Thursday, August 15, 2013

American Shakedown Part II: The Health Insurance Criminal Racket

I recently underwent surgery for a broken bone in my foot. I am insured through a PPO. I pay over $5000 a year for my individual insurance. Before the procedure, I asked repeatedly how much would the hospital cost, how much the surgeon's fee, the anesthesiologist, nobody would tell me. They all said: "But you have insurance, right? Don't worry about it".
I did everything by the book. I used an in-network doctor and in-network facility. I called the insurance company to ask about pre-certification. Yet a few days ago, I get an "explanation of benefits" letter telling me that I owe $20,120.13 for a three hour outpatient hospital stay, not including the surgeon ($3500) and anesthesiologist ($1350) fees, for which apparently the insurance company has deemed I am totally responsible. The reason: they needed more information on what caused the fracture, even though I filled out three different forms at the doctor, the hospital and the physical therapy explaining the issue. Basically, they are trying to see if it sticks and screw me over. Now I have to make calls and contest claims; a frightening and totally unnecessary outcome.
The insurance companies use deliberately confusing language. I had to read my insurance coverage book three times in order to understand what is and isn't covered. What is the difference between and copayment and a co-insurance? What does out-of-pocket mean?
Then you should take a look at the "explanation of benefits". The hospital charges are fifteen line items, "explained" by mysterious procedure codes like 587 and 452. So hell if I know what exactly they are charging me for. A kleenex? Sedatives? What?
This insurance criminal racket is simply armed robbery. Medical expenses are the only instance in human society in which consumers purchase services without knowing the amounts they cost, which are deliberately obscured by the providers. We are getting raped, and no one is doing anything about it. Obamacare was watered down to placate the insurance racket, not to help the citizens of this country.
Of all the absurd injustices in this virulently capitalistic country, the health insurance scam is the first thing that needs to be reformed and regulated, because it affects absolutely everybody. It is nothing but organized crime, and the abominable politicians who line their pockets at the expense of the American people and the bidding of the insurance industry should be skinned alive in the hot sun and hung out to dry. Americans should be up in arms. 

Friday, August 09, 2013

American Shakedown

Attention, Mexicans! Our pride in being undisputed champions of the shakedown is now under mortal threat from our neighbor to the north. You heard right: not from a ravaged country in Africa, not from the Russians, the Chinese, or from our very competitive neighbors to the south (all of them). The latest challenge comes from the good old US of A. You would think that the police stealing cars, money, jewelry and kids (yes) from people only happens in benighted third world countries, but think again.
According to this excellent article by Sarah Stillman in The New Yorker, now you can find the third world shakedown right in America The Beautiful! And as everything that is rotten and corrupt in this magnificent land (corporations are people, the NSA can read your emails, lobbying, you name it), it is perfectly legal. It is called civil forfeiture. It was originally designed to fight drug cartels and organized crime, but ever enterprising, some police departments in some states have decided to expand it to regular, innocent, hardworking people. Because isn't that the way of all progress?
In a nutshell:
In general, you needn’t be found guilty to have your assets claimed by law enforcement; in some states, suspicion on a par with “probable cause” is sufficient. Nor must you be charged with a crime, or even be accused of one. Unlike criminal forfeiture, which requires that a person be convicted of an offense before his or her property is confiscated, civil forfeiture amounts to a lawsuit filed directly against a possession, regardless of its owner’s guilt or innocence.
One result is the rise of improbable case names such as United States v. One Pearl Necklace and United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins. (Jennifer Boatright and Ron Henderson’s forfeiture was slugged State of Texas v. $6,037.) “The protections our Constitution usually affords are out the window,” Louis Rulli, a clinical law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading forfeiture expert, observes. A piece of property does not share the rights of a person. There’s no right to an attorney and, in most states, no presumption of innocence.
Lately, with all these newfangled laws designed to protect us from sundry terrorist evildoers, the US is starting to adopt not only the surreal magical realism that is endemic to developing countries (Texas vs. One Pearl Necklace?), but a frightening Orwellian and Kafkaesque degree of absurdity. We should all be very concerned.
At least in Mexico we have equal opportunity: everybody can be a victim of the shakedown. The rich, because they're rich, and the poor because they're poor. Everybody pays. Not in the US, no siree Bob. As befits the cradle of unbridled capitalism, the rich here are left untouched, no matter their wrongdoings. It's the poor, black and brown who get shaken down the most.
Do you want to take a guess at what states are vying for the world championship in the art of the police shakedown? I'll give you a hint, it's not Vermont. Texas, Georgia, Virginia, Florida, Arizona, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C. (you know, where the Capitol is) and the underfunded police department in Detroit. By law, the loot goes directly to fund law enforcement, which is a great incentive for police departments to cast a wider net and relieve innocent people of their possessions. As for the kids I mentioned above, the notorious police ring of Tenaha, Texas, has a cash for freedom deal in which they threaten to remove your children from your care unless you give all your stuff up. A termagant called Lynda K. Russell, the racist, corrupt attorney general of Shelby County, Tx, is the one allowing the shakedowns of people to happen.

One difference between Mexico and here, is that at least here people can still find some legal recourse, even if an expert calls U.S. civil forfeiture cases, "the Guantanamo of the legal system". The article introduces several admirable lawyers that have taken up cases to help people fight this outrageous injustice.
I moved from Mexico 21 years ago thinking that I was moving from the developing world into the apex of progress and civilization. I never expected that I would feel like I was back in a third world country, or worse, but I see evidence of the US slipping into moral, economic and political decay every single day.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Sochi's Life

Tom of Finland or Vladimir Putin? You decide.
Gazillions of dollars are hanging in the balance. The Russians know this, because now that they have money to burn, they know how thoroughly it corrupts everything.
So I'm sure they are not concerned about the - so far - useless outrage over their barbaric, Nazi-like anti-homosexuality laws. Appalled citizens throughout the world may organize in outrage, as well they should, but unless governments, local Olympic teams and multinational advertisers make a stand and boycott the stupid winter games in Sochi, Putin knows that it's going to be business as usual.
I wonder how much money Russians used to grease the dirty paws of the I.O.C, a notoriously corrupt and revolting organization.
Countries with abysmal human rights abuse issues should not host the Olympic Games. Unfortunately, this would leave only Scandinavia and the Marshall Islands as contenders. President Obama may go on the Tonight Show and wag his finger, but unless he calls for a boycott of the games, he's just appeasing the outraged. Putin could care less.
He knows NBC is not going to piss away almost the $800 million dollars it paid for the rights to televise, plus millions of dollars in ads because of gay rights.
It's medieval, and gross and uncivilized, but it is bully tactics. Russia has always been a crude, merciless bully: to its satellite republics under Communism, to Jews and other ethnic minorities, and now to gays. What a dump. Still, if all else fails, I think the Olympic teams should appear at the opening and closing ceremonies wearing sparkly costumes and feathered headgear a la Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and La Cage Aux Folles. Make these the gayest games in history. Have Putin send all the athletes to the Gulag. I bet this would make that criminal psychopath happy.
In the meantime, here's a petition to transfer the games to Vancouver, so that no one loses money. The nice people of Canada to the rescue.  Add your voice.