Uncategorized

And now a few words about Obamacare…

So, I’ve sort of been avoiding political topics here on my blog and on Facebook, not because I don’t like politics (some of you know I’m a big time political junky and polling wonk), but I’d rather spend my social media energy on fun stuff like my writing projects and video games and things that wont cause shouting matches among my very diverse friends. I’m going to break from that policy for bit, however, to talk about a topic that is often considered political (though it shouldn’t be)… health insurance… specifically, Obamacare. My timing is not accidental but has nothing to do with the election. November marks the beginning of a new open enrollment period for health insurance on The Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplace. Hopefully this essay will cut through some of the current political noise and provide some useful information for those actually wondering what Obamacare is and if they should buy insurance through it. I will be speaking from a position of personal experience… my family has had insurance via Obamacare for the last 3 years.

First, a quick primer on what Obamacare is and is not. Obamacare (actually called The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) is NOT government run socialized medicine. Medicare is an example of socialized medicine, and some people actually advocate expanding it to all ages, and that would be true European style socialized medicine… but that’s not what Obamacare does, it’s basically just insurance reform, and not terribly radical reform at that.

Before Obamacare, the health insurance market was split into two very different pieces, the employer/group insurance market (where most people get their insurance), and the individual market (basically everyone NOT getting their insurance from their employer). Your Employer provided insurance was undeniably a better deal. It was group rated, meaning everybody pays the same rate for their plan, and the insurance company had to take all comers and not raise rates or kick people off because of their health. The individual market, in comparison, was not group rated. Thus, if you had health problems, you might find yourself priced out of the market or just denied insurance outright (that whole ‘pre-existing condition’ thing).

It’s no accident that employer provided insurance has long been better than the individual market… you can thank government regulation for that, specifically The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (and various amendments to it over the years). ERISA regulated various aspects of employer provided benefits, health insurance policies being a primary component. So what Obamacare did was to essentially take a system that was already being applied to the employer provided insurance market and adapt it to the individual market. Now, when you buy insurance as an individual, you pay the same rate as everyone else buying that same policy, and you can’t be turned down for health reasons.

Of course there is a bit more to it than that, and the devil is in the details. To avoid a problem called ‘adverse selection’ in which only sick people buy insurance (driving up prices), the ACA/Obamacare came with a carrot and stick mix of subsidies and penalties… subsidies to help people afford insurance and penalties for those people who failed to purchase it. I’m not here to defend or criticize that… it is what it is… instead let’s focus on what it means to those of us affected by it.

OK, so first off, if you get your insurance (like most Americans) from your employer, you are not directly effected. Your benefits may have changed a bit from previous years (with more stuff now covered), but generally employer plans were already required to do most of the stuff Obamacare mandated. Your costs might have increased over the last few years, but healthcare costs were increasing long before Obamacare, and the rate of growth has actually been lower (on average) since Obamacare went into effect. The people most effected are the people in the individual insurance market. People like my family.

The individual impact of Obamacare on people buying their own insurance varied widely. People who were young and healthy and buying policies with reduced benefits often saw their costs go up. The new ACA regulated policies came with more benefits, but that came with higher cost, and many people were understandably unhappy about it. Other people who previous had very high costs because of health conditions saw their costs drop, and still others who were previously denied could finally buy insurance (this last category includes my family). When you add the insurance premium subsidies into the mix, most individual insurance purchasers saw their costs drop, and millions more people were able to purchase insurance. On balance, a good situation for the self employed and other uninsured / underinsured people like me.

But wait… what about all these claims of run-away costs and death spirals and so on? Isn’t Obamacare crashing and burning? Again, the devil is in the details, and as is often the case during election season, headlines are often more hype than fact. Yes, costs on the Obamacare insurance exchanges are going up next year, and in some cases by a lot, but we are still dealing with early estimates (which are always on the high side as insurance companies open negotiations with state regulators) and the extremes are always worse than the average. As is the case with any large data set, you find some values on either end of the curve (yes, some people will actually see their rates go down), and those markets seeing the largest increases will of course generate the most news. Cost fluctuations in the insurance market are very regional, so a news story about a big cost increase in another state doesn’t really mean anything in relation to YOUR insurance… for that you need to actually check with your insurance provider and comparison shop on your local insurance marketplace.

I could go on here and talk about lack of competition in the insurance market and the role that politics has played in that… about ‘risk corridors’ and why big increases in 2017 are unlikely to repeat in 2018… but the point I really wanted to make is that there is no Obamacare death spiral, at least not on a national scale. Insurance is very localized, and price hikes (as much as they suck for those effected) are also localized, so as long as your personal insurance market has plenty of choices and decent prices, you probably don’t have anything to worry about. Furthermore, the sliding scale of premium subsidies will tend to mitigate the increases for many people, so don’t assume that high increases in your market will automatically price you out of the market. Make your insurance choices based on your personal health and budget situation and don’t worry about the political hype.

OK, so about that personal insurance choice… how does one cut through the noise and get the facts to make that decision? The short answer to that is HealthCare.gov. At that site you can browse the insurance options available, see what they cost, and find out if you qualify for a premium tax credit to reduce the cost. You might be pleasantly surprised and learn that, with the premium subsidy, insurance is much more affordable than you assumed… or you might find that it is still rather expensive and you would rather just pay the tax penalty (though personally I don’t recommend that). Only you can ultimately make that decision (and really, political hype aside, it really is still your choice if and what insurance you buy).

As for the penalty, in 2017 it will be the higher of 2.5% of your income or about $700… unless you are exempt for some reason such as falling below the income threshold or various other reasons. Again Healthcare.gov can tell you for certain. Don’t let the .gov domain scare you off… yes it’s a government website, but the insurance companies are all private insurance providers… in most cases the same companies providing employer based policies, and you can buy this same insurance directly from those companies if you are not worried about getting a tax credit / premium subsidy.

OK, so that’s my Public Service Announcement blog post regarding Obamacare. I’ll close by saying that I still feel the same about The Affordable Care Act now as I did when it was being debated in Congress… it’s a cumbersome, flawed legislative patchwork that ultimately does more good than harm. My biggest criticism at the time was that it didn’t do enough around cost containment, and we are seeing that play out now. But for all its faults, I think it is worth fixing rather than scrapping. Hopefully our next President and Congress will work together to do that.

UPDATE: So Trump won the election, and consequently it is looking likely that The Affordable Care Act will be repealed.  Details on what, if anything, will replace it are still murky.  Obviously this is creating a lot of anxiety in my family (and millions of others around the country).  I might follow up with another blog post on the topic after I’ve had time absorb the news and think on it.  In the mean time, expect another installment of Devious Origins (it’s overdue).

The Daring Raid of the Dimitrios Kyriakos

I recently discovered that I’ve married into a family of seafaring pirates.

The Dimitrios Kyriakos started its career as a humble Greek cargo ship in 1938.  A few years later it was transformed into a military auxiliary cruiser and then transferred to the German navy in 1942.  A year after that it was torpedoed by the The Thunderbolt (a British submarine) and subsequently scuttled in Trapani.  After the conclusion of World War II, it was repaired and resurrected as a cargo ship.  It served in that role for more than two decades before breaking down off the coast of West Africa.  The wreck was then towed to Freetown by the Panamanian freighter Glyfada.  It sat there for some time, ignored by its owners as it piled up dock fees, until it was eventually towed into the channel and abandoned.

How long it floated there, anchored in the channel near Freetown, I don’t know… but eventually it was boarded by a daring gang of curious, adventure seeking scoundrels.  The ship had obviously suffered earlier raids and was stripped of most valuables, but one of our intrepid adventurers was undeterred. Though the sun was setting and the ship taking on water, he searched and came away with a great prize, several nautical charts of great historic and artistic interest.  Loaded with this booty, he and his companions made their escape.

The Dimitrios Kyriakos sank completely that very night.

Years later, I married the pirate’s daughter.

 

Devious Origins – CHAPTER 1

As promised, here is the first installment of the newly revised and edited Devious Origins.  Give it a read, and don’t be afraid to provide feedback as comments to this post.

CHAPTER 1

 

“I’m a superhero,” she declared in between bites of her chicken salad sandwich. The words were delivered as casually as one might comment on the weather.

“A superhero…” I repeated, an unspoken question hanging in the silence that followed.

“Yeah. You asked what classes I’m in, but I’m not actually a student here. I tried the college thing for a while, but it just wasn’t me. Did retail for a bit but couldn’t stick with it… pimping overpriced plastic crap to the consumer masses… it was damaging my soul. I quit and just drifted for a while. Then I really took a hard look at myself, what I wanted out of life, the mark I wanted to make. One day it all just snapped into focus. Superhero.”

“There are openings for that kind of work?” I asked, my amusement clearly showing. I was more than willing to play along with the gag.

“Oh it’s definitely an under-served market, but you won’t find any posting for it on craigslist. This is totally a freelance sort of gig.” She finished the last of her sandwich and turned her attention to her papaya and wheat grass smoothie. She took a long slurp and continued. “I actually made a list. All the things my dream job would have. Excitement. Adventure. The chance to do something big. Important. The chance to help people. I thought about all sorts of possibilities, but only one really seemed to fit. Superhero.”

I chased the last of my three bean salad around my plate, finally getting it onto the plastic fork. I gazed across the table at her while I finished eating. She showed no sign she was joking. She either believed what she was saying or was one hell of an actress.

My eyes wandered around the Student Union, taking in the varied patrons. Some were obviously studying. Others were having lunch. Some appeared to be socializing, just chatting and laughing. A typical collection of university students engaged in the usual activities. No one really standing out. Everything normal.

My eyes found their way back to my companion.

She seemed normal enough as well, at least at first glance. The right age to be in college. Dressed with an individualistic flare that made me assume she was an art student, maybe a theater major. Her short dark hair had a few purple streaks dyed into it and some small feathers woven into it near her left ear. She wore tennis shoes, a motorcycle jacket, and cut-off jeans over black tights. On her hands she wore leather gloves with the fingers cut off. She carried a small backpack with a much larger skateboard strapped to it. She was the most interesting person in the room, though not so unusual that she didn’t fit in to the wide spectrum of college persona.

I admit I was surprised when she asked to sit at my table, me being rather the opposite of the flamboyant art student I imagined her to be, but then the Union was close to full at the moment, so it was probably just the three empty seats at my table that drew her here. Making smalltalk with strangers has never been a great skill of mine, but she seemed surprisingly easy to talk to. Nevertheless, I now found myself at a loss for words. What do you say to someone who has just claimed to be a superhero?

My companion noisily slurped the last of her smoothie and finally broke the verbal deadlock.

“Well, I have to get going,” she said, “thanks for letting me sit here.”

“No problem,” I replied, then realized the one and only female who had shown any interest in talking to me since I started college was about to walk out of my life as quickly as she had entered it. “Um… I would love hear more about this whole superhero thing… do you… like… have a phone number?”

She smiled. It was not one of those ‘Oh I am so glad he asked for my number’ sort of smiles, more like an ‘Oh god he is so clumsy at this sort of thing I think I might burst into laughter’ sort of smile.

“Must we really fall into such tired gender roles?” she answered. “What if I want to ask for your number instead?”

My brain seemed to freeze up. No words came. Instead I simply opened up one of my notebooks, tore off a section of paper, and wrote my name and number on it. She smiled as I handed it to her. It was a less amused smile, more genuinely warm.

“Thanks… and welcome to the team,” she exclaimed, then slung her backpack on her back, turned, and headed for the door. I sat looking at the door for several minutes after she left.

It finally occurred to me that I had never learned her name.

* * *

(more…)

Mad Scientist Wisdom

Things went well with Open Mic at NerdCon, and a gratifying number of people took promotional bookmarks with the blog address… so this is for those people who came here looking for more Mad Scientist Wisdom.  Enjoy!

  • Fools rush in where I damn well order them to. There’s definite advantages to employing foolish minions. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Great minds think alike… especially after a few ‘treatments’ in the neural reconfiguration chair. #MadScientistWisdom
  • No man is an island. Really… I’ve transformed my victims into a lot of weird things, but not one of them became an island. #MadScientistWisdom
  • If you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone… you have obvious flaws in your inventory tracking system. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Keep your friends close but your enemies in a secure detention facility, and don’t use an unattended contraption when destroying them. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Time heals all wounds, but that’s still no reason to forgo the personal defense force shield. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Sleep is a poor substitute for caffeine like respect is a poor substitute for obedience. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, will survive within my despotic empire. #MadScientistWisdom
  • First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you obliterate them with space based particle beam weapons. #MadScientistWisdom
  • A bird in the hand is worthless and will not advance my plans for world domination… why do my minions keep giving me these damn birds? #MadScientistWisdom
  • Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The good are wimps. Your imperfect robot army is sufficient to destroy them. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Work like you don’t need the money, love like you’ve never been hurt, and make sure your air ducts are too small to crawl through. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Victory has a thousand fathers. That might explain the cost overruns in the genetics laboratory. #MadScientistWisdom
  • You can fool all of the people some of the time. Fooling them consistently requires orbital mind control satellites. #MadScientistWisdom
  • The road to Hell is paved via a no-bid time and materials contract… What? You expected an open and competitive process? #MadScientistWisdom
  • Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, even though world governments repeatedly refuse to capitulate to your demands. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Be careful what you wish for. Genies don’t speak English as a first language and can easily misunderstand you. #MadScientistWisdom
  • You only live once… at least until the cloning lab is up and running. #MadScientistWisdom
  • The person saying it cannot be done should not interrupt the person currently holding the moon for ransom. #MadScientistWisdom
  • A rising tide lifts all boats and is proof that your gravity manipulation ray is operational. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Seize the day. Lock it in a repeating causality loop until it yields the result you want. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Eighty percent of success is showing up. The other twenty percent involves compromising photographs of select politicians. #MadScientistWisdom
  • You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take… unless you’ve turned control over to the automated targeting system. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Success is the best revenge, after just about anything involving lasers. #MadScientistWisdom
  • If at first you don’t succeed… eliminate the minions that failed to implement your flawless plan. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration and 85 percent exploiting the people with bad math skills. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Every journey begins with a single step… is something only a loser without a working teleportation device would say. #MadScientistWisdom
  • There is no problem so big that it can’t be fixed by creating a space-time anomaly that alters the timeline. #MadScientistWisdom
  • If you love something set it free. If it rampages and destroys the city, don’t admit it was yours. #MadScientistWisdom

I’ll be posting more about Nerdcon tomorrow, including links to all the creative stuff we discovered, so be sure to check back!

 

Arrived at NerdCon Stories…

Just a heads up… Kirsten and I are at NerdCon Stories in the Twin Cities.  I’ll be probably be posting pictures and highlights the next couple of days.  Who knows… maybe I’ll even post an additional short story. UPDATE… I’ve decided to serialize Devious Origins here much like I’ve done on Facebook and on Wattpad, but don’t let that stop you from signing up for a free e-book version (it is available for Nook, Kindle, or as a PDF document).  Stay tuned for the first chapter.

 

Yet Another Vanity Blog

Hey, look… I’ve got a new blog! For some reason Facebook has been very uncooperative lately when it comes to posting large amounts of text, and I am nothing if not verbose, so I decided to finally stop procrastinating and launch ThadPhetteplace.com.  This is by no means the first website or even blog I’ve created.  Aside from my corporate website that has been around since the early Jurassic era of the Internet, I’ve also created The Bolachek Journals blog (dedicated to my particular take on apocalyptic zombie fiction) and Quillaria.com (more dedicated to writing in general).  Then of course there is a ridiculous number of inactive to semi-active domains that I’m currently camping on for a multitude of back-burnered projects.  Someone please invent radical life extension technology so I can find time enough to implement all my crackpot ideas.

Don’t worry, I’ll still be posting on social media, but often those posts will point back to this blog. I’ll also probably post something here when any of my other project specific websites are updated… so if you are a fan, my secret nemesis, or just a random cyberstalker, this is the place to stay on top of what I’m doing.  Of course if you really want to stay informed, you can also join my mailing list.  Don’t worry, it’s a low traffic list, and I don’t share it with anyone (so no spam).  Mostly you will get an email only when I’ve released a new story or video game or the like.

So with that out of the way, what sort of stuff will I be posting here?  Pretty much the same stuff I’ve already been posting to Facebook and elsewhere on the web… snippets of stories, entire serialized novels, musings on the craft of writing, discussion of indie video game development, pictures of our warehouse/loft renovation, descriptions of RV living, and the occasional political rant.  You’ve been warned.

That’s all for now.  Coming soon: A book review of ‘The Geek Feminist Revolution’, a ‘State of the Race’ presidential poll analysis, and a sneak peak at the first chapter of one of my upcoming novels.