Unmeme 1

You know those memes you see on Facebook or other social media that asks you to do something and you know for a fact it’s just a way to gather data on you? Well, I decided to copy them on my old blog here and then give my own answer. I’m calling these Unmemes. Here’s the first:

Answer: Put the lid down

Simple, Powerful Messages

Last week I was on a panel with several other people to discuss some of the local housing challenges we’re facing in our part of the world right now. One of the other panelists, I’ll call him Mr. Smith, was someone who I’d worked with on housing related policies for the past 4+ years, and we’ve occasionally ended up on the opposite side of issues. We’ve never been in an argument, either one-on-one or in a group, but we have disagreed with each other on how to approach some issues that the groups we were involved with were addressing. So, while I don’t think Mr. Smith would think of me as his enemy, he probably thinks of me as his nemesis in certain situations.

Towards the end of the panel presentation we were talking about a new government-funded program that is being rolled out in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and that Mr. Smith’s department was responsible for creating and administering in one of our local cities. There are four local government’s that are crafting these types of programs and in my opinion Mr. Smith’s department had done as good a job as any in getting their program off the ground, and they’d done so in a very trying environment. I shared that opinion during the panel discussion, and honestly didn’t think much of it. It was my opinion, which may or may not be worth anything, but I’ve always felt that if someone does good work then you might as well say so.

The panel discussion happened at midday. Around four that afternoon I received an email from Mr. Smith that said, “Jon, Thank you for the kind words about the program. My staff and I really appreciate it. Have a good weekend and stay safe.”

That email made my week and it reminded me of the power of a simple “thank you”. It also reminded me that people always appreciate being appreciated especially when they do the kind of work that is invisible, or when it is visible, it is criticized. With that in mind please take a moment to recognize the folks who have made a positive contribution to our world – not only will it make their day, it will make yours too. And if someone does that for you, just remember to say “Thank you.”

*Quick note: I originally wrote this on my LinkedIn account. My apologies if I’ve bored you twice without notice.

Spirit of the Law? Hospitals Don’t Give a Fu%$

If you look under the “Categories” archive of this blog you’ll notice that over the years I’ve posted 52 times under “Health Care” and 71 times under “Healthcare.” Ignore the fact that I should have figured out a long time ago which one of those is correct; the point is that I care deeply about health care (healthcare?) and a primary reason for that is how much it has cost me and my family over the years.

I’ve spent my entire career working for very small companies or being self employed, and so I’ve never had access to what you’d call a “Cadillac” health insurance package. I’ve also been responsible for evaluating and choosing an insurance plan every year, whether for my own family when I was self-employed, or for my employer, for the last 25 years. To say that I’m sensitive to how much health care and health insurance cost would be the understatement of the century.

That’s why this story in the Wall Street Journal about hospitals using code to hide the pricing on their website. Here’s an excerpt:

Hospitals that have published their previously confidential prices to comply with a new federal rule have also blocked that information from web searches with special coding embedded on their websites, according to a Wall Street Journal examination.

The information must be disclosed under a federal rule aimed at making the $1 trillion sector more consumer friendly. But hundreds of hospitals embedded code in their websites that prevented Alphabet Inc.’s GOOG -1.24% Google and other search engines from displaying pages with the price lists, according to the Journal examination of more than 3,100 sites.

The code keeps pages from appearing in searches, such as those related to a hospital’s name and prices, computer-science experts said. The prices are often accessible other ways, such as through links that can require clicking through multiple layers of pages.

“It’s technically there, but good luck finding it,” said Chirag Shah, an associate professor at the University of Washington who studies human interactions with computers. “It’s one thing not to optimize your site for searchability, it’s another thing to tag it so it can’t be searched. It’s a clear indication of intentionality.”

Among websites where the Journal found the blocking code were those for some of the biggest U.S. healthcare systems and some of the largest hospitals in cities including New York and Philadelphia…Some regional systems also had such code on their websites, including Michigan’s Beaumont Health and Novant Health in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Lovely to see the system that has a hospital I can walk to, Novant, on the list.

Technically they’re complying with the rules, but in the same way that printing legal disclaimers in 2 point font would be. While that looks and smells bad, I think it would be a mistake to focus on the sliminess of this approach. In my mind it’s far more important to stay focused on how the continued efforts of the health care industrial complex to keep their pricing opaque, and their systems complex and antiquated, prevents any substantive system improvements from developing.

Years ago the insurance program we had was a Health Savings Account (HSA). The way it worked is that we set up an account kind of like an IRA with a bank. We contributed pre-tax dollars to it and it and then used those funds for any health care expenses. It was tied to a catastrophic insurance plan that featured a very high deductible and low premiums, so anything that wasn’t a major health event that would cost over $10,000 in a year we would pay out of pocket via the HSA. Sounds good in theory, but then you have to get an MRI and when you try to find out how much it will cost you find it next to impossible. As a result you pay $1,900 for a scan that took 30 minutes from parking the car to getting back in it, and find out later that you could have had the same procedure done a 10 minute drive away for much less.

That’s a true story, and in full transparency part of the problem was we were used to our old insurance system where we just went to wherever the doctor sent us without question because the insurance was gonna cover everything except our co-pay and deductible. It literally didn’t occur to us that we could ask, although we learned from this experience that we could.

I came away with a valuable insight after our year spent with the HSA and it was this: Our supposedly market-based health care system is lacking an important element – an informed and empowered consumer base. The complexity and opacity of our system virtually guarantees that it will be inefficient and provider-centric, which is great for the providers in the short term, but in the long term will make that bogeyman of “socialized medicine” look more and more appealing by comparison. If that happens they’ll have reaped what they sowed.

1NT: Roland the Farter

Good to know that at least one man in history has made a living via his flatulence:

Roland, court minstrel to 12th century English king Henry II, probably had many talents.

But history has recorded only one.

Referred to variously Rowland le Sarcere, Roland le Fartere, Roland le Petour, and Roland the Farter, Roland really had a single job in the court: Every Christmas, during the court’s riotous pageant, he performed a dance that ended with “one jump, one whistle, and one fart”, executed simultaneously.

For this, Roland was gifted a manor house in Hemingstone, Suffolk, and more than 100 acres of land. 

1NT: Hot Bees

Ever wonder how bees stay warm in the winter? It’s kinda cool:

In the winter, honeybees cluster together in a ball roughly the size of a basketball. By flexing their wing muscles (the same muscles they use to fly), they are able to generate warmth and hold the cluster at about 85-90 degrees. The bees take turns shifting from the inside to the outside of the cluster so that everyone can stay warm. The queen is always kept at the center of the cluster.

1NT: Flu Down

One fairly predictable side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic: cases of the flu are down drastically this year. From the Wall Street Journal:

Clinical laboratories tested 22,474 patient samples, mostly nasal swabs, for influenza during the week ended Dec. 5, and only 40, or 0.2%, came back positive, according to data from the CDC. During the same period last year, more than 11% of over 41,000 samples were positive.

The number of positive flu samples at U.S. public health labs is also lower than in years past, according to the CDC data. These labs are currently processing more patient samples than in previous years because of the explosion of testing for Covid-19...

In the Southern Hemisphere, Covid-19 precautions practically wiped out the flu this year, offering hope for a lighter flu season in the U.S. and Europe. It wasn’t certain whether the season in the U.S. would follow suit, but influenza’s spread in the country appears to be following a similar pattern.

Obviously, it isn’t sustainable to shut down our public gathering places every flu season, but hopefully this is the evidence we need to change our adjust our behavior in public, especially during flu season. In other words, maybe wearing masks, diligently washing our hands, and coming up with ways to greet each other besides shaking hands should become our cultural norm.

1NT: No More Musty Washer

An ingenious and easy way to battle the mustiness of your front loading washer:

While I initially envisioned just setting a container of DampRid at the bottom of the washer, I discovered they also make a bag version with a hanger at the top designed to hang from a clothing rod. Hmmmmmmm. Hmmmmmmm? For about 15 minutes I thought I might be able to come up with a way to hang the bag from the gasket somehow, and then it hit me. MAGNETS.

Link