Dark Waters is a must see

On Friday, I went to see the movie “Dark Waters” about a long uphill battle some West Virginia families had against Dupont. Mark Ruffalo stars and co-produces the film, playing the attorney, Rob Bilott, who fought so long and hard as a favor to his grandmother. The movie also stars Anne Hathaway as his wife, Tim Robbins as his managing partner and Bill Pullman and is directed by Todd Haynes. Some of the families impacted by Dupont and involved in the court cases show up in cameos throughout the movie.

The movie is a must see. Your emotions will flow with Bilott’s throughout the movie. You will be inspired by his courage and tenacity and that of the first client a farmer named Wilbur Tennant, ably played by Bill Camp. You will also be saddened by how a company could cover-up for decades they were harming their employees, community and the buying public. Yes, we too, are also impacted by this story. Not to spoil the plot any further, but the word “Teflon” plays a key role.

Like “Erin Brockovich” before it, these movies should not have to be made. Companies need to do the right thing. Yet, when government agencies ask the companies and industry to police themselves, short cuts are made and information is hidden. Think Boeing for a recent example. Dupont is not very happy this movie was made. They should not be as it paints them many times over in a very poor light. They had many opportunities to do the right thing, but did not until their hand was forced. Even then, it had to be reinforced.

I will stop short here. Please go see it. Make sure the kids see it, as well. This is why our voices matter.

May the Force be with you – don’t click

Black Friday turned into hefty cyber sales. Today, is officially Cyber Monday, so the expectation is high for even more sales. However, a key financial lesson is if you don’t buy, you save even more money. So, use the Force to not click.

I realize I am not telling anyone anything new. But. people want your money, so they will make it easier to get it. I think there has been a trend toward more personal purchases from holiday gifts. It is clear the car commercials have gone down that path to lower year-end inventory. If you must buy a car, your best savings will be at the end of December not the beginnning.

Yet, resist the urge as much as you can. I tell people you can go broke saving 1/2 off if it leads to more purchases. The other reason to resist is the hyper-commercialization of Christmas. This is a key reason I am frustrated with the infringement on my favorite holiday of Thanksgiving.

So, use the Force. Resist the urge. Don’t click on Submit or click far less. Black Friday and Cyber Monday lead to Red Debt.

Former Arkansas surgeon general brags on Medicaid expansion

I have written often about the Affordable Care Act not being fully implemented since 15 states have not expanded Medicaid. Rather than repeat my arguments, let me reference the attached editorial written by Dr. Joe Thompson, the former Surgeon General of Arkansas, which I read in Friday’s The Charlotte Observer. The reason for their interest is North Carolina has a Democrat governor working with a Republican majority General Assembly and the issue of Medicaid expansion is of importance. The editorial is entitled “Medicaid expansion works in deep red Arkansas. It would work in North Carolina too.”

“My home state of Arkansas is unusual among Southern states in having adopted Medicaid expansion early and in our own fashion.

I was Arkansas’ surgeon general in 2013 when the state first faced the question of whether to expand Medicaid. Like North Carolina now, Arkansas then had a Democratic governor and a Republican-controlled legislature. Fortunately, we avoided an impasse; lawmakers on both sides of the aisle came together to approve an innovative alternative to traditional Medicaid expansion that provides private health insurance coverage to about 250,000 people earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level.

The effect on Arkansas’ uninsured rate was swift and dramatic. A 2015 Gallup report showed that since Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion program took effect in January 2014, the state’s uninsured rate had been cut roughly in half, dropping from 22.5% to 11.4% ― the biggest reduction in the nation.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Arkansas’ uninsured rate was 8.2% in 2018. North Carolina’s was 10.7%, the ninth-highest rate in the nation. Arkansas’ reduced uninsured rate led to a 55% reduction in uncompensated-care losses at hospitals. This has been especially important for rural hospitals, which treat many low-income patients.

Since January 2010, only one rural Arkansas hospital has closed for financial reasons. In the five neighboring states that have not expanded Medicaid, more than 50 rural hospitals have closed, according to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Expanding Medicaid also has helped stabilize Arkansas’ health insurance market, improve competition and control premiums. Since 2014, at least three insurers have offered plans through the Health Insurance Marketplace in each county in the state. The competition encourages low rates: In 2014, 38 states had marketplace premiums lower than Arkansas’; today, only six states have lower premiums.Medicaid expansion has brought billions of new federal dollars into Arkansas’ economy: $1.7 billion between January 2014 and June 2015 alone, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Arkansas also is saving money because some individuals previously covered under traditional Medicaid, which in Arkansas is 30% state and 70% federally funded, are now covered under Medicaid expansion.

The federal government currently is paying 93% of Medicaid expansion costs and will pay 90% in 2020 and thereafter. A consultant told a legislative task force in 2016 that Medicaid expansion would save Arkansas $757 million between 2017 and 2021.Thirty-six states have now decided to accept Medicaid expansion.

Arkansas has become a firmly red state, but it has reauthorized its Medicaid expansion program with a supermajority vote every year because of the demonstrated benefits to the working poor, the economy and the health care infrastructure. Last year, Arkansas added a work and community engagement requirement that currently is blocked by a federal judge’s order, but however that issue ultimately is resolved, it is clear that Medicaid expansion has had tangible, positive results. There’s a reason the number of states rejecting it continues to shrink each year.

Joe Thompson, MD, MPH, is president and CEO of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement. He was Arkansas’ surgeon general under Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee and Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe.”

In spite of efforts to naysay it, hobble it and kill it, the Affordable Care Act is stabilizing some. It needs more stability and Medicaid expansion would help in the remaining 15 states. I have also advocated the US government paying back the money they withheld from insurers causing some to leave the market, inviting those companies back to the market. I have also advocated the reduction of the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to age 62 or even 60. And, where options don’t exist, Medicare could be offered as an option for younger adults.

What frustrates this retired benefits manager, consultant and actuary is the fact people getting harmed by decisions to harm the ACA is not a major factor. There is too much focus on winning an argument that people getting screwed does not seem to matter. Please help make it matter. Even as we speak, the eating away at the edges of the ACA could lead the Supreme Court to rule it unconstitutional. If this occurs it would be a damn shame.

Per Reuters – More foreign firms halted U.S. deals amid Trump administration scrutiny: report

Last week, Alexandra Alper of Reuters Financial News shared findings within a concerning report. The “report released by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), shows that foreign companies abandoned roughly 14 percent of U.S. investments that were investigated by CFIUS in 2017 ‘in light of CFIUS-related national security concerns.’ The percentage in 2018 was 11 percent.

Those figures were sharply up from the period immediately before Trump took office. About 4 or 5 percent of such transactions probed by the committee were dropped annually from 2014 to 2016, the report showed. The Committee, led by the Treasury Department, reviews foreign investment in the United States for national security issues.”

I have raised this issue previously – when any entity makes it more burdensome to deal with, other entities will explore other options. The tariff wars are causing suppliers and customers to find other avenues. John Deere sales are down in the US, but up in South America as more agricultural products are being bought there.

On foreign investment, if we have companies jump through too many hoops, they will take their money elsewhere. These are headwinds to our economy and our growth has been softening.

Coupled with overall global softening, it should give us concern.

I guess I am just dumb as well

Per The National Review, “Senator John Kennedy (R., La.) slammed House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi at a rally for Republican gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone in Louisiana on Wednesday. ‘In three short years, President Trump has doubled the growth in the greatest economy in all of human history. And do you know what our Democratic friends have done for him?’ Kennedy asked an arena full of supporters in the city of Monroe, Louisiana. ‘Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to impeach him.’ ‘I don’t mean any disrespect, but it must suck to be that dumb,’ Kennedy said.”

For now, let me mention and set aside the incorrect statement made by the Senator about doubling the growth of the greatest economy (which softened to 1.9% annualized growth last quarter) in all of human history and I won’t even address that we are over ten plus years of consecutive month economic growth when the president has only been president for just shy of three years or that China and India have higher growth rates. Let me focus on the last statement.

Name calling serves no purpose and shows the author has a poor argument. From where I sit, let me mention a few things I posted on the Senator’s website:

– the US president has been credibly accused of abuse of power, obstruction of justice, extortion of a country for personal gain, and violation of campaign finance laws
– these allegations come under oath by many well-respected diplomats and staff who have served multiple presidents of both parties
– these testimonies have come at great personal risk by these public servants given the vindictive president and his syvophants
– this is on top of the Mueller Report which did many things, but did not exonerate the president of obstruction of justice and confirmed he is untruthful.

I guess under the Senator’s scorecard, that means I am dumb as well. Call me stupid, but I think we owe these public servants the same duty that they adhere to. Call me dumb, but I think Senator Kennedy’s colleague Lindsey Graham is also forsaking his duty by saying he won’t read the transcripts.

Well, I guess this independent and former Republican voter is just plain stupid. For some reason, I thought Senators swore an oath like these public servants did to serve the US constitution.

Love or hate Nancy Pelosi, she is at least doing her job. Senator, why don’t you do yours. Stop worrying about keeping your job and do your job.

Medicaid expansion is needed for NC says this retired benefits professional

As North Carolina continues its stalemate on Medicaid expansion, it might be interesting to heed the words of former Ohio Republican governor John Kasich. When Ohio moved forward with the Medicaid expansion, he called it a “no brainer.”

Now why would he say that? Kasich noted Medicaid expansion would not only help people, it would bring $13 billion to his state over several years. George Washington University did a study that said Medicaid expansion would help a state’s economy, help a state’s rural hospitals and help people. We should also remember NC Republican Mayor Adam O’Neal of Belhaven walking to Washington seeking the expansion of Medicaid after his colleagues in Raleigh turned him down as he tried to save his town’s hospital.

Rather than offer stale arguments, it would be nice if the Senate and House leaders figure out a way to get this done. Let me add the voices of The Commonwealth Fund, RAND Corporation and Economic Policy Institute that echo the results of the GWU study. NC is already in the minority on this. Please let’s find a way to help people.

Let me close with a truism about health coverage to think about. Those with coverage will see doctors earlier and will have access to prescription drugs to avoid future train wrecks. Preventive care and health maintenance are better paths forward for people and healthcare financing.

Note: The author of this post is a retired benefits professional who is a former actuary, former benefits consultant and benefits manager for a Fortune 500 company

A few questions to ponder – October 27, 2019

A couple of questions to ponder:

– why is the US president directing the US Attorney General and why is he aware of findings?

– why is it so hard for ardent Trump fans to believe hard-working, diligent ambassadors who have served both Republican and Democrat presidents?

– why are we not celebrating the political courage of these ambassadors who are testifying while knowing the president is very vindictive?

– why are not more questions being asked of AG William Barr who white-washed a more damning Mueller report?

– why did the GOP stormtroopers brag that they had not paid attention to what these heroes were testifying and had not read the Mueller report?

– why are legislators OK with a morally corrupt and likely criminally corrupt president?

– why do two Republican lawyer groups say the impeachment inquiry is justified?

– why do Trump followers think the ten plus year economic growth in the US started January, 2017? Could it be they believed his lie how horrible things were and unemployment was as high as 42%? It is amazing how it dropped to beneath 5% after the inauguration.

Mind you, I am glad economic growth continued, but what concerns me is we borrowed from our future to make a pretty good economy a little better for a little while. Instead of paying down debt in good years, our deficit climbed 26% to $984 billion for the fiscal year ending 9/30/2019. This is the fourth straight year of increases. We are over $22 trillion in debt today and it will be near $34 trillion in eight years sans change.

Trump said the economy will suffer if he is not reelected. The truth is the economy has been softening for more than a year and will continue to soften next and the following year and regardless of whether Trump is reelected.

Just a few questions to ponder.