Two women who made a difference

There are several well done Princess Diana tributes being played on various networks. The one most impactful to me is the one where Princes William and Harry share their thoughts along with others who knew her well. Seeing the joyful footage of the boys with their mother at various theme parks or parks is delightful. It reminds me why people saw her as a down-to-earth person. Plus, the huge viral picture of her shaking hands with an AIDs patient truly broke ground in a world very scared of the disease and is an exemplar of who she was.

We should not lose sight that this is also the 20th anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death. She died about a week after Princess Diana’s death, which left the attention to the earlier passing, which is likely the way the humble Mother Teresa wanted it. With her ministry to those in need, Mother Teresa may have been one of the finest people to walk the earth.

These two people illustrate the importance of reaching out to those in need. There was footage of a disabled and disheveled man who broke into tears when Diana spoke with him and shook his hand. Plus, there was countless footage of Diana visiting with children and parents of all religions and countries. She often took up causes that were not approved of by the monarchy such as AIDs or undetonated land mines.

Teresa would also reach out and help those with disease, malnutrition, or extremely poverty. Like any human, she had doubts and questioned her ability to help. She wrote in her journal that she prayed for God to give her strength to carry on.  Not unlike the prayers of Desmond Doss, the conscientious objector who saved 75 or more men in battle under fire, who prayed for strength to save one more.

To me, their outreach to help is inspiring. These two women “walked the talk” doing what religions ask of us to do. Let’s remember them both well. Diana is still getting the press, but do not forget Mother Teresa, as well.

The President and Congress own Obamacare

I have written often about the imperfect Affordable Care Act and ways to improve it. I have written often about the Republicans role in sabatoging the ACA making premiums even higher by not funding promised payments to insurers for adverse selection as well as naysaying the law and not expanding Medicaid in 19 states.

This sabatoge continues under this President who says the ACA is in a death spiral. It is hurting in many areas, but stabilizing in others. He said he wants to let it implode and then fix it.

Mr. President, that is not good enough. You are threatening to cease further promised payments to insurance companies which will harm people. You see, what you and Congress fail to realize is you own Obamacare. If it fails, it is on your watch. And, to be frank the significant majority of Americans and the press do not recognize the role you played in hamstringing the imperfect law.

My strong advice is to do what is necessary thinking of its patients and users. Those Americans out there deserve your best efforts to help them. Watching the ACA fail after you greased the skids is extremely poor form and uncaring. It is that simple. Fix the ACA. That is what is done to laws that need it to help people.

Courage comes from unexpected sources

Watching the movie “Hacksaw Ridge” for a second time serves as a reminder that you should not underestimate people. The movie reflects the true story of a conscientious objector in World War II who was awarded the Medal of Honor, even though he refused to pick up a weapon.

Desmond Doss enlisted to become a medic, but was almost court martialed for refusing to use his rifle. He was deemed a coward. After his case was dismissed, he went with his fellow troops to Hacksaw Ridge in Okinawa, a devil of a place where many Americans died. Doss was able to save over 75 wounded Americans, many left for dead, risking his own life. His mantra was “God, let me get one more.”

His courage astounded his fellow troops, some of whom had deemed him a coward before. This speaks volumes to me as courage is not often exhibited by the rah-rah type or the John Wayne like hero. It is the quiet strength to do something, whether it is death defying or standing up for a cause against a tide of popular opinion.

Senator John McCain is a true hero as he survived torture and stood strong with his fellow prisoners to overcome his North Vietnamese captors. In spite of a now-President, who never served, saying McCain was not a hero because he was captured, he was indeed one. And, McCain continues to show his courage throughout his career standing up with unpopular, but morally right opinions.

Former Virginia Senator and Secretary of the Navy Jim Webb is one of these people. Admittedly not perfect, he wrote an OpEd piece in 2002 saying if the US invades Iraq, we better be prepared to remain there 30 to 50 years. He said we need to ask questions such as will this help us diminish terrorism and what will this do to our role in other parts of the world? His position was unpopular, but he was dead on accurate in hindsight. But, even at the time he was posing questions that needed better answers.

Courage is more often exhibited by quiet strength. Some of the most courageous people are women. Female mathematicians who made a difference, like Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, the African-American women portrayed in “Hidden Figures,” fought huge uphill battles. Margaret Thatcher, Shirley Chisolm, Rosa Parks, Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, Gloria Steinem et al all had heavy doses of courage to overcome obstacles.

Mary Sherman Morgan, the first female rocket scientist, is also one of those people. In 1957, she invented a rocket fuel that powered the first Explorer rocket. She noted she was always the only female in her science and math classes, which was intimidating, but her courage helped her persevere.

Maybe that is the appropriate word for having inner strength to “persevere.” So, rather than beat on your chest, just suck it up, do your job, follow your conscience and persevere.

 

Gone to seed

We have a poverty problem in the United States. Too many of our declining middle class did not rise to the next strata, falling instead, to near poverty and into poverty. Yet, we do not talk about this problem enough. We have let their ladders out of poverty, go to seed along with their environment.

Poverty should be succinctly defined, as it is often misdefined along with simplistic diagnoses. Quite simply, poverty is the lack of money. The causes are many and complex, so the solutions must be holistic.

Some like to say it is due to lack of virtue. Some like to say it is due to lack of work ethic, while others may claim it is due to drug use or alcoholism. When I work with people in poverty, I witness hard working, often pious people. I see people with a lesser propensity to do drugs than general society.

If we recognize the simple definition of poverty as lack of money, we can focus our attention on providing ladders out of poverty. We can invest in the communities that have gone to seed, both with economic and social capital. We can start with redeveloping depleted assets. The term coined with a successful program in Atlanta is ABCD – Asset Based Comminuty Development.

ABCD could focus on repairing and not closing a community school, recognizing the during and after school value it offers. Or, it could be redeveloping a gone to seed golf course or empty textile or tobacco mill. Or, it could be repurposing a mall to be a school, church, charity or governmental building. Replacing or refurbishing blighted assets makes a huge difference.

Coupled with these investments must be education and career development, or social investments. Jobs and careers are scarce in too many areas. Opportunities must be introduced and nurtured to make them sustainable. STEM education, apprenticeships, trades skills are part of an all of the above tactical strategy,

But, we must be mindful of four negative trends in areas that have gone to seed – crime, opioids, food deserts  and single families. Community policing by people living in the community is key. Targeted help with the opiod epidemic is important. Better food choices must be available as they may not have a grocery market. And, we must have holistic sex education and access to planned parenthood tools and birth control.

What we cannot have is kicking tens of millions off health care insurance. We cannot reduce an already minuscule food stamps program. We need to think about improving the minimum wage.

These are just a few ideas. But, first we need to address what people in poverty lack – money.

 

 

 

Tuesday’s Gone with the Wind

With a shout out to one of my favorite Lynyrd Skynyrd’s songs “Tuesday’s Gone with the Wind,” here are a few tidbits for this Tuesday.

It should not be lost on anyone that two of the biggest players in wind energy are two of the largest manufacturing companies in the world – Siemens and GE. With Iowa at almost 1/3 of its electricity provided by wind and oil rich Texas at 13% and the largest US wind energy state, this is much more than a breeze and just shy of a gale.

What the ranchers and farmers in the Midwest and in other areas have learned, is leasing their land to wind mills earns annual income and let’s them continue to use the land. In North Carolina, for example, one farmer leased his farm for eleven wind mills for annual income of $55,000. With the variability of profit margin associated with working the land, this adds some stability.

Thinking of a different kind of wind, the Senate leader is a particularly blowhard. Now, that the third effort to revise the Senate ACA repeal and replace has fallen apart, he is still reluctant to take the more appropriate path. Rather than working with all members of the Senate following normal procedure for legislation, he now is talking about a full repeal vote, without replacement. Not only is that malfeasance in my view, it runs contrary to the wishes of most Americans. The fact the President suggested it does not improve the veracity of the idea.

Folks, please pay attention to the good and bad things happening. We can no longer assume our elected leaders will act with the necessary diligence and stewardship.

 

 

 

Notable Notaries

The other day presented an opportunity to witness a terrific slice of Americana. “Witness” is the operative word, as my sister and I needed to sign nine closing documents in front of a notary and two witnesses, who also happened to be notaries all of whom worked at our bank.

What fascinated me as I was driving to send by Fedex the documents to the attorney, is the realization of the demographic make up of our legal witnesses. While all female, one was an American whose accent reflected an Eastern Europe upbringing. The second was an American of Mideastern heritage, while the third was an African-American.

To me, this moment of reflection made me proud to be an American. Our melting pot of immigrants makes our country a great place. To be hyper-critical of immigrants and people who do not look like you do tears at the fabric that makes us great.

For our President to convey a message that some people are more American than others is hogwash. Another’s rights are just as important as mine, not more or less. That is what makes America great not running down others who some feel are less a citizen than they are.

A few suggestions on ACA Reform

Since the House and 13 Senate Republicans have decided not to listen to the American majority or review actual data, here are a few suggestions on reforming the ACA. The ACA is imperfect and seeing higher premiums than expected in some places, but critics overlook three key things. It has dramatically reduced the number of uninsured, it has introduced positive benefit requirements to all plans including employer sponsored ones and its premiums are even higher due to Republican Senators stiffing insurers.

What should we do about improving the ACA? First, do not pass any variation of the ill-conceived AHCA bill passed by the House. It is obvious the gang of thirteen GOP male Senators are not listening to the American majority. For what it is worth, here is what this retired benefit consultant, actuary and manager suggests for consideration.

– Pay insurers for the amounts promised them under the ACA to take on initial adverse risk (as was done when Medicare Part D was rolled out) and invite them to stay or return to the exchanges. Part and parcel with this change is to restore the risk corridor funding for adverse selection going forward. This will bring premiums down.

– Fully expand Medicaid in the remaining 19 states. The National Governors Association advocates the positives of Medicaid expansion with Ohio Governor and former Presidential candidate John Kasich calling it a “no brainer.” This will help rural hospitals, economies and residents as well as others in more urban settings.

– Reduce eligibility to Medicare to age 62. This will reduce the overall risk profile under the exchanges and Medicare since the added Medicare population is older than the average exchange population it would leave and younger than the Medicare population it would be joining.

– Where competition in the exchanges is nonexistent with only one provider, offer a public option through Medicare or a variation therefrom. The pricing needs to be fair when contrasted to the lone offering as you want provide viable choice, but not drive the lone insurer away

– Finally, I would suggest we evaluate the efficacy of all fee arrangements under the ACA. Which ones make sense to continue, which ones make sense to alter, and which ones should be shelved or replaced?

It would also be helpful for naysaying for the sake of a party position to cease. Some impressionable people have refused to consider the ACA because a politician told them not to saying it was horrible or in a death spiral. People need to be mindful that health care and insurance are complex and politicians are offering advice in areas for which they are not licensed or knowledgeable to do so.

To be frank, I would rather see us go down the path of a national health insurance model. Yet, that is s tough sell in this country. So, improving the ACA is the better course versus what is being discussed. Plus, the strategic expansion of Medicare noted above will permit us to study this option and expand or contract it based on its measured veracity.