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Hey Barry! Let's get this clear, as between us.

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Let's say you received notice from the city that your tree's branches have grown to a point that public safety is imperiled. The branches are surrounding the overhead electric and telephone lines. You have been given two options. You can have the city trim back the branches, and the charge that will be a lien on your property taxes will be $500. Or you can have a private contractor do the same work, which your shopping research has revealed will run a net 25% more; $625.

Let's also stipulate that you're a very conservative business-person.

I do not care . . . Mr. (or Ms.) Business-person, ideology considered, you just will not pay that additional $125 for the sake of philosophical purity. You would not do that because to do that would be COMPLETELY STUPID!  No, your response would be, "Socialism be damned, have the city do the work."

But paying an additional 25% (For-profit private insurance's year-in/year-out 30% administrative costs, less Medicare's year-in/year-out 5% administrative costs) is EXACTLY what the Republicans and the conservative Democrats in the senate are proposing we should do, relative to healthcare reform legislation.

The local Palm Springs newspaper is Gannett's Desert Sun. As with most, if not all, newspapers, the Desert Sun runs a fleet of delivery trucks. "Desert Sun" is scrawled across both sides and the back; absolutely impossible to miss . . . or mistake for anything other than what the vehicle is. Yesterday the paper ran the story about this 17-year old kid who hijacked one of the trucks. Kicked the driver out of the seat. Everything. Then took off.

I know nothing of the perp's parent(s), or his homies. But it left me recalling Jay Leno's interview with actor Hugh Grant. Grant was the actor who, while married to Elizabeth Hurley, one of the planet's more attractive women, had himself orally serviced by a prostitute . . . in his car. In what is now part of the lexicon referring to anything beyond incomprehensibly stupid, Leno asked Grant, "What the hell were you thinking?" Unspoken, but implicit in the question is the tag: Just how stupid are you . . . really?

Steal a newspaper truck. Ya know . . . "What the hell were you thinking?" And, of course, "Just how stupid are you . . . really?"

Ask anyone to pay 25% more for a service than they need to. Ya know . . . "What the hell were you thinking?" And, "Just how stupid do you think we are . . . really?"

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I don't know. It's truly close, which angers me more: The raw duplicity of those Democrats, or the insult - thinking that in fact we really are that damned stupid.

A couple of terms everyone needs to be familiar with.

Purging. If you belong to an employer sponsored group health insurance plan it's called "purging." Your employer, XYZ Fuzznut, has 200 employees. (According to testimony in a House hearing last month, the "average" annual premium per employee was close to $12,000. And that premium is the product of annual rate increases for the past 10 years of 15%.) The contract with the employer expires every year.  Usually the insurer simply notifies the employer what the new premium will be, after the 15% hike. But last year, six of the employees suffered catastrophic illnesses that ran into the six-figure each range, costing the insurance company a bundle. The insurance company, in the game only to make as much money as it can, has decided it no longer wants XYZ Fuzznut's business. So instead of that 15% increase, it advises Fuzznut the new premiums will be increased 50%, which it hopes will send Fuzzy packing.

No big deal, you say, for your employer, and for you. 

One of the first questions asked of a company seeking group health insurance is "Have you ever been declined insurance coverage by any insurance company?"     

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If the employer has ever been declined, it will be nearly impossible for that employer to thereafter find coverage from any insurance company. And when your employer cannot secure group health coverage, the employees are most frequently sent to the independent market, which brings us to the next despicable insurance company practice.

Rescission. Referring back to the House hearing, it was reported that the "average" individual family-plan health insurance policy's annual premium was in excess of $18,000. (And no company's policy covers the birth of a child; the single greatest medical expense for young couples. Now think "complications.") Eight years ago, you visited your family physician for an annual check-up. Being the good professional, the doctor noticed a small, darker than completely normal spot on your back; most likely nothing. He (or she) made no mention of it to you, but did make a note in your records, to remind him (her) to check it again, it at your next annual exam. But now you've been diagnosed with a brain aneurysm that will require surgery. Just prior to your admission, the hospital has checked with your insurer, to determine whether your care will be covered. That's when the insurance company begins post-claim underwriting, to see whether there is any way it can slip from under its obligation to pay the bill(s). Ah ha, that spot on your back, the one you were never told about, and which you couldn't possibly have included in the health insurance application you filled out . . . BINGO! The company "rescinds" your health insurance . . . all the way back to the date of renewal. Thus, not only will you not get that needed brain surgery, you also find you owe the insurance company for whatever bills it has paid on your behalf!!!

The House hearing was a follow-up to the investigation it made of the three health insurance companies whose CEOs were to testify as witnesses before the committee. Over the course of the preceding five years, the insurers had rescinded 30,000 individual policies, and had saved themselves (their stockholders) $300,000,000! The CEOs asserted, under oath, the rescissions were "rare" and that the sums saved were "relatively insignificant." (When three hundred million dollars translates as "insignificant" to a CEO, my mind is lost at sea, treading water, trying to fathom just who these folks are, and what kind of lives they lead. When 30,000 human beings are callously denied life-saving care, all for the sake of a higher common stock price, my soul aches trying to conjure what hyena society such ruthless predatory scavengers could have been raised in.) And, upon being asked, each of the three asserted the post-claims underwriting practice was a valuable tool they intended to retain as is.

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An "Old Army Vet" and liberal, qua liberal, with a passion for open inquiry in a neverending quest for truth unpoisoned by religious superstitions. Per Voltaire: "He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity."

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