Tag Archives | don’t get sick

Credit rip-offs find their way to desperate medical patients

Just when I thought I’d seen every variation of the financial industry taking advantage of consumers at their most vulnerable, here comes an excellent piece in The New York Times about medical professionals steering patients toward medical credit cards and lines of credit charging 20 percent or more annually.

Imagine being told you need a medical procedure that is going to cost you $5,000 or $10,000 out of pocket, and getting pitched for a credit card to pay that bill during the same visit to your doctor’s or dentist’s office.

One financial services company pitching itself to medical pros says on its website, “Your patient does not require good credit.” Well. I guess that’s good for someone.

What to expect from the Ryan Administration

Mitt Romney will only release one year of past tax returns and won’t give any specific budget proposals. But sooner or later, he had to pick a vice-presidential candidate.

So we can now look to Paul Ryan’s proposals as chairman of the House Budget Committee (Romney previously called a proposed Ryan budget “excellent work”) for a preview of how your taxes could change under a Romney-Ryan Administration. Here’s some of what Ryan has proposed:

–Giving the top 1 percent of income earners a tax break averaging more than $150,000, while on average raising the taxes of the bottom 20%, as The Washington Post reported.

–Ending Medicare by giving beneficiaries a fixed amount to go into the marketplace and try to purchase private health insurance. Over time, government spending on health care would drop by 50% and most elderly would pay more for health care (if they can get insurance) than would otherwise be the case. You don’t have to believe me about this–just check out the report from the well-regarded and nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

–Privatizing Social Security, with a plan so radical that even privatization fan George W. Bush spurned it, according to New York magazine.

–Cutting Pell Grants, job training benefits, and food stamps with a slash-and-burn campaign so severe that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops publicly criticized him.

I know–only one of the bullets above deal directly with taxes, while the other three deal with government spending on social programs. Remember: Whenever politicians talk about cutting spending on social programs, they are usually also talking about indirectly raising costs and reducing opportunities for millions of Americans.

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Lies, damned lies, and unemployment statistics

     The latest word from the federal number-crunchers says the November unemployment rate dropped to 8.6% from 9% the previous month.  So why doesn’t it feel like the job market is getting better?
     Simple reason:  The government does not include people whose unemployment benefits have run out in the official unemployment figures.  So while 120,000 new jobs were added to the economy in November, the more important number was 315,000–the number of people who dropped out of the work force.
     That is a distressing number.  As The New York Times pointed out, unemployment and underemployment is a problem that Congress continues to largely ignore at a time when government economic stimulus and programs to preserve some semblance of a social safety net are needed more than ever.
     As a tax pro, I look to government reports for a lot of reliable information.  But I hate it when the official statistics mask the reality of Americans’ daily lives.
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Three ways the budget deal is an underhanded scam

The so-called ‘compromise’ on raising the federal debt ceiling debt ceiling is fine if you’re not worried about being able to keep your job, don’t think you’ll need Medicare benefits someday, and live in a state that can raise all of the revenue it needs. For the rest of us, here are three ways the deal is bad social and tax policy:

–No extension of emergency unemployment benefits.
Fully 3.8 million people have received benefits after being out of work more than 26 weeks; these extended benefits are now set to end on December 31–and anyone who gets laid off after July 1 will get no more than 26 weeks of unemployment under the current regimen. Don’t ask me how eliminating around $60 billion of consumer spending on groceries, clothes, rent and other necessities is supposed to be good for the economy.

–Cuts in Medicare benefits stay on the table. The deal requires Congress to eventually find another $1.5 trillion in long-term budget cuts. Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) (about as scary a duo as you could want to encounter in a dark alley of regressive social policies) have floated a proposal to cut $600 billion from Medicare spending. It would increase Medicare premiums as well as deductibles and co-pays and raise the age at which you would first qualify for Medicare. Appallingly, President Obama backed such changes during the so-called compromise negotiations in July.

–State funding and programs remain under attack. Since states get about one-third of their funding directly or indirectly from the federal government, federal cutbacks will tend to cascade down to the state level, where the programs that benefit citizens are carried out. Road programs, education, public assistance, and Medicaid cuts could be coming to a town near you. Meanwhile any efforts at simplifying the tax code or closing egregious loopholes get kicked down the road yet again.

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Yossarian would have loved our health care system

Speaker of the House John Boehner says that the mincing reforms passed by Congress last year would, “ruin the best health care system in the world.”

What health care system is he talking about?

Is it the system in which your health insurance coverage is tied to where you work, and if the business you work for goes belly-up you lose your coverage? Like, the system WE have?

That’s right–did you know that insurance companies don’t have to keep covering people in group plans if the group ‘sponsor’–that is, the company you work for–goes out of business?

One hundred and seventy five employees of Blue Heron Paper Co. in Oregon found this out the hard way when the company closed earlier this year. Here’s the story of just one family’s fall through Boehner’s “best health care system in the world.”

This is just one of the huge gaps in the health care safety net that was left unchanged by the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress in 2010. Yeah, yeah, I know that it’s the most significant change in health care oversight in decades, blah blah blah…but the fact remains that the United States remains a country where health insurance is a for-profit activity.

Think about that: insurance companies make money by charging people more than it costs to keep them healthy. So if you don’t need much medical care, the insurance company wants to cover you. If you’re healthy, you can get coverage and probably don’t have to worry about losing health insurance. But if you get sick and really need that coverage, well….

Back to my headline on this post. The Catch-22 in Joseph Heller’s novel is that fighter pilots can be grounded, and no longer risk dying on their missions, if they show that they’re mentally unstable. But if they say they don’t want to fly because of the risk, then they must not be crazy and thus they can’t get out of flying.

Gosh, that’s such an inelegant summary. Let me quote directly from the book:

“Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to, he was sane and had to.

Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.

“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.”