Thursday, December 26, 2013

Light dusting of snow in Bellingham

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and all that. For folks who got my snail mail card and others, here is a link to my 2013 summer bike trip again.

My New Year's Letter.


Path from WWU to Jersey Street on Sehome Hill.


Bellingham Food Coop sign on Forest Street with Sehome Hill in background.

Snow is rare in Bellingham. Some years hardly ever, other years a few storms. Rarely it's deeper and stays longer. This early December snow was a typical light dusting. Lots of people come out with cameras and post to Facebook when it happens.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Privatizing Medicare and abandoning the less fortunate

If we were to privatize, or at least not subsidize, Medicare, being elderly would be considered a preexisting condition. Coverage would be either real expensive or non existent.

I heard an urban legend that some Eskimo tribes had their version of Medicare which was basically leaving folks who were too ill to keep up with the tribe behind on an ice flow to pass away, or onto the "next life." We could end up having a system similar to that if we don't pay our taxes and watch out. Hopefully we will not migrate into that kind of a system even though, in some cases, people passing away and not suffering some circumstances of disease might be more charitable than just being strung along.

Compared to private insurance, Medicare tends to be the most efficient means to provide healthcare in terms of the ratio of administrative overhead to dollars spent on actual care. I hear that for some private insurance companies, 20%, or more, of the premium dollar goes to insurance company bureaucracy rather than healthcare. In Medicare, it's around 3% for administrative costs.

One of the things that the Obamacare program is trying to do is cap what percent of insurance company revenue that is spent on administration rather than healthcare.

Still, the Medicare program is more expensive than insurance plans that serve younger people even though only 3%, or so, goes to overhead. Why is that true?

Older people, as a population, tend to have higher medical expenses than the younger people who make up the policy holder pools of private insurance companies. This has to do with the people being served, not the administrative costs.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Why I've never driven a car, but if I were in the Millennial generation, I'd look forward to having a car eventually

In a conversation with some folks from the millennial generation, we got to talking about cars and bicycles. I mentioned that I never learned to drive in part because of environmental worry, but also because I was afraid of my own absent mindedness and I didn't want to cause an accident at 60mph.

We discussed how appalling it is that over 30,000 people die each year, in USA, due to car accidents to which they responded. "Let's hear it for the Google self driving car." Thumbs up and high 5ves all around for the Google car. Someone mentioned that the only accident it has been in, so far, was in a parking lot while a driver was over riding the automatic controls. I have hope that in the future, the highway death toll, that we take for granted today, will be much lower.

Hopefully cars of the future will not be the global warming nightmares of today. For instance hydrogen fuel from solar energy.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Inflating our way out of debt

The most likely way we will resolve the national debt is to inflate our way out of the debt. It isn't the best way, but its probably the most likely way.

This is bad news for people with savings such as seniors with fixed income from retirement savings plans.

Our accumulative national debt, as a percentage of the total GDP, was higher right after WWII than it is today. Imagine that. The total numbers are bigger today, but as a percent of GDP, today's debt is smaller than it was right after WWII. The GDP is just much larger than it was after WWII.

Part of that larger GDP is economic growth since WWII and another part of that GDP is inflation. Inflation is a big factor. I remember when one could easily buy a house in Seattle for under $20,000 That was just back in the 1960s. Today, the same lot could cost a half million. That's inflation.

WWII debt is still with us, but it's no longer a big deal compared to today's economy. The kids of tomorrow will be using $10 bills as we use $1 bills today, but they will be used to it. Just move the decimal point and go on from there. The debt we have today will look smaller in their economy. That's how we deal with the debt. We just inflate our way out of it so it isn't as big by comparison. Moderate inflation over the years. Why worry about it? It's bad news for savers who are alive today, but it's not necessarily stealing from future generations. People who haven't been born yet will just start with the higher numbers; such as using what we consider to be $10 bills as their $1 bills. By then more transactions will be on the computer, rather than dollar bills, but I'm using the concept of dollar bills to explain things.

I do feel for folks who have savings, including myself with my modest retirement plan. The lack of value in these savings will likely mean more need for government spending to subsidize housing and so forth for seniors; thus necessitating more debt and the need to print more money. A vicious cycle.

Raising taxes on the rich to pay for some of this government spending, rather than just printing money for it, can take some of the bite out of this economic predicament. Remember, the predicament effects our current generations of savers more than it will effect future generations who haven't been born yet. That is my guess at least.

Seems like Republicans create a lot of unnecessary anxiety over the debt. Too much of that anxiety is unhealthy. Yes there are problems, like the erosion of people's savings, but savers are already used to savings being battered by years of rock bottom interest rates. I ahte to say it, but a lot of people have most likely given up on saving money.

Also, with inflation, there is the problem that not all prices, in the economy, go up together. Wages have tended to fall behind prices for things like housing. Some products don't go up in price while other things inflate. This creates affordability gaps in the economy.

Inflating our way out isn't the best way to resolve the debt, but it's what we seem to be doing. The best way is collecting enough taxes so the government doesn't have to have long term debt. Balance spending and taxes, but that isn't easy to do. Balancing the budget is the ideal "Plan A," but we are most likely stuck with the less ideal "Plan B;" inflating our way out of debt. Maybe we can reduce the need to resort to plan B in the future, but plan B isn't necessarily the end of the world. It's just not the ideal world we would like.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Has pent up medical demand been taken into account with the ACA?

Due to pent up medical demand, I wonder if there will be a lot of cost overruns adding to the deficit from the Affordable Care Act come early 2014? I support the idea of the ACA for including more people under Medicaid and so forth, but if there are cost overruns the Republicans will create a lot of noise. I guess one should say, "as if the Republicans haven't been creating a lot of noise anyway." Pent up medical demand could be an issue.

My own dental situation is a good example even though it's dental, rather than medical. When I first got onto a dental plan (I'm lucky to have a dental plan) I hadn't been to a dentist for any preventative work for 30 years. I had a few cavities filled, but no cleaning or preventative work for 30 years. The dentist did a lot of catch up work during the first year of my dental plan. I paid part of it out of pocket, but the plan had to pay a lot more, in it's first year, than it does now with just ongoing retinue prevention.

I remember my boss jokingly asking me if my dentist was buying a new yacht when I told him how many appointments I had that first year. Of course, my boss wasn't out any money from that cluster of appointments since it was covered under the insurance plan. My employer just paid a fixed premium, but it cost the insurance plan more, that first year, for more than a normal number of dental appointments.

They must have taken this into account for the new enrollees in Obamacare, but I wonder. In the long run, it's better, and even cheaper, to provide prevention, but it may cost more in the short run. Republicans will scream.

Monday, December 02, 2013

On being an Obamacrat

I still consider myself an "Obamacrat." I must have heard that term somewhere, but I don't remember where. Seems obvious enough that I wouldn't have been the only one to make it up. Like Obamacare, Democrat, Obamacrat.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Socks on display



A specialty store selling socks in downtown Bellingham has a warm display on this November day. Rainbow socks included.