Aetna CEO wants public discussion of single-payer healthcare coverage

❝ The chief executive of one of the country’s largest health insurance companies says he is open to having a single-payer debate….“Single-payer, I think we should have that debate as a nation,” Aetna chief executive Mark Bertolini said…

❝ Bertolini spoke to a private meeting where Aetna employees could ask questions of their chief executive. A partial video of his remarks provided to Vox includes Bertolini responding to a question about single-payer health care.

“In the news media, it is reporting that the Republican health plan is paving the way to a single-payer system,” an Aetna employee asks Bertolini. “What are your thoughts on that, and how would it impact Aetna?”

This was his response:

Single-payer, I think we should have that debate as a nation. But let me remind everybody that Aetna was the first financial intermediary for Medicare. We cut the first check for Medicare in 1965 to Hartford Hospital for $517.57.

❝ The government doesn’t administer anything. the first thing they’ve ever tried to administer in social programs was the ACA, and that didn’t go so well. So the industry has always been the back room for government. If the government wants to pay all the bills, and employers want to stop offering coverage, and we can be there in a public private partnership to do the work we do today with Medicare, and with Medicaid at every state level, we run the Medicaid programs for them, then let’s have that conversation.

But if we want to turn it all over to the government to run, is the government really the right place to run all this stuff? And that’s the debate that needs to be had. They could finance it, and if there is one financer, and you could call that single-payer. …

I think it’s hilarious that he ignores federal administration of SSA and Medicare. Both of which have administration costs less than 10-25% of typical American private insurance companies.

❝ What Bertolini seems open to is a version of single-payer where the federal government would contract out certain functions private companies, such as Aetna. These insurers would, in his own words, become a “back room for government.”

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U.S. Stores: Too Big, Boring and Expensive

❝ It’s easy to blame all of the industry’s woes on Amazon, the online giant. There’s little doubt that the fifth-largest U.S. company by market cap has been disrupting traditional retailers…But online is far from the only source of retail’s problems: The large chains, the malls they usually find themselves in, and even flagship urban stores have failed to adapt to rapidly changing consumer tastes. This lag has been readily apparent for more than a decade.

❝ Note that this is not the product of hindsight; during the financial crisis, it was clear to me that “retail shopping will emerge from the recession with a much smaller footprint than before.” In 2010, I reiterated those views, observing that “the United States still has too large of a retail footprint — 40 square feet of retail space for each person; that is the most per person in the world … that needs to come down appreciably.”

❝ My present views are even less optimistic. We are probably closer to the beginning of that transition than the end. This is a generational realignment in the way consumers spend their discretionary dollars, and the ramifications and economic dislocations are going to last for decades.

❝ The build cycle. One aspect of the “overstored” issue is the mismatch between retail trends and the construction cycle. Trends change much faster than permits can be issued, buildings constructed and subsequently rented. That lag can be consequential.

Look at the growth in big malls since the 1990s. Forbes notes that “since 1995, the number of shopping centers in the U.S. has grown by more than 23 percent and the total gross leasable area by almost 30 percent, while the population has grown by less than 14 percent.” All of the retail construction reflected a very ’90s shopping perspective, one that’s considerably different today. It is more than just the rise of the internet: Sport shopping, retail therapy, and conspicuous consumption offer less prestige today than they once did.

❝ Bor-ing!…The wild success of the nearly 500 Apple stores provides lessons for other retailers. At $5,546 in sales per square foot, Apple sells more goods at retail than any other store in the world. The same exact products can be purchased at Best Buy, at Amazon, or even Apple’s own website. Yet the company has hit upon a formula that sends more than 1 million visitors per day worldwide into their retail locations with money to spend. (Surveys have shown that putting an Apple store in a mall increases sales 10 percent for all the other retailers.)…

❝ One last issue: price. Thanks to “showrooming” — checking out stuff in stores only to buy online after finding out how much less it costs — consumers have learned how stiff mark-ups can be in retail. When customers believe they’re overpaying, it does not lend itself to repeat business…

❝ Those warnings about excess retail space are almost a decade old. If anything, the existential threat to the consumer retail industries are even more acute today.

Most of Barry Ritholtz’s writing gets onto this site – when I feel it fits – pretty quickly. Been saving this one for more than a couple of weeks. Reports the past few weeks continue to bear out everything in this piece he wrote for Bloomberg in March. The great Howard Davidowitz matches Barry’s analysis with even more colorful language and greater forecasts of doom for shopping center and mall anchor stores.

Keep your eyes open for bargains at “Going Out Of Business” sales!

Long-time Iowa farm cartoonist fired for offending AgriBiz corporations

❝ Rick Friday has been giving farmers a voice and a laugh every Friday for two decades through his cartoons in Farm News

I am no longer the Editorial Cartoonist for Farm News due to the attached cartoon…

Apparently a large company affiliated with one of the corporations mentioned in the cartoon was insulted and cancelled their advertisement with the paper, thus, resulting in the reprimand of my editor and cancellation of its Friday cartoons after 21 years of service and over 1,090 published cartoons to over 24,000 households per week in 33 counties of Iowa.

“I did my research and only submitted the facts in my cartoon.

“That’s okay, hopefully my children and my grandchildren will see that this last cartoon published by Farm News out of Fort Dodge, Iowa, will shine light on how fragile our rights to free speech and free press really are in the country.”

Farm News apparently has the courage of an overripe squash when it comes to standing up for farmers, journalists, cartoonists against corporate barons.

Thanks, UrsaRodinia

116-year-old Mexican pensioner too old for bank software — not allowed welfare check for 3 months


Mexico News Daily

❝ Born at the turn of the past century, Maria Félix is old enough to remember the Mexican Revolution – but too old to get the bank card needed to collect her monthly 1,200 pesos ($63) welfare payment. Félix turns 117 in July, according to her birth certificate, which local authorities recognise as authentic. That would put her in the ranks of the world’s oldest living people.

❝ She went three months without state support for poor elderly Mexicans after she was turned away from a branch of Citibanamex in the city of Guadalajara for being too old, said Miguel Castro, development secretary for the state of Jalisco. Welfare beneficiaries now need individual bank accounts because of new transparency rules, Castro said.

“They told me the limit was 110 years,” Félix said with a smile in the plant-filled courtyard of her small house in Guadalajara.

❝ Félix, who sells candies from a stand outside her home, got by on her modest sales but was delighted when Castro became aware of her case, delivering a cheque and an apology to her in person. “Sooner or later, God provides,” said Felix, waving a hand. “Here I am.“

In an emailed statement, Citibanamex, a unit of Citigroup Inc, said Félix’s age exceeded the “calibration limits” of its system and it was working to get her the bank card as soon as possible. It said it was adjusting its systems to avoid a repeat of the situation.

And some banks run their IT department with the help of someone’s out-of-work nephew rather than a qualified professional. My Canadian password manager issued a qualitatively new version of their software, yesterday. One significant bug was discovered. It was patched, this morning, with an update identified as Version xxx001. Definitely fewer employees than Citibank’s Citibanamex.

Nope. Solutions to problems like this come down to considering customer service more important than disturbing the slumbers of some beancounter.

AT&T’s fiber-to-the-home rollout: 1Gbps for the rich, 768kbps for the poor — surprised?

❝ AT&T’s deployment of fiber-to-the-home in California has been heavily concentrated in higher-income neighborhoods, giving affluent people access to gigabit speeds while others are stuck with Internet service that doesn’t even meet state and federal broadband standards, according to a new analysis…

❝ California households with access to AT&T’s fiber service have a median income of $94,208…By contrast, the median household income is $53,186 in California neighborhoods where AT&T provides only DSL, with download speeds typically ranging from 768kbps to 6Mbps. At the low end, that’s less than 1 percent of the gigabit speeds offered by AT&T’s fiber service.

The income difference is even more stark in some parts of California. “For example, in Los Angeles County, the median income of households with fiber-to-the-home access is $110,474, compared with $60,534 for those with U-verse availability, and $47,894 for those with only DSL availability,” the report said.

❝ In 4.1 million California households, representing 42.8 percent of AT&T’s California service area, AT&T’s fastest speeds fell short of the federal broadband definition of 25Mbps downloads and 3Mbps uploads…

❝ As copper networks increasingly become outdated, the FCC is seeking to eliminate regulations to make it easier for ISPs to retire copper networks. However, the copper could be replaced by wireless networks instead of fiber in areas where fiber rollouts aren’t cost-effective. AT&T is deploying a 10Mbps fixed wireless service in order to meet its Connect America Fund obligations.

As if AT&T cared a rat’s ass about service to folks in rural America. They won’t even sort out democratic access in urban areas – and if the experience in other Western nations is a model, that’s simply short-term greed overcoming good sense.

More jobs from “Game of Thrones”

❝ A former Caterpillar plant on the south end of Santa Fe will become a fabrication, welding, wood shop, art, design and manufacturing facility that will feed Meow Wolf’s creative exhibits as the arts production business expands nationally.

❝ “It’s an ideal space, we can grow into it,” said Vince Kadlubek, co-founder of the arts collective, which has drawn more than a half-million visitors to the interactive House of Eternal Return exhibit it opened last March in a former bowling alley on Rufina Circle. The privately held company created the multimedia complex in collaboration with fantasy-fiction writer George R.R. Martin, who owns that space and leases it back to Meow Wolf.

❝ The 52,000-square-foot building at 2600 Camino Entrada, where until last year Caterpillar workers assembled engine components, was purchased by Meow Wolf with help from its lenders and investment partners. The business saw a profit of about $1 million in its first year of operating House of Eternal Return.

Kadlubek has said that success proved that an immersive space which layers music, visual art, electronics, and theater can draw multi-generational visitors. The new building is a major step toward launching the Meow Wolf brand outside New Mexico.

Keep on rocking in the Free World – of imagination, creativity.

Crooked stock market investor pretended to be Islamic “terror” bomber

❝ A 28-year-old German-Russian citizen took out a five-figure loan to bet that Borussia Dortmund shares would drop, then bombed the soccer team’s bus in an attack he tried to disguise as Islamic terrorism in a scheme to net millions…

The suspect, identified only as Sergej W. in line with German privacy laws, was arrested by a police tactical team early Friday near the southwestern city of Tuebingen…

❝ …Prosecutors’ spokeswoman Frauke Koehler told a news conference Friday…the man came to the attention of investigators because he had made “suspicious options purchases” for shares in Borussia Dortmund, the only top-league German club listed on the stock exchange, on the same day as the April 11 attack.

❝ W. had taken out a loan of “several tens of thousands of euros” days before the attack and bought a large number of so-called put options, betting on a drop in Dortmund’s share price, she said.

“A significant share price drop could have been expected if a player had been seriously injured or even killed as a result of the attack,” according to prosecutors…

❝ Investigators found notes at the scene claiming responsibility on behalf of Islamic extremists, which Germany’s top security official, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, said was a “particularly perfidious way to toy with people’s fears…”

“The fact that someone wanted to enrich himself by killing people to influence the stock market is particularly reprehensible,” he said.

Adds new meaning to “making a killing in the stock market”.

Hey – We Found Where All That Retail Spending Disappeared To

❝ Retail is in trouble. Sales declined for the second month in a row in the U.S. in March, and there’s talk that perhaps traditional retail has passed a tipping point, with lots of store closings, layoffs and bankruptcies to come.

❝ One obvious reason for retailers’ difficulties is the rise of Amazon.com Inc. and other establishments that the Census Bureau classifies as “nonstore retailers.”…

There have been even bigger shifts over the decades, though, in what we spend our money on, according to the personal consumption expenditures database maintained by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Increasingly, it’s not tangible stuff that you buy in a store or order online, but services…

❝ Health care is by far the biggest contributor to this move from goods to services — spending on health care services has gone from 3 percent of personal consumption expenditures in 1929 to 17.2 percent last year. Spending on pharmaceuticals made up another 3.8 percent of personal consumption in 2015…

These huge spending gains can be chalked up partly to medical advances, an aging population and rising expectations for health care. But they also can lead a person to wonder to whether there isn’t something terribly inefficient about how the U.S. delivers medical care.

What are we spending less on? The two biggest decliners by far have been groceries and clothing, although the share of spending going to cars and to furniture and home appliances has fallen a lot since the 1950s as well…

❝ Then, once again, there’s all that money going to health care and financial services — $3.1 trillion in 2016. Surely some of that could have been spent on shopping instead.

Validating, once again, US consumers spend more on the whole cost of healthcare for less in return than any other developed industrial nation. The details on insurance company ripoffs are easy. Just compare them to Social Security and Medicare charges. Poisonally, I think most of the rest is simple collusion between major healthcare providers, pharma and those folks in the insurance industry – again. They agree on absurd charges for procedures and prescriptions knowing they get rolled into the insurance bill.

Foreign Energy Giants Flee Canada’s Tar Sands

❝ When ConocoPhillips signed a $13.3 billion deal last month to shed many of its Canadian assets, it became the latest in a growing list of foreign firms to sell tar sands holdings to a Canadian company…

All told, five American and European companies have sold nearly $25 billion worth of Canadian oil and gas projects over the past 12 months, the vast majority of them in the tar sands. This week, Reuters reported that Chevron is exploring a sale of its major oil sands stake.

❝ Tar sands projects are among the most expensive sources of oil, and the extraction produces more greenhouse gas emissions than most conventional drilling. With oil prices remaining low, multinationals are shifting investment to higher-return projects like shale in the United States. When Marathon Oil announced the sale of its tar sands projects for $2.5 billion in March, for example, it also highlighted a $1.1 billion purchase in the Permian Basin of New Mexico and Texas. While economics is the leading factor in the sales, some advocates argue that climate change is playing a role, too…

There is one notable exception to the trend: ExxonMobil. The company has been a leader in exploiting the tar sands for half a century, largely through its Canadian affiliate Imperial Oil. Even before the sales, it pumped more oil from Alberta than any foreign company. And despite Exxon’s recent announcement that it had wiped off its books all 3.5 billion barrels of reserves at one of its tar sands projects — a move forced by financial reporting rules — the company has said it remains committed to the resource. That position is now looking increasingly isolated.

I’m really not certain why anyone is carrying tar sands projects forward. It will always require producers to expend more energy per BTU-capability of product and natural gas just keeps getting cheaper to produce. Even our so-called President with his plans to cut environmental requirements for coal can’t beat the lower cost of natgas and renewables like solar.

I guess Canadian companies figure they can always get bailed out by the Canadian government if and when the projects flop. Conservative government or otherwise.