- Michael Hulbert
- Community Dinner
- Gina Wanted
- PV Project
- Gjerde Libel
- UVSD Effulent
- Ed Notes
- Divided Thirds
- Help Al
- Yesterday's Catch
- Holiday Tip
- Various Delusions
- Brickwork Ad
- Climate Questions
- Acid Test
- Attenborough Conservation
- Plath Cooking
- Never Bernie
- War Veterans
- 62 Corvette
- GOP Xmas
- Medicare Disadvantage
- Found Object
RECENT RAINFALL AND COLD MORNING TEMPERATURES will result in locally icy roads. Motorists are urged to drive cautiously, as sudden patches of ice may be encountered. Sunshine later this morning will warm the ground and diminish the threat for icy roads after 9 AM.
A WEEKEND FRONTAL SYSTEM will yield rain at sea level, heavy mountain snow, and strong gusty winds. An unsettled weather pattern will continue into next week. A High Wind Watch is in effect Saturday morning through Saturday evening. Southeast winds 20 to 40 mph with gusts from 60 to 70 mph possible.
(National Weather Service)
MICHAEL DEAN HULBERT
Michael Dean Hulbert, 60, passed away peacefully in Ukiah, CA on Sunday, November 17, 2019.
Michael is survived by his mother, Patricia Brannan, his two daughters, Kristina Gregory and Caitlyn Hulbert, grandson, Damian Dowdell Hulbert, his sister, Terri Cader and grandnephew Matthew Cader, his nephew David Hulbert (Gloriel), grandnieces Madison and Mareena, grandnephew Mason Hulbert, his niece Dena Blum (Robert), and grandnephews Jackson and Ethan Blum. Michael's father John Hulbert, stepfather Marvin Brannan and brother Steven Hulbert all proceed him in passing to the arms of our Heavenly Father.
Michael Dean was born in Ukiah on September 23, 1959 and lived most of his 60 years in Mendocino County. He embraced life to its fullest and was well known in the communities of Willits, Ukiah and Boonville. He was a veteran of both the Navy and Army branches of the Armed Forces and served his country proudly as a young man. He loved nothing better than spending time with his family; especially his daughters and grandson.
Michael Dean will be remembered at a Celebration of Life at Seaside Beach in Fort Bragg on Sunday, December 1, 2019. All who loved Michael are invited to attend. (For time and directions contact the Mendocino Land Trust at 962-0470.) If you care to make a donation in Michael Dean's memory, the family would encourage St. Jude's Children's Hospital, a charity close to their heart.
THE HOLIDAY COMMUNITY DINNER
SUN. DEC. 8 AT 5:30
The AV Grange & AV Foodshed will host a FREE holiday community potluck dinner on Sunday, December 6 at 5:30pm at the AV Grange outside of Philo. Looking forward to the very special community event on December 8th? Yes, the Holiday Dinner at the Grange! Want to add to the pleasure by volunteering to help? Needed are mashed potato makers (potatoes provided), turkey bakers (local turkeys provided), meat cookers (local meat provided), appetizers, set up and clean-up crews, kitchen help, table greeters, kids activities, carvers, and dishwashers. Call Capt. Rainbow now at 896-3897 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FUTURE OF POTTER VALLEY POWER PROJECT COULD HINGE ON OPTIONS FOR DAM AT LAKE PILLSBURY
Could Lake Pillsbury’s dam come down to preserve North Coast water transfer?
APOLOGIES TO DAN GJERDE for passing along a casual libel without checking it. Here's the original item from the November 6 edition.
THE 4TH DISTRICT contest between incumbent Gjerde and challenger Lindy Peters is going to be close. Both are Fort Bragg old timers, Gjerde home grown, Lindy a Davis transplant at an early age. Gjerde will get the Democrat-lib vote but the popular Peters will also get some of it plus strong support from more conservative voters. This one will be close, especially given Gjerde’s silent tenure as Supervisor.
THE SUPE’S races have already inspired some pointed comment: (1) “Candidate Sakowicz — please explain your termination from the Mendocino County sheriff's department when you were employed at the county jail.” And (2) “A similar question was asked to current 4th district supervisor Dan Gjerde back before he slid un-opposed into his seat here on the coast. He was picked up while walking along hwy 20, disoriented and in a possible psychotic state of mind by the Sheriff’s Dept.”
THERE'S no record of Gjerde's alleged late night stagger, merely wishful thinking from someone hostile to him. I can't imagine the 4th District Supervisor in the circumstance alleged, but people believe what they need to believe, facts not being a consideration.
THE UKIAH VALLEY’S LATEST EFFLUENT
by Mark Scaramella
The audio of the on-line video recording of the meeting of the Ukiah Valley Sanitation District on November 13 was poor, so we weren’t always sure what people said. Further, the two speakers who rose during public expression were not identified.
One of the unidentified, a together but disgruntled, articulate, professional-looking woman began the meeting by complaining about the management and expenses of the district. Her initial litany of critical observations was hard to understand, but she clearly concluded by saying, “A century ago this board would have been tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail.”
A disabled man unable to come to the podium complained about the high sewer rates, calling the District’s rates “a joke.” He also said their rate calculation formula was “a joke” and “a bunch of garbage.” As best we could tell, he said his sewer bill was an unbelievable $1600 a month.
The District’s unidentified manager (who may also employed by the Willow Water District because the Sanitation District has had difficulty hiring local qualified staff) said the man’s rates had something to do with his allegedly profligate water usage. (It sounded like the complainer operated a car-wash in the Ukiah area, but outside the city limits.)
The Board defended their extortionate rates and then responded that they’d look into it and discuss it with the City of Ukiah (because of the possible connection with the man’s water usage.)
The Ukiah Valley Sanitation District is an entirely unnecessary organization as has been pointed out in various ways in the last few years by a wide variety of critics. They are an artificial anachronism created in the 50s when local authorities decided to hook up sewage lines to residents and businesses outside Ukiah’s City Limits. Their main purpose has been to extend the city’s billing reach to their outlying connections. They operate no facilities, and have no responsibility for the actual treatment facilities, just some intermediate hook-up plumbing. The City of Ukiah does all the system operational treatment plant work as well as running an overlapping billing system for both city and district hookups.
That was ok for several decades until somebody (perhaps former Supervisor, former Local Area Formation Commission manager Frank McMichael, who became the District’s “manager” after his stint at LAFCO in the early 2010s), figured out that the artificially complex billing system was shortchanging the District by several million dollars to the benefit of the City.
The Grand Jury agreed that there were billing problems, so after some half-hearted attempts to get the City to discuss the problem, the sanitation district hired Ukiah attorney Duncan James to sue the City. A multi-year lawsuit costing millions of dollars in attorney’s fees ensued until last year when a settlement was reached in which Ukiah had to pay several million to the District. (The actual numbers and reasons are still in some dispute and would require engaging in way too much boring minutia to discuss here and are not particularly relevant to the current situation. Unless, of course, you’re a ratepayer in the Ukiah Valley.)
Instead of forcing the parties into arbitration discussions which should have kept legal bills relatively low, the local courts abdicated their responsibility and the case somehow ended up being dragged out in Sonoma County for years as legal bills piled up and up and up.
As the legal bills mounted, sewer rates rose and more and more people in Ukiah — and the Grand Jury — were getting angrier and angrier about the impact the lawsuit was having on their sewer rates (in the City proper and especially in the District).
Among the people who found the entire situation egregious was Ukiah Daily Journal Editor K.C. Meadows who editorialized several times during the lawsuit. After the settlement Ms. Meadows agreed with the Grand Jury that the District was poorly managed and the mess was costing way too much. Over the years the Journal also ran several stories by local reporter Justine Frederiksen who studiously followed the Board’s turnover and machinations — including highlighting their problems and internal disputes.
The Grand Jury issued a report of the District in June of this year entitled “Change and Transparency Needed, noting in their summary, among many other things, that: “The lawsuit legal and administrative bills have approached $9 million and continue to escalate. An estimated $14 million could have been saved by the ratepayers if the existing bond had been refinanced at a lower rate of interest. The refinance could not occur because the District failed to produce State required audited financial statements for 2014-2018. Ultimately, the $23 million (combined legal costs and interest savings) must be paid by the citizens of the City and the District via their monthly sewer bills. The City and District are already engaged in arbitration which involves the additional expense of attorneys for both sides.”
There’s no point trying to detail the entire Grand Jury report here either. It’s available on line, as well as the District’s nearly unreadable and grotesquely overlong response (which reads like it was prepared at great hourly expense to the District by former County Counsel Doug Losak who works for Duncan James).
Here’s just one example: The Grand Jury found that: “In the absence of staffing continuity with technical and financial expertise, the District has used expensive attorneys and consultants to conduct day-to-day business and negotiations with the City.”
The District (probably Losak) replied that: “…The District’s legal counsel has been present with staff or other representatives at meetings for the same pupose when needed. These services have saved the District hundreds of thousands of dollars since October 2018, as described above, demonstrating not only the need for, but also the utility of, these services. Expenses are decreasing, as illustrated in the District’s latest budget, and will reduce further as outstanding issues, such as the budget dispute, which has long-standing implications, resolve.”
This evasive attempt to answer a complaint about millions of dollars in legal expenses by saying they saved hundreds of thousands is typical of the style Mr. Losak used when he drafted Grand Jury (non-)responses for the Supervisors when he was (acting/interim) County Counsel.
Soon after the Grand Jury report was released UDJ Editor Meadows wrote an editorial titled “Grand Jury Right About San District.” She began, “The Ukiah Valley Sanitation District is being mismanaged, is about to stick it to their ratepayers, violates the Brown Act and has acted irresponsibly over its lawsuit against the city.” Then she continued with example after example from the Grand Jury report.
Last month Sanitation District Director Andrea Reed (who had run with two others in 2016 on a slate that called for ending and settling the lawsuit with the City) resigned with a pointed resignation letter saying, “My intentions during the election … were to bridge the communication gap between the UVSD board and members of the Ukiah City Council and to work toward ending a lawsuit that had gone on for far too long. After being elected, I was excited to begin working as one with members of the city and to make the best possible changes for ratepayers of the district. I see now that members of the UVSD board have zero interest in conducting meetings that will end in compromise, growth and positive change for our entire valley. During meetings I feel bullied and silenced by at least one member of the UVSD board and members of UVSD legal representation. I am saddened by the interactions between members of the UVSD board and members of the public. We are to be held by a higher standard than most and should conduct ourselves in this manner.”
The Ukiah Daily Journal, of course, published Reed’s letter with some basic background context.
Which brings us back to the November 13 meeting.
Ms. Reed’s call for a “higher standard” was unceremoniously ignored about 40 minutes into the meeting during the discussion of appointing a board member to replace Ms. Reed. Holdover board member Ken Marshall (a Ukiah realtor who’s been on the Board since 2012 and was one of the two remaining Board members responsible for continuing the multi-million dollar lawsuit) grumbled that Ms. Reed’s resignation letter “was published in the Urinal as well. There was a letter and a write-up.”
This slur — particularly ironic coming from a District responsible for dealing with human waste — is the best the District can do in response to justifiable outrage and criticism of their operations? Not one person in the room of directors and staff batted an eye at this stupid slur, indicating that they share the sentiment.
It’s one thing for a few locals in Ukiah to complain about their paper with this trite and sophomoric insult, but an elected official trotting it out in a public meeting is far from Ms. Reed’s “higher standard,” and nicely demonstrates exactly what she was talking about.
MR. ROGERS NEIGHBORHOOD. He was big when my children were small, but only my daughter was beguiled by him. When it was time for his show, Daughter would start hopping up and down yelling, "Neighborhood! Neighborhood!" The boys much preferred Sesame Street and Captain Kangaroo. With advertisements for the movie about Fred Rogers unavoidable lately, advertisements convincing me to place the film at the very top of my Don't Watch list, I checked what kind of stuff my grandchildren preferred, and it was, to me, much stranger than the kid's tv of yesteryear, especially in the crude graphics and story lines that bore no relation to what I had assumed was their reality. Say what you will about Mr. Rogers, he brought the small ones a desirable message — be nice. And even I got a charge out of Cap Kangaroo, who could be very funny in ways clearly intended to also amuse adults.
THE ARGUMENTS from the wealthy and their chuckling spokespeople at MSNBC, CNN and Fox against MediCare for all are identical to the arguments the rich made, during The Depression against Social Security and the New Deal generally, while simultaneously denouncing Roosevelt as "a traitor to his class." (FDR was definitely from the plutocracy, but smarter and kinder than most of it.) And that was a time when the malefactors of great wealth were taxed at upwards of 90 percent. The suggestion from Bernie and Liz that the rich be whacked at around 35 percent is denounced by the wealthy and their gofers like Obama as "too far left." Not to be too boring on the subject, but before anybody, especially the anybodys with large audiences, invoke socialism they should also be required to prove they know the diff between all the isms. Bernie, for instance, is barely a socialist, and certainly not the communist the uninstructed and the professional liars denounce him as. Any other place in the world Bern would be a social democrat, a good liberal. In the Russian context of the original Bolsheviks, people like Bernie (and me) were called Mensheviks. The Bolsheviks dispossessed the rich and shot lots of them along with lots of Mensheviks, with Stalin getting totally carried away and murdering lots of poor people he said were kulaks or "rich peasants," meaning families with more than one cow. Free enterprise right down to one chair barber shops were outlawed. Gratifying as it might be to hang a million of so of America's most offensive rich people — beginning with Sean Hannity and on up through Trump — the Menshevik approach of voluntary socialism via popular votes, is preferable for long-term social stability. Medicare for all would make the lives of millions of Americans a lot easier and, just like the rich opposed Social Security during The Great Depression, the rich are opposed to Medicare For All because, like Social Security, once people got it there was no way people were going to ever give it up.
DENIS ROUSE WRITES: Years ago during the Gorby years I motorcycled around Russia, noticed people still weeping at the statue of Pushkin in St. Petersburg, got real curious, bought a copy of Pushkin's masterpiece "Eugene Onegin", read and somewhat enjoyed the immersion into Russian lit, thought the story of a guy being a jerk with a woman not terribly unusual, then back home I dragged some San Francisco friends to the opera based on Onegin by Tchaikovsky, I enjoyed that too for the experience that added a little lustre to my Russian ride, but my friends haven't forgiven me yet. I sat next to a grand old dame from Nob Hill at the opera house, her aura remains with me. You want to take a look at lit scholarship that's over the top check out Nabokov's 400-page commentary and index on Pushkin's Onegin that makes me feel like a dummy. I'm a NYRB subscriber too mainly because it's a bookstore in print and I find something occasionally of interest, but the overwhelming (to use your great term) lib-lab bias and often obnoxious pedantry gives me a pain in the ass. I think appreciation of lit is a highly personal subjective thing, something either gets you in the kishkas or it doesn't, and while the scholarly criticism and analysis might be interesting in part, it's kind of beside the point. I think Hemingway or someone said, if critics could write, they wouldn't be critics, but that requires a quick apology to Wilson. Best, Denis.
ED NOTE: I remember those Wilson-Nabokov debates in the NYRB when the mag was much more interesting than it is now. The famous exchanges were way beyond my level of scholarship, but I also remember thinking that Nabokov, as a native Russian speaker, probably was correct in his understanding of the disputed texts. I still subscribe to the NYRB but, as you pointed out, Mr. Rouse, I think it's radically inferior to the London Review and even less generally interesting than The New Yorker. I've given up on The Atlantic, which reads like PhD theses, and Harper's, which reads like the most boring smart people you know trying to out-clever each other. I'm down to three mags these days: The two reviews and the dependably infuriating New Yorker.
BUT MOVIES are better than ever! The Missus and I watched ‘The Irishman’ last night, although she had to be talked into it because she prefers to avoid films heavy on violence. She watched the whole three and a half hours without me running for the smelling salts. Since the NetFlix production is about gangsters of the '50's through the 70's, it was certainly not a filmic walk through Mr. Roger's neighborhood, but it's really, really good, especially the performances of DeNiro and Joe Pesci. As it happened, I'd read the book the film is based on, "I Heard You Paint Houses" by Frank 'The Irishman' Sheeran, the man widely believed to have had a gun hand in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. To younger viewers who only have a faint idea of who Jimmy Hoffa was, Sheeran's book is a helpful guide to the events depicted in the movie of how Hoffa's Teamster's union became a kind of piggy bank for organized crime. When, after five years in prison, put there by Bobby Kennedy, Hoffa tried to regain the top spot in the Teamsters, and tried to weed out some of the gangsters, they weeded him out. Hoffa's remains have never been found. The Irishman is also very good as a period piece, meticulously re-creating the backdrops for the sixties and seventies that big league crooks operated in. My only criticism of another masterpiece by Scorcese, are two: I didn't think Al Pacino was convincing as Hoffa, and I thought some of the dialogue made the gangsters sound a lot dumber than they were, but a lot of it was sharp and very funny.
AL'S RENT PARTY
Collection for Al Nunez to pay rent so he doesn't have to abandon his truck project and work tools or die.
I've been given a total of just short of $200 (so far) to help out Al Nunez. I'll be doing Memo of the Air from KNYO in Fort Bragg this Friday night, all night, starting at 9pm, 325 N. Franklin, Fort Bragg, next to the Tip Top bar, and I'm copying this to Al so he knows to come and pick up the money. Al, you don't have to talk on the radio if you don't want to. It would be fun, it went well last time, but if you just want to stop by, that's fine. If you can't make it tonight I'll hang onto the money for you. I won't spend a penny of it.
I have to stay on the coast this coming week, so I'll be doing the show from KNYO next Friday (first Friday of the month) also. So if you'd like to add to helping Al get over this tough time he's having both financially and psychically, get in touch with me so to get the money to him. Or just come by KNYO when I'm there, see above, and do it that way. See? It's like the old man said: The whole world isn't crazy.
IN OTHER NEWS: Sandy Glickfeld, I still have the VHS tape and DVD for you of Elves and the Shoemaker (Crown Hall, 1988). Come and get it. It's not good for things like that to be in the car for so long.
Marco McClean, email@example.com, MemoOfTheAir.wordpress.com
CATCH OF THE DAY, November 28, 2019
MICHAEL BEERS, Ukiah. Failure to appear, probation revocation.
ROBERT FLESHMAN, Trinidad/Ukiah. Parole violation.
THOMAS GALINDO JR., Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol, probation revocation. (Frequent flyer.)
GUADALUPE GARCIA JR., Willits. Parole violation.
CHRISTOPHER LOPEZ, Ukiah. Domestic battery, contempt of court, probation revocation.
MARCIE QUESTIONI, Petaluma/Ukiah. Resisting.
MARVIN RODAS, Santa Rosa/Ukiah. Failure to appear.
RICKEY SANTOS, Mendocino. Harboring, concealing or aiding a principle wanted in a felony.
FRANCIS SEYMOUR, Willits. Domestic abuse, probation revocation.
LANE TAWNEY, Lakeport/Redwood Valley. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
HARRY WINELANDER, Laytonville. Failure to appear, probation revocation.
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
I can’t seem to shake an overwhelming dread that the people of the USA or perhaps, all humans are obsessed with theatre, accepting fantasies, fairy tales, and illusions at face value as some form of perverse reality. I see everywhere an obsession with the fantasies of politics, television, God, Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and the Easter bunny with an extra dose of extra-terrestrial aliens, Sasquatch, Nessie, and the Bermuda Triangle; lies and illusions lapped up like mothers’ milk.
Is there anybody out there that would like to venture a guess as to the amount of Internet postings that are generated by computer algorithms? I’m going with 25% minimum.
If these two subject areas seem disparate, then you are probably dreaming about impeachment with visions of sugar plums dancing in your head.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
I have found it more constructive to ask questions than state an opinion when discussing an issue. So here are a few questions to consider.
Do the majority of Americans believe global warming is a real threat to life on our planet? Do personal transportation vehicles cause a large percentage of our global warming problem? Does home heating, cooling and lighting cause a large percentage of our global warming problem? The answer to these questions is yes.
Do a large percentage of American homes have solar panels? Are a large percentage of cars in America electric or hybrid? The answer to these questions is no.
If you believe global warming is a real threat to our planet, our children, and our grandchildren do you plan on doing anything about it? Do you expect the government to solve this problem? Will you vote with your wallet? Or will you only consider the cost of solar panels and clean cars. Are you an environmentalist?
Just a few questions.
David M. Heaney
DAVID ATTENBOROUGH SAYS HUMANS HAVE MADE ‘TRAGIC, DESPERATE MESS’ OF PLANET
Broadcaster urges people to look after natural world as he launches new series with conservation ‘at its heart’
SYLVIA PLATH’S HOLIDAY COOKING TIPS
WHAT WILL OBAMA DO TO STOP BERNIE SANDERS
Letter to Editor
Nice hearing from Fred Gardner. Back in the late '60s he was connected to the Oreo Strut GI coffeehouse in Colombia, S.Carolina, if I remember right. Anyway, nice hearing somebody mentioning the ancient troubles of today's "war vets." No bones to pick but I'd like to add a couple of things.
When I turned 17 in November, 1966, I joined the Army Infantry and volunteered for Vietnam. Fourteen days after I turned 18 on Nov. 27th, 1967, the army granted me my wish. I was a part of an "emergency combat Levy" out of the 101st Airborne headquartered in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. In various parts of the Central Highlands, I beat the bushes with the 173rd Airborne and, in a nutshell, got a belly full of war.
The sentence that raised my eyebrows was: "Most so-called volunteers are driven to enlist by socioeconomic pressure." That's another way of saying, "Rich man's war, but a poor man's fight," right? Anyway, I was also in and out of the 82nd Airborne twice, and all paratrooper outfits accepted only volunteers selected among the enlistees and there was nothing "so-called" about us. Sure we had other "push factors" and we also had plenty of "pull factors." We chose to put our asses where our mouths were in a society where truly patriotic actions are so rare and war talk is so cheap.
The wholesale destruction of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos birthed plenty of anti-war GIs and Vets and, statistically speaking, combat vets and enlistees were more likely to turn against the war than draftee non-combatants were. The draftees were almost always older and more mature single dudes and working stiffs, and most of them saw their hitch as just another job to do and then be done with. Whereas the volunteers were motivated by a powerful sense of having been deceived and betrayed, their dead and maimed partners, the native soldiers, women, old men and kids all "wasted." Imagining the millions of lives wasted meant being dishonored by the sin of the mindless futile slaughter done in the name of "Peace with Honor" and--pathetically--"National Defense."
Coming home from war--real war--means forgetting about body counts and kill ratios and returning the real world. Problem being you've just returned from the real world and the folks back home are oblivious to it. Unable to blame them for something you've done in spades, you've got to wear it. You can pretend all you want, but there ain't no going back to the way things were. Not when American wars never end and there's never an end in sight. Not when everybody knows and nobody tells.
If we as Americans really wished to help our children of war, we'd've stopped mass-producing them 100 years ago.
QUESTION: Do you think the impeachment process underway against Trump is tantamount to a coup to get rid of him by the Deep State because of his relatively benign stance towards Russia?
John Pilger: That’s one theory; I’m not so sure. Trump’s election in 2016 disturbed a Mafia-like system of tribal back-scratching, which the Democrats dominate. Hillary Clinton was the Chosen One; how dare Trump seize her throne? Many American liberals refuse to see their corrupt heroine as a standard bearer of Wall Street, a warmonger and an emblem of hi-jacked gender politics. Clinton is the embodiment of a venal system, Trump is its caricature.
BEWARE OF THE MEDICARE DISADVANTAGE CORPORATE TRAP: WAKE UP AARP
by Ralph Nader
While the Democratic presidential candidates are debating full Medicare for All, giant insurance companies like UnitedHealthcare are advertising to the elderly in an attempt to lure them from Traditional Medicare (TM) to the so-called Medicare Advantage (MA) – a corporate plan that UnitedHealthcare promotes to turn a profit at the expense of enrollees.
Almost one third of all elderly over 65 are enrolled in these numerous, complex MA policies the government pays so much for monthly. The health insurance industry wants more enrollees as they continue to press Congress for more advantages.
“Medical Disadvantage” would be a more accurate name for the programs, as insurance companies push to corporatize all of Medicare, yet keep the name for the purposes of marketing, deception, and confusion.
Elderly people enrolled in MA will experience its often merciless denials when they get sick. As hospital expert – attorney, physician, Dr. Fred Hyde put it: “It’s not just what you pay, it’s what you get.”
Start with the cross-subsidy of MA from TM. In 2009, the Congressional Budget Office estimated these overpayments would cost the federal government $157 billion over the coming decade. Obama’s Affordable Care Act started to reduce these subsidies to the giant insurers, but they still amount to many billions of dollars per year.
Add that with Medicare Disadvantage you are restricted to networks of vendors. That restricts your choice for competence and skills, and sometimes, requires you to travel longer distances for treatment. This could mean fewer enrollees will utilize their healthcare and more profits for the insurance companies.
Under “Medicare Disadvantage” you are subject to all kinds of differing plans, maddening trapdoor fine print, and unclear meaning to the insurers arguing no “medical necessity” when you’re denied care.
The advertisements for Medicare Disadvantage stress that you can sometimes get perks – gym memberships, hearing aids, and eyeglasses, as enticements, but they avoid telling you they are not so ready to cover serious needs like skilled nursing care for critically ill patients.
Under Medicare Disadvantage, there is no Medigap coverage as there is for TM. Co-pays and deductibles can be large. Under a recent Humana Medicare Advantage Plan in Florida, your co-pay for an ambulance is up to $300, up to $100 co-pay for lab services, and another $100 for outpatient x-rays.
A few years ago, UnitedHealthcare corporations dismissed thousands of physicians from their MA networks, sometimes immediately, sometimes telling their patients before telling their physicians.
Dr. Arthur Vogelman, a gastroenterologist, said he received a termination letter in 2013 from UnitedHealthcare. He appealed, documenting his successful treatment of many patients. The company denied his appeal, with no reason, as it had for thousands of network physicians.
Dr. Vogelman called it “an outrage. I have patients in their 80s and 90s who have been with me 20 years, and I’m having to tell them that their insurer won’t pay for them to see me anymore. The worst thing is I can’t even tell them why.” Except that the company wanted more profits.
After a lengthy protest by national and state medical societies in 2013, UnitedHealthcare began to be less aggressively dismissive.
Studies show the main reason MA enrollees return to TM is how badly the corporate insurers treated them when they became sick.
Medicare itself is getting overly complex. But nothing like the ever changing corporate rules, offerings, and restrictions of Medicare Disadvantage. How strange it is that AARP, with its Medigap insurance business run by UnitedHealthcare, doesn’t advise its members to go with the obviously superior Traditional Medicare. AARP reportedly receives a commission of 4.95% for new enrollees on top of the premiums the elderly pay for the Medigap policy from United Healthcare. This money – about $700 million a year – is a significant portion of AARP’s overall budget.
AARP responded to my inquiries into their Medicare Advantage policy saying that it does not recommend one plan over another, leaving it to the less informed consumer. That’s one of AARP’s biggest cop-outs — they know the difference.
There is no space here to cover all the bewildering ins and outs of what corporations have done to so-called managed Medicare and managed Medicaid. That task is for full-time reporters. The government does estimate a staggering $60 billion in billing fraud annually just on Medicare – manipulating codes, phantom billing, etc. You need the equivalent of a college-level course just to start figuring out all the supposed offerings and gaps.
Suffice it to say that, in the words of Eleanor Laise, senior editor of Kiplinger’s Retirement Report, “the evidence on health care access and quality decidedly favors original Medicare over Medicare Advantage, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation review of 40 studies published between 2000 and 2014.”
All this anxiety, dread, and fear, all these arbitrary denials of care – prompted by a pay-or-die commercial profit motive – all these restrictions of what doctors or hospitals you can go to, do not exist in Canada. All Canadians have a Medicare card from birth; they have free choice of health care vendors. There are few American-style horror stories there; patients have better outcomes, and almost never even see a bill. The whole universal system costs half per capita of that in the U.S., where over 80 million people are uninsured or underinsured – still! (See singlepayeraction.org, for civic action to rid Americans of this perverse chaos).
(Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!)