FMD

If a plan like this were enacted, it would hurt or possibly even eliminate the long-term prospects for FMD and others in the private student-loan business – but it seems to me it should be enacted anyway. Basically, instead of Uncle Sam guaranteeing student loans – so the taxpayer picks up the tab if you default and companies like FMD and their partner banks pick up the profits if you don’t – Uncle Sam would lend directly to the student, with post-graduation loan payments tacked on to income tax collection . . . but only in years when the grad’s income were high enough. Take a look. (Free registration required by Forbes to access the article.) Absent something like this, I continue to think FMD should have lots of gains ahead of it. And we all know the odds of bucking vested interests in Washington to enact worthwhile reform – in any area – are low. But because I had so much of it, I’ve sold half my FMD just in case.

FINANCIAL TIPS FOR THE WELL-TO-DO

If your style is more the tear-down than the fixer-upper (well, it’s a great piece of property in a great neighborhood – but who could live in a house like that?!), then my advice to you is: burn your house down. That’s what friends of mine did; and, on consideration, I have to admit it was smart. They bought it; they donated it to the local fire department to use ‘for practice’ (‘what?’ I asked – ‘practice failing to save a burning house?’), the fire department cheerfully burned it to the ground, and my friends got two valuable things: (1) free demolition; (2) a tax-deduction for the value of the house. (Whether the IRS should allow that is another story; apparently, they do for now.)

CLIMATE CHANGE

Barry: ‘I just got through posting on Moveon.org at their request, regarding my favorite candidate to address climate change. I chose Mike Gravel because he’s least likely to win and waste time and effort trying to change the climate. I am all for a CLEAN environment, but as a LIFELONG Democrat, I am dismayed that we think there is much we can do to reduce what is one of the earth’s massive warming cycles. Here and here are some things you might want to look at. Please read all of it, check out the quoted sources, and then, see if you can get the Party to find something else to worry about, something we might actually be able to fix. God knows, we have plenty of problems.’

☞ I have read none of it. But since almost all scientists disagree with you, and since (in my view) it would be worth taking action even if there were only a 10% chance disaster looms, let alone a much larger chance – and since most of the actions will just make us more efficient and prosperous, it seems nuts to me that people would oppose these actions. How would it hurt if your car got 80 miles to the gallon? Or if your lighting bill were cut by 75%?

SiCKER

Scott Nichol: ‘I really want to know how many emergency rooms Michael Moore visited until he found an empty one. It has been my experience that emergency rooms are busy in both the US and Canada.’

☞ Dunno.

Anne Vivino-Hintze: ‘See this from the current BusinessWeek.’

The Doctor Will See You – In Three Months
By Catherine Arnst

The health-care reform debate is in full roar with the arrival of Michael Moore’s documentary Sicko, which compares the U.S. system unfavorably with single-payer systems around the world. Critics of the film are quick to trot out a common defense of the American way: For all its problems, they say, U.S. patients at least don’t have to endure the endless waits for medical care endemic to government-run systems. The lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans spells it out in a rebuttal to Sicko: “The American people do not support a government takeover of the entire health-care system because they know that means long waits for rationed care.”

In reality, both data and anecdotes show that the American people are already waiting as long or longer than patients living with universal health-care systems. Take Susan M., a 54-year-old human resources executive in New York City. She faithfully makes an appointment for a mammogram every April, knowing the wait will be at least six weeks. She went in for her routine screening at the end of May, then had another because the first wasn’t clear. That second X-ray showed an abnormality, and the doctor wanted to perform a needle biopsy, an outpatient procedure. His first available date: mid-August. “I completely freaked out,” Susan says. “I couldn’t imagine spending the summer with this hanging over my head.” After many calls to five different facilities, she found a clinic that agreed to read her existing mammograms on June 25 and promised to schedule a follow-up MRI and biopsy if needed within 10 days. A full month had passed since the first suspicious X-rays. Ultimately, she was told the abnormality was nothing to worry about, but she should have another mammogram in six months. Taking no chances, she made an appointment on the spot. “The system is clearly broken,” she laments.

It’s not just broken for breast exams. If you find a suspicious-looking mole and want to see a dermatologist, you can expect an average wait of 38 days in the U.S., and up to 73 days if you live in Boston, according to researchers at the University of California at San Francisco who studied the matter. Got a knee injury? A 2004 survey by medical recruitment firm Merritt, Hawkins & Associates found the average time needed to see an orthopedic surgeon ranges from 8 days in Atlanta to 43 days in Los Angeles. Nationwide, the average is 17 days. “Waiting is definitely a problem in the U.S., especially for basic care,” says Karen Davis, president of the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund, which studies health-care policy.

All this time spent “queuing,” as other nations call it, stems from too much demand and too little supply. Only one-third of U.S. doctors are general practitioners, compared with half in most European countries. On top of that, only 40% of U.S. doctors have arrangements for after-hours care, vs. 75% in the rest of the industrialized world. Consequently, some 26% of U.S. adults in one survey went to an emergency room in the past two years because they couldn’t get in to see their regular doctor, a significantly higher rate than in other countries.

There is no systemized collection of data on wait times in the U.S. That makes it difficult to draw comparisons with countries that have national health systems, where wait times are not only tracked but made public. However, a 2005 survey by the Commonwealth Fund of sick adults in six nations found that only 47% of U.S. patients could get a same- or next-day appointment for a medical problem, worse than every other country except Canada.

The Commonwealth survey did find that U.S. patients had the second-shortest wait times if they wished to see a specialist or have nonemergency surgery, such as a hip replacement or cataract operation (Germany, which has national health care, came in first on both measures). But Gerard F. Anderson, a health policy expert at Johns Hopkins University, says doctors in countries where there are lengthy queues for elective surgeries put at-risk patients on the list long before their need is critical. “Their wait might be uncomfortable, but it makes very little clinical difference,” he says.

The Commonwealth study did find one area where the U.S. was first by a wide margin: 51% of sick Americans surveyed did not visit a doctor, get a needed test, or fill a prescription within the past two years because of cost. No other country came close.

Few solutions have been proposed for lengthy waits in the U.S., in part, say policy experts, because the problem is rarely acknowledged. But the market is beginning to address the issue with the rise of walk-in medical clinics. Hundreds have sprung up in CVS, Wal-Mart (WMT), Pathmark, (PTMK) and other stores-so many that the American Medical Assn. just adopted a resolution urging state and federal agencies to investigate such clinics as a conflict of interest if housed in stores with pharmacies. These retail clinics promise rapid care for minor medical problems, usually getting patients in and out in 30 minutes. The slogan for CVS’s Minute Clinics says it all: “You’re sick. We’re quick.”

Alan: ‘One issue Michael Moore does not address is how lifestyle choices are affecting our health and health care costs. I’ve taught college for seventeen years now and when I look around a class at the beginning of a semester, young overweight adults have become almost the norm rather than the exception. These kids are all heading for major problems when they reach their 40s and 50s and that is going to be expensive no matter who is paying for it or how.’

Jeff: ‘In 1964, I broke my arm at the elbow. The orthopedic specialist tried to set it but could not, so I spent a month in traction. He visited probably 12 or 15 times, about half of those visits at our house, to make sure the bone was mending correctly. He also set and removed the cast for the two weeks after traction. He charged $100 (albeit $100 1964). I distinctly remember my mother saying we had insurance, but the doctor said, ‘No, that’s all I ever charge.’ I know nothing about solutions, but I do know the level of concern for patients does seem to have changed – along with the doctors’ level of contentment. My strategy for health care is to be rich. Do you have any new buy-and-hold recommendations?’

☞ As a rank speculation . . . a little HAPNW. As what I hope might be a good two or three years, GLDD. But new ones? No more until you’ve seen the movie.

 

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