Friday, March 31, 2017

Review: A Fragile Hope



About the Book:

Josiah Chamberlain's life's work revolves around repairing other people's marriages. When his own is threatened by his wife's unexplained distance, and then threatened further when she's unexpectedly plunged into an unending fog, Josiah finds his expertise, quick wit and clever quips are no match for a relationship that is clearly broken. 

Feeling betrayed, confused, and ill-equipped for a crisis this crippling, he reexamines everything he knows about the fragility of hope and the strength of his faith and love. Love seems to have failed him. Will what’s left of his faith fail him, too? Or will it be the one thing that holds him together and sears through the impenetrable wall that separates them?

My Comments:

Josiah is a famous writer of books about relationships, but his primary relationship, his marriage, is very broken, and he doesn't even realize it.  One night his wife has had enough, and she is found in a coma in a car with her best friend's husband, who is dead.  Josiah has reason to believe she has been unfaithful and is, of course, hurt by this.  It takes him a long time to realize that he is the one who has been unfaithful--no he has never been with another woman but he hasn't given himself to his wife in a long time.

Josiah's wife is in a coma for a long time and there are serious doubts that she will ever recover.  In the end, she does and so does their marriage.  In realizing what he has to lose, Josiah learns how hard it is to forgive, and how necessary it is. 

The book is Christian fiction, but Josiah isn't the most religious guy on the planet.  He and his wife belong to a church and the church members help them through the  ordeal but there are no sermons in the book and faith doesn't solve all the problems in the world.

I like Cynthia Ruchti's writing and I really enjoyed the book  Maybe the happily ever after was a tad unrealistic, but I'd much rather be left smiling at the end of a book than crying.  Grade: B+

Thanks to the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley. 

No One But You: My Review



About the Book

Struggling to make ends meet after a messy divorce, Sadie Harris is at the end of her tether. Her waitressing gig isn't enough to pay the bills let alone secure primary custody of her son, Jayden, a battle she refuses to lose. Desperate, she accepts a position assisting Dawson Reed—the same Dawson Reed who recently stood trial for the murder of his adoptive parents. Joining him at his isolated farm seems risky, but Sadie is out of options. 

Dawson has given small town Silver Springs plenty of reasons to be wary, but he's innocent of the charges against him. He wants to leave his painful past behind and fix up the family farm so he can finally bring his dependent sister home where she belongs. 

As Sadie and Dawson's professional relationship grows into something undeniably personal, Sadie realizes there's more to Dawson than the bad boy everyone else sees—he has a good heart, one that might even be worth fighting for.

My Comments

Brenda Novak has written several series of books set in small towns.  No One But You is the second book in the Silver Springs series, something I didn't realize until after I finished it.  Needless to say, it stood on its own and unlike many other series romances, I didn't see any obvious next couple for the next book.

Sadie has left her controlling police-officer husband.  They live in a small town and everyone likes her ex--or at least they don't want to get on the bad side of one of the town's lawmen.  Every time she applies for a job, he sees to it that she isn't hired, so her only income is from a waitress job she had before they split.  She finally finds someone to hire her--the town outcast.  He's the adopted son of a couple who was brutally murdered.  While he was found "not guilty", as my boss, a criminal defense attorney, will tell you, "not guilty" and "innocent" are not synonyms, and most people in town believe Dawson got away with murder.

The strength of Brenda Novak's writing is her characters.  I loved watching Dawson and Sadie get to know each other and heal the hurts each had suffered.  The weakness of her writing is the climax scenes and this one is very unrealistic.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review  copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B-. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Review: If Not for You



About the Book:

If not for her loving but controlling parents, Beth Prudhomme might never have taken charge of her life and moved from her native Chicago to Portland, Oregon, where she’s reconnected with her spirited Aunt Sunshine and found a job as a high school music teacher. If not for her friend Nichole, Beth would never have met Sam Carney, although first impressions have left Beth with serious doubts. Sam is everything Beth is not—and her parents’ worst nightmare: a tattooed auto mechanic who’s rough around the edges. Reserved and smart as a whip, Beth isn’t exactly Sam’s usual beer-drinking, pool-playing type of woman, either.
But if not for an awkward setup one evening, Beth might never have left early and been involved in a car crash. And if not for Sam—who witnessed the terrifying ordeal, rushed to her aid, and stayed with her until help arrived—Beth might have been all alone, or worse. Yet as events play out, Sam feels compelled to check on Beth almost daily at the hospital—even bringing his guitar to play songs to lift her spirits. Soon their unlikely friendship evolves into an intense attraction that surprises them both.
Before long, Beth’s strong-willed mother, Ellie, blows into town spouting harsh opinions, especially about Sam, and reopening old wounds with Sunshine. When shocking secrets from Sam’s past are revealed, Beth struggles to reconcile her feelings. But when Beth goes a step too far, she risks losing the man and the life she’s come to love.

My Comments:

Maybe I'm outgrowing Debbie Macomber.  Either that or she's getting lazy in her success.

I found the writing in If Not for You sacchrine and the story both trite and unbelieveable.  In some ways it is a typical white collar girl falls for blue collar guy story, which, while not original (but what about romance novels is?) was believeable, but then Macomber takes this girl who had to move across the country to get out from under her mother's thumb and puts her to meddling deeply in the most personal aspects of some other people's lives.  Not only did I find her level of interference in the lives of others out-of-character, I found it intrusive and insulting.  While Macomber gives everyone a happily ever after, in real life, I doubt things would have turned out that way.

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  C+ (a story I didn't care for but which you might). 

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Perfect Replacement for the ACA

One big promise of Donald Trump and the Republican Party was to repeal the ACA a/k/a Obamacare.  Recently the Republicans introduced their "ACA" or American Care Act.

The Perfect Healthcare Plan


Just in case anyone was wondering, I have the perfect plan in mind.  Just take these ideas, turn them into legalese and send it to Congress.  Then we will have perfect healthcare:
  1. Don't charge me more than I can comfortably afford--I guess no more than cable TV or Netflix costs me each month.
  2. Cover me at 100% for any condition that remotely resembles sickness or lack of health or relating to the body or mind in any way.
  3. Cover me whether or not I choose to buy insurance before this ailment struck.
  4. Make sure I can see any doctor at any time and get any tests or treatments (proven or unproven) that I or my provider of choice (M.D., Chiropractor, Naturalpath, Homopath, Witchdoctor, Esthetician or Mother-in-law) think I need.
That's really all we need, right?  Unfortunately, when worded the way I worded it, anyone with a brain in their head will know that my proposal is impossible.  However, when reworded to
  1. Make premiums affordable and co-pays reasonable
  2. Cover all illnesses
  3. Don't discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions
  4. Allow patients to pick their doctors and cover the treatments ordered
it sounds so reasonable, so right, so much like what we as a county ought to be able to do for our people.

How Much Does Healthcare Cost?


We spend a lot of time complaining about the cost of health insurance, when the real problem isn't the cost of health insurance, it is the cost of healthcare.  The average per-capita cost of healthcare in the US today is over $9,000.  Under the ACA, plans have to pay out 85% of what they collect in premiums or they have to refund the premiums.  While eliminating insurance companies may reduce that 15% figure somewhat, someone is still going to have to push the paper and the paperpushers, whether employed by an insurance company or by the government, will have to be paid.

We don't all spend $9,000--in fact most of us don't have healthcare spending anywhere near that amount.  In fact, according to this study, over half of our lifetime medical expenditures will come after age 65, when we are covered by Medicare, not private insurance.  The study also says that about 8% of our lifetime medical costs are between birth and 19; about 12 percent between 20 and 39 and about 33 percent between 40 and 65.  Put another way, if the average per capita is $9,000 in today's dollars and you live to 85, the average lifetime healthcare expenses, at today's levels, would be $765,000, distributed like this:

  • $61,200 of that would cover you between birth and 19 ($3060.00 per year)
  • $91,800 would cover you between 20 and 39 ($4,590 per year); 
  • $252,450 to cover you from 40 to 65 ($10,098.00 per year); and
  • $359,550 to cover you from 66 to 85, when you would die ($17,977.50 per year)

How Much Does Health Insurance Cost?

According to the webiste above, the average cost of a family insurance plan through an employer in 2016 was $18,142.00.  I daresay few employees pay close to that; employers pay a major portion.  If you assume 15% of that was insurance company overhead, you are still looking at costs of over $15,000 per year, and you know that people are still going to have co-pays and deductibles.

 While the ACA subsidizes insurance for people whose income is below a certain point, the fact that plans  have to cover so much, accept anyone and not charge sick people more, or old people too much more, makes them very expensive for those who do not have subsidies.  My family makes too much for a subsidy.  We have 2 people between 40 and 65, one between 20 and 39 and one under eighteen.  Using the figures above, our average medical costs per year should be $23,256.00.

A search of Healthcare.gov showed that average Bronze plan offered there would cost $25,000 and the lowest priced one, $18,000--and we'd still have to pay most of our medical bills.  While there are a lot of people out there who make less than we do, neither my husband nor I are high earners.  Those policies would make a severe impact in our standard of living.  Right now, because of employer subsidies, we are paying about half that for better coverage.  

Why Don't Other Countries Pay as Much?

What is the answer?  I wish I knew.  Other countries don't spend as much.  Why? Some reasons:

They Limit Supply


Well, some, like Canada, limit the supply.  I can give you the names of four places within a fifteen minute drive of my suburban home where you can get a $1500 lumbar MRI, and my guess is that most of them can see you this week, if not tomorrow.  In Ontario Canada, the average wait is close to a month.  That can save money in two ways:

  1. The machine has less down time, meaning the per use cost is less and
  2. There are people whose back pain would resolve within that wait time and would no longer need the MRI.  Of course, if you are in pain and trying to pursue treatment, that wait is thirty more days you will be in pain. 

I read somewhere that if you compared American couples who were referred to fertility specialists, with Canadians who were referred to fertility specialists,   after six months twice as many Americans were pregnant.  That sounds like American treatment is much better; however it doesn't mean that at all--the Canadian couples were still on the waiting list, so on average, half those American women who underwent (and paid a small fortune for) fertility treatment really just needed more time.  On the plus side for the Canadians, once they cleared the waiting list, their treatment didn't cost them much, whereas most Americans sustained substantial costs for infertility treatment until coverage was mandated.

They Control Prices or Don't Allow Certain High-Priced Treatments

Many countries set the rates of reimbursement (payment) to doctors and hospitals and for medications.  They consider price when deciding whether particular treatments will be available. That's one reason you will find a wider variety of drugs and treatments available in the US than in many countries--here a drug can be offered for sale if it is proven safe and effective--and for some drugs, "effective" can mean they add months to life of the average cancer patient.  The negotiating power of one government is stronger than the power multiple insurance companies, which is why it is less expensive to buy drugs in Canada than in the US.  

England's National Health Service requires referral by a primary care physician in order to access specialist care and the NHS has waiting lists and a reputation for being an impersonal bureaucracy.  England's system is two-tiered; everyone is entitled to use the NHS system and those who can afford to do so have access to a private system as well.   

What Should Health Insurance Do? 


One big problem I see with any healthcare solution is that different people have different needs.  I'm a middle-income person who is  not living paycheck to paycheck and teetering on the edge.  Reality is that much as I may dislike it, I can afford a $150 doctor's visit. 

Reality also is that there are a lot of people out there who can't--that $150 will throw a major crimp into their lives, make them late on other bills and so forth. 

I need my health insurance to protect me from the major problems, not the day to day normal expenses of life.  Someone living on the edge may choose to forgo necessary treatment because of lack of financial resources; they need a healthcare plan that allows them to see a doctor when needed without worrying about it throwing them into financial ruin.

On the other hand, I've worked a lot of Medicaid fraud cases that couldn't have happened (or would have been a lot less likely) if the "patients" had to pay something out-of-pocket for care.  All of us are more careful about spending our money than spending the insurance company's money or the governement's money.  How do we balance meeting people's needs without encouraging waste?  


My Problem with Both "ACA" Plans

My problem with both the Affordable Care Act and the American Care Act is that they don't address the real problem in any real way.  The real problem isn't the cost of insurance, it is the cost of healthcare.  The Affordable Care Act was clearly an act of cost shifting.  The employer mandate shifted costs from the employee to the employer, if the employer wasn't already providing insurance.  If shifted costs from the individual to the taxpayer if the individual's income was below a certain point.  It shifted costs from the sick to the healthy and from the old to the young.  

Controlling Costs

The sad economic reality is that there are two ways to control costs.  The first is to reduce demand, the second is by government containment.  

The law of supply and demand says that if the supply of something outstrips the demand, the price goes down.  If the price of something is too high, the demand for it goes down--even if people want it.

The cost of houses in my neighborhood fell a few years ago.  Why?  It wasn't because fewer people wanted houses this size.  It wasn't because it cost less to build.  It wasn't because the neighborhood went down.  The price of houses in my neighborhood fell because the cost of insuring them increased substantially.  People's housing budget is limited and the increased cost of insurance meant that fewer people qualified for a mortgage in the amount needed to purchase at what was the going price.  Some people who had stretched to buy when the market was at its highest found themselves strapped to pay both the mortgage and the insurance and had to sell or face foreclosure.

Contrast that with healthcare.  The largest purchaser of healthcare in America today is one that will never run out of money--the government, via Medicare, Medicaid, the VA and Tricare.  While people may choose to forgo small routine medical expenses due to cost, health insurance paid for by someone else pays so many of our expenses that for most middle-income Americans, "I can't afford it" isn't part of the discussion with the doctor.  Lack of purchasers is not going to push the price of healthcare down unless we radically change the manner in which we pay for healthcare AND are willing to see our friends, neighbors, family members and even ourselves do without needed or wanted medical care due to price.

Other countries use the authority of the government to rein in prices.  The government either directly negotiates rates with providers or it sets a global budget and when the money for the quarter or year is gone, it is gone.  This government interference in the market can limit supply, but it keeps the price of the supply lower.  Generally speaking governments that control the price of healthcare also assure that all citizens have access to it, something our government does not do.  

In my opinon one reason we have runaway costs is that we are unwilling to use either system to control costs.  We have such safety net and so much money spent on the middle and upper class that the demand for healthcare is not moderated by price.  I suspect that if you passed a law tomorrow outlawing health insurance that had less than a $20,000/year deductible, the price of healthcare would drop because people would start looking for less expensive doctors, choosing less expensive medications etc.  We aren't willing to do that because many people would be hurt and forced to choose between medication and food.  

We are also unwilling to give the government the power to control prices charged by private businesses.  Because of the high prices we are willing to pay, we have higher survival rates when serious illness strikes.  

So What IS the Perfect Replacement for Obamacare?

Sorry, I'm not smart enough to know the answer to that question, and frankly neither is Donald Trump.  Obamacare has its problems and as a conservative, I have problems with the cost shifting and the way it has hastened our country's move to one with well-paying middle class jobs that provide health insurance and low paying unskilled jobs that not only do not provide health insurance but also do not provide fulltime hours, specifically to avoid having to pay almost  as much in health insurance premiums as in wages.  As a Catholic I don't like the way Obamacare has mandated that employers purchase contraceptive coverage even if they believe it is immoral.  

One idea I have is to eliminate employer-sponsored health insurance.  Why should the managing partners of my firm get to pick my health insurance?  I'm smart enough to do that on my own.  Give me the money and let me do it--and make the premiums non-taxable, just as they are when purchasing through the employer.  

I like the idea of a payroll tax on both employers and employees, for both fulltime and part time employees, coupled with tax credits for the purchase of health insurance or paying healthcare bills.  

What we have isn't working for more people every year.  Obamacare helped more people get insurance, but it hasn't been around long enough to say whether it allowed more people to access healthcare and it certainly hasn't done anything to bring costs down.  









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