aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Who needs a librarian?
DePauw University Libraries Visual Resource Center was among the recipients Tuesday night of a video award presented at the annual Computers in Libraries conference in Arlington, Va. The awards recognize libraries that create YouTube videos that creatively market their libraries’ services.
Via Siva Vaidhyanathan.
In the ongoing saga of Scrabulous, the unauthorized online version of Scrabble that has found many fans on Facebook but has upset Mattel and Hasbro (who own the rights to Scrabble), it appears that RealNetworks and Mattel have finally put out an official version of Scrabble for Facebook—but the problem is that it’s terrible. As the NY Times reports, “Facebook Scrabble takes a long time to load, does not always quickly update to show recent moves, and the words the game will accept do not reflect standard Scrabble dictionaries, or even the English language.” While it’s nice to see that Scrabulous still hasn’t been forced offline, it seems odd that the authorized version is so terrible. It still probably would have made the most sense to just do a deal with the brothers who created Scrabulous (and there are still rumors that a deal has been discussed, but without a decent resolution), but if that doesn’t work, the way to compete is with a better product. Putting out a product that’s not very good isn’t likely to win over many fans.
Ellen tops Oprah in popularity poll
The results of a March 26, 2008, AOL Television popularity poll of television hosts reveal Americans may now embrace Ellen DeGeneres over Oprah by a wide margin. Forty-six percent of the 1.35 million people who participated in the poll said the daytime talk show host that “made their day” was Ellen, compared with only 19 percent who chose Oprah. Nearly half (47 percent) said they would rather dine with Ellen, compared with 14 percent who preferred Oprah.
To be sure, Oprah remains one of the most popular figures in America, but recent data suggest her popularity has eroded. One possible explanation for this decline is that her endorsement of Obama and her support for him may have done more to damage impressions of her than to strengthen support for Obama. Then again, Obama may become the next president of the United States, and he may feel he has Oprah partly to thank for going out on a limb for him - not a bad situation for the talk show queen.
If this analysis is correct, daytime chat viewers don’t much like overt political endorsements by show hosts, but are comfortable with Ellen ("Yep, I’m Gay") Degeneres, who doesn’t browbeat her audience over the issue but did recently movingly address the murder of young Lawrence King.
As both Rosie O’Donnell (back when she was seen as the Queen of Nice) and Ellen have shown, gay women have broken through a media barrier. But no out and proud gay man has come anywhere close to such onscreen success as of yet.
I’m not so sure I agree with the analysis of wither Politico’s Panagopoulos or IGF’s Miller. But I can’t say that I’ve got a theory of my own either!
High Deductible Plans Will Take GA Down the Wrong Path
Knowing what I think of flexible spending accounts it probably won’t surprise you that I’m no fan of high-deductible insurance plans either.
Recently, Susanna Guffey at The Georgia Forum wrote to point me to Daniel Blumenthal, a pediatrician arguing that high deductible insurance plans are the wrong path for Georgia:
Faced with a high deductible and an outlay of cash to meet even minimal health needs, many consumers will postpone needed care and forgo preventive services altogether. In the short run, money will be saved for the consumer and the health care system. In the slightly longer run, asthmatic kids will wind up in the hospital, middle-aged adults with uncontrolled high blood pressure will have heart attacks, and the elderly who failed to get screened for cancer will have it discovered in advanced stages. Health care costs will increase and Georgians will be less healthy. [...]
High deductible health plans are not affordable options for the majority of Georgia’s uninsured population, who come from low to moderate income working families. They are uninsured because they cannot afford coverage, and the modest tax breaks included in this proposal will do almost nothing for them.
Instead, these small incentives will be more likely to motivate already-insured individuals, families and employers who offer comprehensive coverage to their employees to switch to high deductible plans. And, rather than reducing the number of uninsured, the state would increase the number of underinsured.
By definition, high-deductible health plans cannot cover primary care services, prescription drugs, mental health care, and many other services until the purchaser has reached the deductible, which often exceeds $2,500 for an individual and $4,500 for a family. Proponents of high deductible plans claim that the “personal responsibility” of the consumer will motivate them to live a healthier life, but research has shown that high deductibles simply prevent people from getting medical care.
High deductible plans fail to meet the needs of the majority of the 1.7 million Georgians who currently need health coverage, but cannot afford it. We need a plan that will help Georgians receive the health care they need and deserve. Asking people to pay more money out-of-pocket is not the answer.
I’m at war with SHPS
Before we begin let me stipulate that I think Flexible Spending Accounts are bad public policy. I sat in the New York living room of a friend arguning as much in 2005, even as I had signed up for a measly $500 in 2006. Well a hernia operation and Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss turned that into a bad decision quick!
Anticipating more of the same, I upped my 2007 contribution to $1,500 and monitored it throughout the year. I knew I would come in under, but because my company had a new “2.5 exemption” (we can use medical expenses from January through March 15 of this year against last year’s balance), and because I had not been submitting all of my expenses through the year (mileage, for example, my doctors are in Macon, 45 miles away) I figured I’d adjust things at the beginning of this year.
SHPS don’t like that!
When it came time to do the adjusting, all hell broke loose! I have had to fight lick the dickens to get my money back. And to this minute, April 9, 2008, they are still holding $179 even though I have documented the legitimate medical expense over and over and over again. Here’s my latest email to SHPS:
I was away for a while, then back and getting caught up. I hope that you have had time to review the [recorded customer service phone] calls* by now. I wonder if you can provide those calls to me so that I can refresh my memory? Without them my memory is limited. Below is the best that I can do.
I remember at least three or four calls. The calls started off very cheerfully. Your service representatives were helpful but not always clear and sometimes confusing. When the first person informed me of a 2007 remaining balance of nearly $600, she acted as if she expected me to get angry.
I did not get angry because I knew there would be a balance. I was, though, surprised and confused at the size of that balance. The confusion was because all through the year I had been getting notices of “Potentially Ineligible Expenses.” I did not know until that call that those expenses were included in the running balance at the upper right of the web page. She explained that they were.
In another call it was explained that my plan did not include a “2.5 exemption.” I argued that it did. The representative, after much looking, ultimately found that I was correct. She then explained that I could not use my SHPS Visa card for those reimbursements. I objected. I asked why and was told something about the card being “emptied” from one year and “loaded” for the next. I argued about the fairness of that.
I have since been told by our Human Resources department that the information that customer service representative gave me was not correct.
In the last call the arguing grew angry. That’s when I sat with my unduly large healthcare records file—the file that contains every receipt for every expense that I have submitted for reimbursement. During that call I was informed for the first time and quite suddenly that I had a $256.80 “overpayment.” An overpayment??? Nowhere on the website is there any mention of an overpayment. In none of the copious correspondence is there any mention of an overpayment. In none of the other phone calls was there any mention of an overpayment. Now, out of the blue, there was an overpayment.
Well, of course, I knew there was no overpayment. But even with all of my records I was at a loss to prove it. And as I rustled through my ungodly large pile of papers trying to find the single one I needed confirming that I had sent a fax I was left sputtering, wondering, what if I didn’t have that one? What if I never received that one? What if I actually lost that one? Then I’d just be lost, wouldn’t I? So, yes, I was angry. Very, very, angry.
I’d love to hear that phone call. Will you provide it to me? As I recall it, in the end I asked, desperately, could I appeal?
Well it turned out that I did have the letter. And the fax receipt. So I faxed it again. And that’s when you got involved. And only then, after who knows how many calls and faxes, did I learn that it was the wrong KIND of receipt. Of course, that was the only receipt that the doctor had given me. So after all of the calls and faxes and service representatives and human resources and visits to the doctor (That’s efficiency??? That’s convenience??? That’s what SHPS has to offer???) I returned to the doctors office and got the correct receipt, faxed that to you—9 business days ago—and the disputed amount has yet to be deposited into my account!!!
So about those IRS requirements you mention… I have no doubt that you are correct. But I want to propose back to you that a company of your size—that does hundreds of millions of dollars in business and has thousands of employees—should have some leverage there. You should be able to do something about those systems. In point of fact, your website boasts precisely that. You say that you are “transforming healthcare” with “health management tools, resources and services.”
I’ve used them. I don’t think so.
Instead I think the receipt I sent you that you ultimately accepted—the one that makes the IRS so happy—could be forged by a 4th grader. In fact, I know that it can be forged by a 4th grader. I work in technology support. So your procedures, if they are designed to thwart theft through false claims, instead thwart only the hundreds, the thousands, of honest people like myself who are merely seeking to be reimbursed with their own funds for their own legitimate healthcare expenses.
Your system thwarts the good guys who are trying to comply and lets the bad guys go free. Those who are trying to scam the system can forge their fake documents like the one I sent you that you accepted. Forgers can easily double the amount for [eye]glasses and have it accepted. Your system doesn’t work! It hurts the good people. It wastes their time, their money, their productivity. It is a sham. What the public is left with is an expensive needless burdensome inefficient system. And deep animosity. I sincerely believe the results of your system have done me wrong.
Now, as promised in my last phone call, I have contacted my congressman, John Barrow, and copied Miss Johnson from his office on this email. But I have since learned that SHPS is a huge provider of services for the federal government and a good many southern states. So if I have to I will expand my quest for allies to include health and other advocacy organizations. I also want to be clear that I do not believe that any individual at SHPS is acting in bad faith. I have no doubt that you and your colleagues are trying to do the best that you can. But I fail to understand how your best efforts leave me without my lousy 179 bucks after all this time and effort. And for the benefit of Ms. Johnson I will say again that I firmly believe that “healthcare consumerism” is bad policy, but that bad policy has been compounded by very bad implementation.
* ABOUT THOSE PHONE CALLS: When you call Chase Manhattan Bank they tell you that they record every call. When you call SHPS they tell you that they may record your call to improve your customer service. But Ms. Quigley told me that she was going to go “pull all my calls.” That sounds to me like they record every call. Is that legal? I have no doubt it is. I should have access to all of those recordings.