A Solution to the High Cost of US Health Insurance

A Solution to the High Cost of US Health Insurance

I’m an employer and have been providing health insurance for my employees since I started my company in 1996. The cost of providing that insurance has increased by 8% to 15% every year except one. That year I asked my insurance agent why the rate didn’t increase and he said, “I don’t know and I’m not going to ask.” Needless to say, health insurance rates in the US have increased at a rate far greater than inflation. As an employer, I have dealt with it by switching carriers, increasing deductibles and just accepting that the cost of running my business would increase.

The Problem

I haven’t covered my wife and children through my company health plan in many years because it’s just ridiculously expensive. They are all quite healthy so I have had them on high deductible ($6500 per year each) health insurance plans. Earlier this year Humana (the company from which I purchased coverage for my kids) notified me that they were not going to renew our plan and that I should go to the Healthcare Marketplace to find a new one. As it turned out, they were exiting the market entirely (at least where we live) so buying from them would no longer be an option. I went to the Affordable Care Act Healthcare Marketplace website to find that to get a plan with a $6500 per year deductible, I had but one choice: an HMO plan from Blue Cross/Blue Shield at rate 40% higher than what we had been paying. This was bad all the way around. It’s an HMO so my kids would not be able to continue to see their existing doctor. Only one company offering plans means there’s no competition to drive efficiency. And of course a 40% increase for a plan that is arguably worse, is just insult to injury. My wife’s insurance situation wasn’t considerably better.

I started adding things up. If I accepted the Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan for my kids, when  factoring in the cost of my wife’s insurance and mine, we would be paying $1410 per month for our health insurance. What am I getting for that? Well, let’s look at my out of pocket maximums. At $6500 for each of my children and my wife plus $4000 for me, that’s $23,500 per year in potential exposure. In other words, if we all had something terrible happen that caused us each to hit our out of pocket maximums (very unlikely I will admit but it’s the risk nonetheless), we would end up paying out $23,500 in any given year in addition to $16,920 per year in premiums. The purpose of insurance is to avoid situations like this. When your risk is that high, what you have is only insurance by the strictest definition of the word. I figured there had to be another solution.

I’ve heard Senator Bernie Sanders (and others) talk about Medicare for All or Universal Healthcare. That’s not ideal because it allows the government to essentially dictate pricing and that’s not the free market that I think drives efficiency. However, even if I was a fan, Congress is so hopelessly divided that the odds of such a bill passing are nearly zero. I continued looking for solutions and I was quite surprised to have found one. However, before we get to that, why are health insurance costs getting out of control? The reason is that insurance companies are for-profit enterprises and thus the bigger spread between what they charge and what they pay out in claims, the more money they make. This puts their interests in direct conflict with yours and mine. Don’t get me wrong. I run a for-profit company. I’m all for free enterprise. However, medical care is a bit different. When your health is at stake, you’re not in a position to bargain. It’s like being mugged in a dark alley. The thief is pointing a gun at your head and telling you to hand over all your money. Are you really going to ask, “How about just $20?”

The Solution

As it turns out, affordable health coverage is actually available through something called a Health Share Plan. Health Share Plans are run by non-profit organizations called healthcare sharing ministries. They charge  the equivalent of a monthly premium and they have a yearly deductible though they don’t use these terms because technically, they are not insurance. They provide much of the same function as traditional for-profit insurance companies but by the letter of the law, they are not providing insurance. The one I chose comes from an organization called Liberty Health Share. The idea is that you pay into a pool and from that pool, eligible medical expenses incurred by members are paid. Your monthly payment is called your Monthly Shared Amount. It’s the amount you are essentially sharing with other members who need it. You are also responsible for paying a certain amount of your own medical expenses. This equivalent of an annual deductible is called your Annual Unshared Amount. It’s the amount you pay that isn’t shared by other members.

Coverage through Liberty Health Share pays for each members annual physical/well-check as well as preventative measures such as vaccinations. You are responsible for paying your Annual Unshared Amount and after that (depending on the plan you choose), Liberty pays for the rest. I cover my family on the most expensive plan Liberty offers (that also provides the greatest benefit) which provides up to $1 million per incident in coverage. An incident is everything connected with a particular healthcare event. For example, you fall inside your home, breaking your leg. There’s no one home so you call for an ambulance that then takes you to the hospital. You require an operation so you’re in the hospital for a few days. Over the next month or two you have a few follow up appointments before your cast comes off and you’re right as rain again. All of that would be considered a single incident. A million in coverage will take care of just about anything you can imagine including a heart transplant.

Over the past two decades, I’ve found information on coverage from commercial insurance companies to be confusing at best. Liberty on the other hand, provides a simple and clear document called their Sharing Guidelines that explains exactly what is covered and what is not. It explains what requires pre-approval and what does not. The reason for pre-approval is mostly to give Liberty the opportunity to make sure that the procedure really is necessary. You’d be amazed at how many doctors admit they conduct unnecessary tests and procedures to cover themselves for liability reasons. The entire document is 30 pages. You can read it in a half an hour or less.

Commercial insurance plans are typically either an HMO or a PPO. In the case of an HMO, the healthcare company has doctors as employees and you are limited to choose amongst those. A PPO is similar except the doctors are not employees connected with the insurance company but must be part of the insurance companies’ network. If you have doctor you like and trust, you will only be able to realistically see them if they are a member of your insurance companies’ network. Not so with Liberty as they have no network. You can see any doctor you like. You can go to any health care facility you like. You can even go overseas for health care as long as the cost is not greater than it would be here in the US and the invoice is provided in English. You’re also automatically covered by them no matter where you go in the world. That is not typically the case with commercial medical insurance policies.

Liberty provides you with a card that is quite similar to the ones provided with commercial insurance plans and you use it the same way. We have only been to the doctor a few times since signing up with Liberty but each doctor knew who Liberty was and was quite happy to bill them directly. Liberty will then negotiate with the provider to reduce the bill as much as possible, typically 35% to 65% according to Liberty. I’ve been told that health care providers in general like working with Liberty because they know how much they will be paid up front and are typically paid within 30 days, a time frame unheard of with commercial insurance carriers. What if your doctor won’t bill Liberty? In that case you pay cash and submit the bill to Liberty through their web portal for reimbursement. I’m told that having to do this is the rare exception.

If Liberty concludes that a medical expense you have incurred doesn’t meet their guidelines, they will tell you so but they make a point to also tell you that you should call them to discuss it. They claim that most situations can be cleared up with a phone call. If the phone call isn’t enough they have two other levels you can go through in an attempt to work things out with them and they openly encourage this. In researching Liberty I did find a handful of people complaining (via the Better Business Bureau) about bills that were not paid. However, in every case the member either clearly did not understand how Liberty works or Liberty had already responded to the complaint, explained what the issue was and was reaching out to the member to resolve it.

Cost

Liberty’s pricing is very straight-forward and simple. They have pricing for individuals, couples and families. As a reminder, I would have been paying $1410 per month for a $6500 deductible plan for my wife and children and a $4000 deductible plan for myself through my work. That’s $23,500 per year in risk exposure. My risk exposure with Liberty is only my Annual Unshared Amount which for my entire family is $1500. That’s it. There’s some additional risk as well which I’ll get to in a bit. Instead of $1410 per month, the cost to cover my entire family for Liberty’s most expensive plan is $449. That’s a savings of $961 per month or $11,532 per year for a plan that reduces my risk exposure by $22,000 per year. When I say I found this to be as unbelievable as you may find it now, I’m not kidding. I don’t think I completely believed it myself until a friend of mine who has spent his entire life in the insurance business reviewed their sharing guidelines then called them and asked a lot of questions then became convinced himself to switch.

Their pricing is very affordable. For example, for a single person under 30 on their most expensive plan (Liberty Complete), the monthly cost is only $149 and the Annual Unshared Amount is only $500. For someone working full-time for minimum wage, nothing is really affordable but $149 per month can be managed and they have other plans for as little as $107 per month. For a couple under 30, the price is only $249 and for a family, $399 no matter how many children you have. If there’s only one parent on the plan, they give you a $50 per month single parent discount. When you reach 30, prices got up $50 across the board. At 65, they go up again $25 for a single person and $50 for couples and families. Like I said, their pricing is very reasonable.

You’re probably wondering how soon it will be before they raise prices. I wondered that as well. It turns out that they have never raised prices though according to the Liberty rep I spoke to, they did lower them once. When you’ve stopped laughing, read on. I asked them what would have to happen for them to raise prices? The rep said that they have a certain percentage of buffer they require between what they take in and what they pay out. If they ever have less than that percentage, the Board of Directors meets to decide if rates need to be raised temporarily or permanently. So far, they have only lowered rates, not raised them.

Liberty has 140,000 members across the country. Their membership has doubled over the last two years. It looks like they pay out about $12 million a month in claims. Based upon their rates, I don’t see them needing to raise their rates anytime soon. Members receive a monthly newsletter that spells this all out.

Never Heard of Them?

You’re probably wondering why you have never heard of them. I had never heard of Liberty or health share plans prior to about 6 months ago. That’s because they are a nonprofit organization that spends very little on marketing instead choosing to rely upon word-of-mouth so they can presumably keep rates as low as possible. However, Liberty has been providing this service since 1990 and formally as Liberty Health Share since 2012. There are several health share plan organizations that have been in business as long as Liberty. I chose Liberty because of all of them, they are the most transparent in my humble opinion.

What about the Affordable Care Act?

Health Share Plans are specifically exempt from the Affordable Care Act. That means if you are covered by one, you are considered to be insured in the eyes of the IRS. You just have to include a special, one page IRS form with your tax return to avoid the penalty.

Nothing’s Perfect

Like me I’m sure you’re wondering, what’s the catch? Well, nothing is perfect and Liberty is no exception. First, their prescription drug plan is not great. You can probably get as good or better a deal on prescription drugs at Costco or your local grocery store pharmacy. I’ve done some research and found that a lot of prescription drugs have generics that are quite reasonably priced. What about something expensive? For example, if you were diagnosed with Hepatitis C, the drugs would set you back something like $4000. That’s a lot to be sure. However, you have to look at how much you are saving per year with Liberty. In my case, I save almost 3 times that every year in premiums alone. It’s just important to understand that there is no maximum out-of-pocket limit for prescription drugs. So if you’re HIV-positive for example, it’s not going to work for you.

Liberty, like all the other health share plan providers, started inside a church. They are Christian organizations that believe people should help each other in their time of need. I can’t speak for the other providers, but despite Liberty’s Christian origins, they will sell coverage to anyone regardless of faith, age, gender, race, marital status or sexual orientation. Having said that they do not recognize same sex couples as married and thus require them to buy individual plans rather than a couple’s plan. That means they will be collectively spending $50 per month more but on the other hand, they will have each have an Annual Unshared Amount of only $500 compared to $1000 for a couple. I personally would prefer them to be secular as what they provide is not religious in any way but regardless, they started as a Christian organization. That they will provide coverage to anyone regardless of faith works for me. They don’t require you to go to church for example nor evangelize at all really but they do expect you to be the kind of person that generally takes care of yourself. They do not cover the cost of an abortion unless the life of the mother is at risk. I’m guessing that if your commercial insurance covers the cost of an abortion, it’s simply because that’s less than what it would cost them to pay for a delivery. Read through their sharing guidelines. I find them to be quite reasonable.

If you aren’t taking decent care of yourself physically, they will assign you a health coach who will meet with you by phone once a month to help you get back on track.  For example, if you’re overweight (according to their very reasonable guidelines), you’ll need to lose weight. They charge $80 per month for the health coach. Once you reach your agreed upon goal, the $80 per month charge ends. You can drink but you can’t abuse alcohol. If you need a liver transplant because you have abused alcohol your entire life, I would not count on them to cover that. You cannot smoke. If you’re a smoker, you must agree to quit smoking within 3 months. It goes without saying that you can’t abuse drugs either.

When you sign up, nothing but accidents, acute illness or injury are covered for the first 60 days. After that, pre-existing conditions are not covered for the first 12 months. They are covered up to $50,000 for the next 12 months and after that they are not considered pre-existing anymore.

All of this is my understanding of how Liberty works. Before signing up you should throughly research their offerings yourself.

A Better Solution

Health Share plans are not perfect but for the overwhelming majority of people, they provide a far more affordable alternative than just about any commercial health insurance. If they were scaled up even larger, for example if they have several million members, the economies of scale would likely provide even greater value. In my humble opinion, Health Share plans are a better solution than the commercial insurance provided through the Healthcare Marketplace or even through most employer-based programs, at least for dependent coverage. The US Government could still provide income-based assistance to help offset the monthly cost for the poorest among us for a fraction of what the cost of the Affordable Care Act today. For those for whom a Health Share Plan would not make financial sense (such as those who are HIV-positive), early eligibility for Medicare should be provided. However, if 10’s of millions of Americans were covered by nonprofit Health Share Plans, it’s certainly possible that even those with expensive, chronic conditions could be covered.

I’m currently exploring ways to scale up Health Share Plans so that more Americans can be covered by them and they can be even more efficient. However, you don’t have to wait for that to happen in order to save money. You can do your own research and choose to sign up with one like Liberty today.

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The Austin Uber Backpedaling Begins

The Austin Uber Backpedaling Begins

Bang! It hasn’t even been two weeks since Uber and Lyft left the Austin market and already the Austin City Council is beginning to backpedal on their demand that ride-sharing companies do fingerprint background checks on their drivers.

The Austin-American Statesman is reporting that Austin City Council member Ellen Troxclair has suggested that Austin should make fingerprint background checks optional just as San Antonio and other cities have done. Shocking. Why didn’t the Austin City Council simply look at how other cities have dealt with this problem in the first place? Why waste hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money which resulted in nothing but loss? What do I mean by loss?

  1. The City of Austin spent who knows how much in City Council members time debating this issue as well as the cost of having an election on Proposition 1.
  2. Thousands of Uber drivers found themselves out of work.
  3. Thousands of Uber passengers had to find alternative and usually more expensive or less convenient forms of transportation.

Was there a winner here? No. Austin will almost certainly adopt optional fingerprint background checks just as other cities have.

The sad thing is that even those optional fingerprint background checks don’t solve any problems. They are purely security theater. A few people who care might feel safer but that doesn’t mean they are. Additionally, all 7 of last year’s reports of sexual assault by Uber drivers came from drunk, young women none of whom will be in a state of mind to request only an Uber driver who has passed a more rigorous background check when they stumble out of a Sixth Street bar at 2AM on a Saturday night. So even they won’t be any safer.

My original post on this caused several people to tweet at me about how Uber is some big, bad corporation with greedy investors who care nothing about passenger safety and want to squeeze their drivers while they sit in high towers twirling the ends of their mustaches. It saddens me that anyone lacks the critical thinking skills to the degree that they would believe such nonsense.

Of course Uber cares about passenger safety. If Uber had a widespread reputation for being unsafe, they would be out of business. Caring about passenger safety is good for Uber’s profit. Having said that, like many investments, there’s the law of diminishing returns.There’s a point at which riding with Uber is safe enough. As I stated in my last post on this topic, Uber is already extremely safe. You are more likely to be hit by lightning than assaulted by an Uber driver. There’s a point at which Uber won’t benefit by trying to make their service even safer and in fact will instead cost them which ultimately costs the consumer. How does that work?

Like any business, Uber is in this to make a profit. If you think that’s a bad idea, you don’t like free markets and should probably stop reading now. The more expense they have, the harder it is to make a profit. That leads either to charging customers more per minute or making less profit. They won’t do either unless they have no choice. You may think that regulations can be put in place so they won’t have a choice. That’s faulty logic. People always have a choice. If regulations make providing ride-sharing unprofitable or simply less profitable than deploying their money elsewhere, Uber and its shareholders will move on. That’s exactly what they did do when this ridiculous regulation could not be over-turned. They exited the Austin market. Would you leave your money in a savings account that paid far less interest than at another bank? Would you leave your money in a poorly-performing stock when you knew of a better one? Would you keep paying for your child’s college education when they were spending so much time partying that their grades were suffering? Of course not.

Why would Uber leave over such a silly little thing as requiring fingerprint background checks? Because it’s not a silly little thing. Uber knows better than anyone that fingerprint background checks don’t solve any significant problems but they do make the process of hiring drivers more onerous. If they don’t make sure there are enough drivers, enough supply for the demand, passengers will no longer feel that Uber is a reliable service and they will stop using it. This isn’t Uber’s first rodeo. They have been down this path before in other cities. In most every case, the city eventually receives enough complaints about Uber leaving the market that they backpedal (as Austin is doing now) and make the fingerprint background checks optional. The fact that Uber was willing to leave the market over this should tell you something.

Most people work for someone else. Unfortunately, that leads to a very one-sided view of how businesses work. It’s been tweeted at me that Uber pays less than minimum wage (they don’t) and that as a result, Uber drivers must rely on government welfare. Let’s examine that for a moment. First, we don’t know that this is even true but let’s assume that it is. Bob is an Uber driver. In our fictional scenario, Bob can’t make enough driving for Uber so he qualifies for government benefits. Why doesn’t Bob stop driving for Uber and take that high-paying corporate job he keeps getting offered? Because no such job offer exists. Bob drivers for Uber because Bob thinks thats his best option. If there was a better one, Bob would likely take it. In other words, if Bob stops driving for Uber and goes to work elsewhere, he’s likely to earn a similar amount of money which means he is just as qualified for government assistance as before. Nothing has changed. If Bob could earn more elsewhere he wouldn’t be driving for Uber. This is the same argument that has been used with Wal-Mart. I quite rarely shop at Wal-Mart nor do I own stock in the company. I’m no fan. However, if people who work at Wal-Mart could make better money elsewhere, they would do so. Since they can’t, they are no more reliant upon government welfare than they would be any where else. If they instead increase their skills to the point where they make enough to no longer need welfare, great. However, that is up to them, not their employer.

It has been tweeted at me that Uber is under-cutting taxi services. That’s a charge that is absolutely true. That’s the free market folks! That’s competition. That’s how the world becomes more efficient. Someone finds a better way and people pay for it. If the taxi services had been smarter, they would have seen Uber coming. They would have become Uber before Uber ever arrived. They didn’t because people tend to get stuck in their old habits. Companies are as guilty of this as anyone else because companies are made up of…wait for it….people! Do you want to know why Apple is the biggest publicly-trade company in the world with profit margins that other companies only dream of? Because Apple admits to something that the overwhelming majority of other companies do not: there’s someone else out there right now working on creating the product that will obsolete what we sell so we better do it first. Apple doesn’t care that the iPad might result in fewer Mac sales because they are still making money. If Apple doesn’t create it, someone else will.

I have been self-employed most of my adult life. It’s not easy. I remember hiring my first employee (Jason, who still works for me 20 years later btw) and thinking, “What if I can’t generate enough revenue to pay his salary? That would mean he can’t pay is rent or buy food!” Being an employer is a huge responsibility. That feeling never goes away. I’ve been running my current business, Xojo, Inc., for 20 years now. While I have gotten used to the feeling of responsibility for my employees and while it’s easier to manage that responsibility than it was when I first started, I still feel it. Being self-employed changes you. It changes how you look at the world. It makes you realize that there are two-sides to everything. The best thing is being able to see any situation from all sides so you can most efficiently resolve it. We would be better off if everyone, at some point in their lives, ran their own business.

That’s not likely to happen but what can happen is for more people to apply critical thinking to situations they encounter. When faced with a problem, try to avoid immediately getting caught up in the emotions of it and instead apply some rational thinking. Try and see it from all sides. Do some research (which with the Internet is so easy now) and see if the problem really does exist and is big enough that we should spend time and resources to resolve it. Not every problem is actually worth solving. We don’t have unlimited resources. We must prioritize our activities. You can do a few things really well or a lot of things really badly. Critical thinking helps us realize this and it’s something we could use a lot more of in today’s society.

I’m confident that Uber will be back in operation here in Austin within the next 30 days or so. I’m glad for that because it’s a valuable service that I have only just begun to utilize. I’m also glad that the Austin City Council has at least one reasonable member in Ellen Troxclair.

Gun Control: How much is reasonable?

This week President Obama issued an executive order aimed primarily at closing the loopholes that allow guns to legally be sold without a background check. Unsurprisingly, this has generated quite a bit of controversy.

Many conservatives argue that the 2nd Amendment is clear: the Federal Government should not in any way restrict our right to bear arms. Liberals have countered with a different interpretation suggesting that our Founding Fathers meant that state militias should be free to bear arms. While I can understand why liberals think that, grammatically that doesn’t make sense. If that’s what the Founding Fathers wanted, they would have been more clear.

Having said that, imagine your neighbor who has a Ph.d in physics starts building a hydrogen bomb in his garage. Are you OK with this? Now I know what you’re thinking. We have laws against that right? We do. I doubt you could find any sane person who would argue that the 2nd Amendment gives your neighbor the right to build a weapon of mass destruction within a few yards of your living room. So we all agree there is a line somewhere and atomic weapons are clearly on the other side. The 2nd Amendment does not give each of us the right to bear any type of arms. There are restrictions. So the question is what should those restrictions be?

Imagine if a driver’s license was not a prerequisite for taking a car out on the highway. How safe would you feel knowing that many of those around you may not have any clue about the traffic rules and/or may have repeatedly violated them? There have been laws in place for years that require a background check when purchasing a firearm from a gun dealer. These were designed to preclude some people from buying firearms because they have indicated a serious lack of judgment. We could argue just how big the circle encompassing them should be but that’s for another day.

Unfortunately, gun dealers are not the only place you can legally purchase firearms. They can also be purchased at gun shows and online from private citizens with no background check required whatsoever. The President’s executive order will close these loopholes. It won’t stop every bad guy from buying a gun. Nothing will stop that. Even if we outlawed guns altogether and went around collecting them from everyone that had them, there would still be bad guys with guns. Seat belts don’t save everyone either but they save enough people to warrant their mandatory use.

I haven’t convinced you? Imagine your four year old daughter running around the backyard squealing with delight on a warm summer day while you’re inside making lunch. Unbeknownst to you, her shrieks have penetrated your neighbor’s bedroom through the window he left open. After a night of heavy drinking and another one of those fights with his wife you’ve heard far too often, this felon with a history of violence is suddenly awakened and he’s fuming. Enraged, he grabs his Beretta 93R machine pistol, a weapon that fires 1100 rounds per minute, punches out his window screen and sprays your backyard.

Are you really in favor of making it easier for him to purchase a gun?

Government waste? O.M.G.

I think it’s pretty much a universally-held belief among Americans that the US federal government is wasteful. We believe this because we have all heard stories of the government paying $500 for a hammer. It was recently reported by a questionable source in India that President Obama’s most recent trip their was going to cost the US taxpayer’s $200 million a day. That was then echoed by many conservative US news sources whose fact-checking goes on holiday when they can say anything negative about the opposing party. I don’t know the actual cost but I seriously doubt it’s anywhere remotely close to that number.

But is the US government really wasteful in the big scheme of things? Perhaps we are just hearing anecdotal evidence that is taken out of context. That could be, right?

While the President creates the budget, it is Congress that must approve or deny it. They hold the purse strings. So ideally, you want the people holding the purse strings to be the no-nonsense, do everything with ruthless-efficiency, type. After all, if they are not, how can we possibly expect the rest of the US government to be any different?

Today I stumbled across something about Congress that was quite shocking to me. Representative Darrell Issa, a republican for California’s 49th district was the conservative guest on Bill Maher’s panel on REAL Time with Bill Maher this past Friday night. I had never heard of Darrell before but he was re-elected this past Tuesday for the 6th time so enough of his constituents  clearly like him. He’s very smart, reasonable and actually pretty liberal for a republican. If he was a blue dog democrat, I doubt he would have to change his stance on anything. During the show, he mentioned he was for a flatter, fairer tax. I’m a big fan of the Fair Tax and in fact it’s one of the very few political organizations to which I have ever donated. I found myself wondering if Darrell Issa was a supporter of the Fair Tax. I went to the Fair Tax web site where they have a list of those in Congress that support it. Sure enough, Darrell Issa is a supporter of it. Great. I’m liking him more and more.

As it just so happens, the list of supports on fairtax.org is actually just a link into the Library of Congress database of bills that have or will go through Congress. A bit of clicking and I could see all the bills to which Darrell Issa is a sponsor or co-sponsor. It appears that if you support something (prior to a vote) you show that by being a sponsor or co-sponsor.

Darrell Issa is the sponsor or co-sponsor of 307 bills in Congress. I realized that what I was seeing was a view into what Darrell spends a lot of his time on in Congress. I don’t know this to be true of course but he is a congressman so it would seem like a safe bet that the bills he sponsors or co-sponsors consume a good portion of this time. The search results show 100 bills at a time so I decided to just scroll through the first 100 and see what they were like. I think stunned-disappointment is the only way to describe how I felt.

Of the first 100 bills, eighteen were recognizing some special day, week or month of the year. I’m talking about things like “National Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month”, “World Intellectual Property Day” and “American Craft Beer Week”. Eleven recognized anniversaries such as “40th anniversary of the National Eye Institute” or “150th anniversary of John Brown’s raid in Harpers Ferry”. Forty bills expressed support for something like the District of Columbia school scholarship program. Note that “expressing support” should not be confused with “providing funding.”

Only twenty-five of the bills  had anything to do with something that seemed to be real Congressional/government business. Now I realize this sounds like I’m picking on Darrell Issa but really I’m not. I’m reasonably confident that Darrell’s list is pretty similar to the lists I would find if I looked up just about any other Congressman. In fact, I would be willing to bet that many other members of Congress have lists where “stunned-disappointment” wouldn’t come close. From my quite limited exposure to Darrell, he seems like a very smart and reasonable person. If I lived in his district, there’s a chance I would vote for him.

But is Congress really spending only 25% of their time on things that matter? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the goals and ideals of “National Sudden Cardiac Awareness Month” are worthwhile. I’m not so confident of those of “American Craft Beer Week”. But unemployment is at 10%. The economy is in the toilet. The US government is currently over-spending by 33% and we have racked up almost 14 trillion in debt. Can we really afford to have Congress spend 75% of its time (and as a result, our taxpayer dollars) on things that compared to the state of the economy are utter nonsense?

I heard someone recently say that the democrats lost the 2010 mid-term elections because the voter perception is that the democrats haven’t done much in the last two years. They have done a lot, and we can argue about the merits, but the reality is not relevant. Only perception is relevant. 75% of the bills I scrolled through should only perhaps being taking up the limited time of our people in Congress if and only if the government was humming along like a well-oiled machine and it’s far from that. So my perception now is that Congress is currently wasting 75% of its time and our taxpayer dollars.

You can search the Bill Summary and Status of the 111th Congress (2009-2010) here.

I know writing to your representatives in Congress is asking a lot regardless of how important it is that we get our government’s fiscal house in order. So I’m not going to ask you to do that. But you can do this. Express your outrage (if that’s what you are feeling) on Twitter, FaceBook, your blog, etc. Express in emails to your friends and family. Feel free to include a link to my blog if you like. The more we show our feelings on this, the more our representatives in Congress will listen. Shout your outrage on the Internet. It does make a difference.

Our country is on a steady downward spiral. Our children are going to truly pay the price of our unwillingness to act. But there is still time. We can find the political will to make the really tough choices while there are still choices to made. Like air pressure, economies equalize over time. We can either have a very, very windy day, or wait for a class 5 hurricane.

Negative political ads

To anyone running for public office:

The negative ads you run have gotten so outrageous that they are no longer believable. You take the smallest issues out of context that are in almost always questionably open to debate and you make them sound like the severest of transgressions. I have finally reached the point where I have so little confidence that any of the information in negative political ads is accurate that I just don’t believe them anymore. In fact, in most cases the ads, at least for me, backfire. When I see a negative political ad, it reflects poorly on the candidate that paid for the ad.

You want to convince we you are the right person for the job? Then focus on you. Because when you use negative political ads, it sounds like you are asking me to choose between the lesser of two evils. In other words, I assume you are just as bad as the other candidate. And who is worst? The candidate that voted for a tax hike affecting a tiny number of people or their opponent that takes that out of context and exaggerates it to the point where it appears that the only thing the target candidates cares about is raising taxes on everyone?

I wish candidates simply filled out a form that explains their experience, education, etc., and reasons for wanting to run for office. Then we could have some televised debates. I’m becoming a bigger and bigger fan of publicly political campaigns where the candidate with the most money doesn’t have the advantage.

And we wonder why so few people vote?