Monthly Archives: November 2013

REMEMBER TO GIVE THANKS ON THANKSGIVING

As you may remember from elementary school, American Indians played a large part in the first Thanksgiving feast.  But do you remember how Thanksgiving came to be?  History tells us that in 1620 a group of Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  An unfamiliarity with the region, bitter cold weather conditions, inadequate clothing and little available food proved fatal to more than half the one hundred or so colonists.  Witnessing the death of so many men and women, the Wampanoag Indian tribe began supplying the remaining Pilgrims with corn seed and teaching them how to hunt wild game.  In the fall, the Pilgrims harvested a bountiful food crop.  In an act of appreciation to the American Indians, Governor Bradford declared a celebration of thanks, which we now know as the First Thanksgiving.

The genuine act of kindness demonstrated by the American Indians helped the colonists survive in the new world…but with terrible consequences to the American Indians.  As the number of colonists grew, the struggle of the American Indians began.

For hundreds of years, great forces have been working against American Indians.  The vast lands which were once home to American Indians have been reduced to scattered reservations, which many people say are conditions comparable to third world nations.

There are fewer deer and wild game roaming the valleys; and because of dramatic weather conditions in the region, food sources like corn and other vegetables are more difficult to grow.  To make matters worse, poverty in the region is the worst in America.  A staggering 26% of American Indians are living below the poverty level.  That’s double the national average.  Unemployment is 35%-85%.  With an annual income around $3,400, many American Indians barely have enough money to survive.

Many American Indians on the reservations are reduced to depending on others…just like the original colonists were 400 years ago.  This tragedy is a sad testimony to life for American Indians in our grand land of plenty and opportunity.  The Council of Indian Nations realizes we must extend our hand to our American Indian friends this Thanksgiving.  We shouldn’t celebrate this holiday without thinking about them.

You might want to share your Thanksgiving by giving a donation to the Council of Indian Nations (CIN), P.O. Box 6038, Albert Lea, MN 56007.  CIN will provide 16,000 Thanksgiving meals to Native Americans throughout the southwest and then fuel and more meals through the winter.

Thanksgiving is a great family holiday.  We come together and enjoy our family.  There are no religious trappings.  It’s just a great day to savor a great meal with people closest to us.

ArtSchwartzSig

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THREE MENTORS

I’ve had three mentors in my life.  I didn’t answer an ad—didn’t look at Craig’s list or Match.com.  They just sort of adopted me.

Unfortunately, they are all gone now, but they were each invaluable at different times.  I miss them.

The first was my employer at the Valley of the Sun Electric League in Phoenix.  His name was Dick Reucker and he was an amazing, talented management executive.  He was in the first group of Certified Association Executives recognized by the American Society of Association Executives.

Dick had one failing and I was the beneficiary of that flaw.  He disliked the hiring process and never took the time to interview candidates very thoroughly for the position of his assistant.  I was his first and I guess that convinced him he didn’t need to change his approach.  His overall record was pretty good.  A little more than half his hires were successful.

He gave me responsibility, he gave me freedom, and he gave me a voice in almost all the decision-making.  He made the job interesting and exciting.  I thought it was the best job I ever had or would ever have.

We argued a lot about various ideas.  It was loud and heated but never personal.  When it went on for awhile, he would say, “Why do you argue so much?”  I would point to a sign that hung on his wall that said, “When two men in business always agree, one of them is unnecessary.”

At some point, he told me that I was pretty good but there was more I could learn.  He said, “You stay, I’ll work your tail off and then I’ll help you get a better job.”  Down the road he recommended me for my next job at KTAR-TV and the one after that as Executive Vice-President of the Electric League of Southern California.

My second mentor was Ed Myers, Vice-President of Marketing for Southern California Edison.  He was instrumental in a number of subtle but effective ways to my being hired to take over the Los Angeles-based electric industry association.  His company was the principal backer of the organization, but rarely exercised that power.

Our mission was to increase the use of electric energy in the existing home market.  To do that, we put on coordinated promotions with five or 600 appliance dealers and later expanded into lighting and heating.

At one point, he vigorously opposed my move to change a minor organization program.  Later on, in private, I asked him why?  He said, “Never saw that coming.  Don’t ever give me any surprises.”  I learned; I never did.

During the first few years of my tenure, Ed would see me any time of the day or evening but would never have a meal with me.  At one point, when I suggested lunch, he explained he didn’t want his name or mine on an expense account because he didn’t want anyone to think our professional relationship would be personally influenced.

When I suggested we create a long-range plan with a committee he would chair, he said, “No.  You draft a plan and I’ll chair a committee to discuss and fine tune it.  That way we’ll have a concrete proposal, well thought out, that will save us two years time.”

I went to visit him once when he was recovering from pneumonia.  His staff was falling apart because they were intimidated and rattled by him.  They were unsure what he wanted them to do.  I suggested he hire me as his de facto Chief of Staff.  He explained why that would be a big help to him but the corporate culture would kill me.  He was right and probably the best advice he gave me.  Truth be told, the corporation would probably never have agreed to hire me either.  No surprise, I’m not the corporate type.

My third mentor was my brother-in-law, Al, Professor of Social Work at Columbia University.  He rarely gave direct advice.  He would get me to verbalize the problem and, rather than give me his opinion, he would outline some possible options and the consequences of each.  It was very effective.  On a couple of occasions, his direction led to a decision which made important changes in my life in a very comfortable way.

The only direct recommendations he made on a few occasions when I had some personal issues to resolve was to go talk to a professional.  That was fine, but in each case, except one, I thought they were more conflicted than I was.

Mentors have been very important in my life.  They can be very important in yours or your children’s lives.

ArtSchwartzSig

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25 MORE PLACES I’M GLAD I GOT TO SEE

Back in the spring I posted a list of “50 Places I’m Glad I Got To See” (May 22nd).  The more I looked at the list, the more I thought I left some out.  Here are 25 more places I’m glad I got to see:

  1. Ahu Simle Temple and The Valley of the Kings on the Nile River
  2. The Cairo Museum – not well organized, but amazing
  3. Savannah and Charleston – the old south at its best
  4. The Panama Canal and Costa Rica
  5. Mendocino with all the water towers when it was full of art and jewelry galleries
  6. Tauck river boat on the Rhine and Moselle Rivers
  7. Russian landscape from Moscow to St. Petersburg
  8. Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca in Peru
  9. Hearst Castle and Cambria right here in California

10. Dubai and the Arabian Peninsula

11. Berlin – the old and the new, a charming city

12. Cruise across the Great Lakes

13. Cruise down the west coast of Africa

14. Barge trip in/around Dijon, France

15. San Francisco – any time

16. Zion, Bryce and Arches National Parks in Utah

17. Yosemite and Tahoe here in California

18. Israel – the history and the continuing struggle with their neighbors

19. The influence of three religions in Spain

20. Don Quixote windmills in Spain

21. Spending 24 hours at the Grand Canyon

22. Agrigento and Taormina in Sicily

23. Ching Le Terra in Italy

24. MesaVerde in southwest Colorado

25. The neon world of Las Vegas

With any luck, I’ll get to add at least 25 more.

ArtSchwartzSig

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WHAT WENT WRONG WITH HEALTH INSURANCE and what you can do about it

I’m not sure the insurance industry created the slogan “There’s No Free Lunch” (TNFL) but it’s been an integral part of their business model since time immemorial.  You don’t want pre-existing conditions – you want to cover kids till they’re done with college.  No problem, say the insurance companies.

There is no TNFL.  The insurance companies never object to any added coverage because that allows them to charge more premiums and they like the added revenue.  No one ever asks if the coverage and the added premiums are cost effective.

In the mid fifties, health insurance companies didn’t cover birth control, maternity care or childbirth.  A misguided public began clamoring for it and so now it’s a part of ObamaCare.  Remember TNFL, so it’s added to the premium.

Why do I say “misguided”?  As health insurance evolved over the last 50 or 60 years, the public, enabled by the insurance companies, were crying out for more and more first-day coverage.  This was a new misleading philosophy which paid little attention to cost effectiveness and has led to the unfolding disaster of the so-called Affordable Care Act (ACA), which, as predicted, is becoming less affordable and more unmanageable.

If the public had been educated to understand the most cost-effective use of insurance was for catastrophic coverage with high deductibles (major medical insurance), the costs would have been contained and the effects would have been equally as good healthcare.  Maybe even better!

Writing in the NY Times, Columnist Ross Douthat set the stage for a cohesive argument in favor of catastrophic or major medical insurance as a way to control costs without affecting health outcomes.  He said:

“In one of the most famous studies of health insurance, conducted across the 1970s, thousands of participants were divided into five groups, with each receiving a different amount of insurance coverage.  The study, run by the RAND Corporation, tracked the medical care each group sought out, and not surprisingly found that people with more comprehensive coverage tended to make more use of it, visiting the doctor and checking into the hospital more often than people with less generous insurance.

“But the study also tracked the health outcomes of each group, and there the results were more surprising:  With a few modest exceptions, the level of insurance had no significant effect on the participants’ actual wellness.

“But the basic finding—that more expensive health insurance doesn’t necessarily lead to better health—just received a major boost.  The state of Oregon expanded its Medicaid program via lottery a few years ago, and researchers released the latest data on how health outcomes for the new Medicaid users differed from those for the uninsured.  The answer:  They didn’t differ much.  Being on Medicaid helped people avoid huge medical bills, and it reduced depression rates.  But the program’s insurance guarantee seemed to have little or no impact on common medical conditions like hypertension and diabetes.”

The ACA was created by unrealistic academics and political works that it would save thousands of lives, reduce costs and rescue thousands more from healthcare-induced financial bankruptcy.

Unless there are major structural changes to ACA, it will accomplish very little of what was promised and is already causing major economic problems with higher costs and taxes, as well as business cutbacks in employee working hours and benefits.

In addition to the rollout disaster, there are so many things wrong with the Affordable Care Act that we don’t have time or space to itemize it all here.  Let’s just hope the Obama administration can rescue his one real legacy over the next year or two.

Don’t be surprised if the major rescue plan proposal will be to go to a single-payer system which is what they really wanted all along.

We can’t go back to recreate more effective insurance but in the last year or two I have taken a partial step in that direction.  I have a Medigap Plan F-HD that provides all the Medicare coverage with a deductible for this year of $2,110.  That means the insurance company pays nothing until my costs exceed $2,110 in the calendar year.  So far, neither my wife or I have reached the $2,110 deductible.

It’s not the best plan I would devise, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.  The premium for Gabriele and I is under $1,000/year, about $6,000 less per year than the same plan without the deductible.

If you’re relatively healthy, this kind of plan works well for you.  If it begins to not work for you, you can always change plans.

All the money in the world could not save Steve Jobs.  We’re not getting out of this world alive.

Lisa Zamosky, writing in the L.A. Times, quotes a number of healthcare experts on following a 6-step plan if you want to use a high deductible insurance plan.

Step 1:  KNOW YOUR PLAN – know what is covered and what isn’t.  There is a required list of preventative services which are free under the ACA, no matter what the deductible.  The list is available at healthcare.gov.

Step 2:  STAY IN THE NETWORK.  Getting care from your insurance company’s network of doctors, clinics and hospitals will be less expensive.

Step 3:  SIGN UP FOR A HEALTH SAVINGS ACCOUNT.  The HSAs are tax-free investment accounts which can be opened by anyone enrolled in a qualified health insurance plan.  For 2013, an individual can put as much as $3,250 and a family as much as $6,450 in a HSA.  Over 55, you can add another $1,000.  Money can be withdrawn for any health care costs.

Step 4:  SHOP FOR THE BEST PRICE and negotiate.  FairHealthConsumer.org provides some good information for estimating potential costs for medical care in your area.

Step 5:  TAKE RESPONSIBILITY to take better care of yourself and stay in better physical shape—lose weight—quit smoking—cut down the drinking.

Step 6:  BE PREPARED to do some bookkeeping to monitor and validate your deductible costs.

Like it or not, in this day and age you have to be more involved and study all the options you can find to save money and get the coverage you really need.

This post was prepared with assistance from Paul Pendorf, an independent special agent for all Medicare and Rx insurance plans, as well as the state exchange plans and the new Obamacare.  He can be reached at 800-497-7504.

ArtSchwartzSig

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