 50 million haven’t been screwed – yet, but as soon as they do they will come around. In the meantime we suffer with the worst health care nightmare in the industrial world.

  16. Brad Warthen

    Doug, I’m never going to quit my job and draft the details of a health care system, which is what I’d have to do to accomplish that.
    Either you agree that a tax-supported system of universal health care would — by eliminating the grotesque waste of a for-profit (and HUGE profits at that) middle industry — provide health care for more people at less cost, and free people to take entrepreneurial risks that would stimulate our economy (instead of being enslaved to their jobs because of the bennies they can’t afford to do without) or you don’t.
    It’s a simple concept. But if you don’t buy into it, aren’t the details pretty much irrelevant? What is it that you want, numbers to crunch? If so, you’ve come to the wrong guy.

  17. Doug Ross

    > What is it that you want, numbers to crunch?
    >If so, you’ve come to the wrong guy.
    I’d like to see at least a cursory examination of the pros and cons of a national healthcare system and the impact on the economy, the quality of service, etc.
    Otherwise, it’s pie in the sky, rainbows and lollipops fantasy.

  18. Brad Warthen

    Here’s my analysis: Countries with a national health plan have better outcomes at lower cost.
    This is what one would expect, of course. Eliminate completely unnecessary parties from the transaction — parties that EXIST to add cost to the transaction, from which they extract a large profit — and unless you’re a total hammerhead, you will have a more efficient, less costly transaction.
    The problem here is that libertarians and those in their thrall believe that anyone who works in the public sector is by definition a hammerhead. I don’t.
    That’s my problem, you see: I don’t have an ideology, or a religion, or whatever it is, that causes me always to assume anything about either the public or the private sector. I see people in the public and private sectors as being equally likely to be hammerheads. I just want to take out the hammerheads who are jacking up my cost in order to pocket it.

  19. Brad Warthen

    That would include, unfortunately, my friend Joel.

    That’s one reason more people don’t come out in favor of single-payer. They don’t want to hurt the feelings of their friends in the insurance industry. They take the Godfather’s copout: "I want to congratulate you on your … business and I’m sure you’ll do
    very well and good luck to you. Especially since your interests don’t
    conflict with mine"

    The trouble is, even though I, too, have friends in the insurance business, I’ve come to the conclusion that their interests DO conflict with my own. So I guess I should look over my shoulder any day that Paulie calls in sick, right?

  20. Doug Ross

    Does Medicare work? How about the Prescription Plan? How about Medicaid? How about the VA Hospitals?
    Can you provide any evidence where the government has done a better job than the private sector in providing healthcare? And let’s not forget that Medicare pays 30% of the costs that a private insurer pays.

  21. bud

    Can you provide any evidence where the government has done a better job than the private sector in providing healthcare?
    Canada, Holland, France, UK, Germany, Japan, Italy and maybe even Cuba. All have universal health care. All have longer life expectancies. All spend less on health care.

  22. Doug Ross

    C’mon, Bud. Let’s get real. My father’s uncle was a surgeon in Canada. He comes to the U.S. now for any treatments that need to get done in a reasonable amount of time.
    You can’t have government healthcare without rationing access to services.
    You get what you pay for when something is free.
    Now, I did see a few decent proposals on Kucinich’s website. For example, not allowing drug companies to patent drugs if they use government money in the R&D effort. Seems fair. But as long as the money flows from the Pharmas into the campaign war chests of our esteemed Senators and Congressmen, that idea will never see the light of day. It’s all about money.

  23. Lee Muller

    I already researched the diagnosis and cure rates for a bunch of diseases in all those countries with socialist medicine. The US was better than every country in every category, and far better than England and France. I posted some of the details here on breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
    10,000 doctors and nurses have left Canada for the US since 1998. 15% of Europeans and Canadians have private insurance that they can use in America. In many countries, as many as 40% carry private insurance to pay for the carry which is denied them by government clinics.

  24. Lee Muller

    * 41,000,000 without medical insurance at any given moment
    * 30,000,000 illegal aliens without medical insurance
    * Most Americans uninsured are only temporarily changing plans and/or jobs.
    * 55% of the longer-term uninsured can afford to buy it, but prefer to spend money on vacations, cars, homes.
    I already posted all the sources, and I have lots more data, for those who want the facts, instead of the propaganda fabricated by the leftist media.

  25. Lee Muller

    Medical costs have only increased in the 58% of the healthcare industry under control of government.
    In the 42% still in the free market, costs have decreased over the last 20 years.

  26. bud

    Doug, I’m not proposing completely free medical care. I have no problem with fair deductibles and co-pays, especially for someone like Brad and me who can afford it. What I would like to see is some sanity to a system that is impossible to understand, and, more importantly, leaves 47 million people out in the cold. The bottom line on all this is crystal clear: Americans do not live as long as people in other developed countries. I maintain that’s because we ignore the very real health care needs of 10s of millions of Americans.

  27. Lily

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