The Americans who love their insurance

Screen-Shot-2013-05-07-at-5.21.55-PM-300x158Now that various Medicare for All proposals are being discussed, lots of insurance industry puppets opponents of universal healthcare are asking, “What about the many people in this country who love their current insurance plan? Shouldn’t they be able to keep them?” *

So… who are these people who love their insurance? I have never met any of them.

I suppose someone might think that I’m one of them. We have good insurance. We get it through my employer, and they pay for a chunk of it (though my chunk is a non-trivial though reasonable paycheck deduction). It provides good coverage.

I do appreciate my insurance. But if that’s “love,” it’s not because it brings me joy; it’s because the alternative is shit.

Here are some features of my rather good private insurance over the last few years (from several different major and well-known insurers):

  • You have to go the right places for service or it costs more. These things change. People accept some versions of their insurance but not others.
  • Periodically they will decide you have to different pharmacies or labs or else you have to pay out of network costs.
  • There are co-pays, which are apparently determined by what type of service you have gotten, the phase of the moon, and how many cheeseburgers the president ate during Executive Time that morning. Seriously, I think they’ve got a random number generator to come up with them.
  • Usually you then owe some other random amount, which you get billed for by the provider, which again is a random percentage of the total cost.
  • If you have any kind of hospital procedure (make sure you go the right hospital!) you will then get approximately eight to ten bills from various people. You will also observe weird things like “the cost of your colonoscopy is $25,000 (not a joke there) but you got the special Acme Insurance $22,500 discount, but you still owe some amount that we are going to pick while we’re having drinks after work today.”
  • Thanks to Obamacare, some of the more annoying parts are gone – like, “You changed jobs, and anything that happened before is now a pre-existing condition for which you will get no coverage for the next 6 months! Enjoy paying for your prescriptions!

And dental, of course, doesn’t have any of the protections that Obamacare brought, so I had the fun experience of my employer changing dental providers while I was in the middle of getting an implant (which, you may not know, takes months from start to finish). So I wound up not being covered because the new insurer did not pay for the removal of the bad tooth. Because that makes sense.

No. I do not love my insurance.

I appreciate that I am pretty privileged in terms of medical insurance. I am also aware that the main role my insurer plays in this is taking money, making weird decisions to take more money, and generating reams of paperwork that is mostly incomprehensible. And that the net result of this is that all my medical care costs about twice as much as it would if I were Irish or German or French. Oh, and if I lose my job I’m kind of fucked.

If we’re going to talk about “people who love their insurance,” let’s find out why they love it, compare what they love to what they would get under a Medicare for All system (in terms of coverage, cost, and experience), and actually see what that looks like.

Or, I guess, we could just bluster about socialism and bureaucracy (because the insurance industry isn’t a bureaucracy, oh no!) and scare them. That way, the insurance companies can keep getting paid.

Because that’s what US healthcare is: a giant welfare system for private corporations. We’re all paying for it, either through our premiums or through our lack of medical care.

* (Yes, there is a role for private insurance in a healthcare system that provides universal coverage from a single funding source. The UK has it – yes, that’s right, you can buy private insurance to have a gold-plated version of the National Health Service experience that provides every single person with medical care. So I’m not arguing that there isn’t a role for private insurance here. Just that the current role provides no benefit to the public.) 



Here comes Tollywood

6224c2fb90a244d600af17ae2d304bb1a9775437-tc-img-previewHappy Friday! We know Hollywood and we know Bollywood but it turns out that Hyderabad is about to become the biggest film-producing city on the planet. (Why the T in Tollywood? It’s the center of Telugu language filmmaking.)

This increasing technical competence is part of what has begun to set Tollywood apart in Indian film, exemplified by the two-part blockbuster Baahubali, filmed at Ramoji, where some of the sets remain as a tourist attraction. Baahubali: The Conclusion is the second highest-grossing Indian film in history, and both parts used visual effects (VFX) to an extent and with a complexity not previously seen in Indian film. Although a number of studios were involved, the main players were based in Hyderabad.

The Guardian mentions two factors helping Hyderbad’s film industry grow: access to a lot of software and developer talent (Hitec City is a basically a tech who’s who, with loads of European and American tech company offices), and linguistic flexibility.

Which makes me think of the people in the US who flip out when they see a Spanish sign. In Hyderbad you will see signage everywhere in Telugu, Hindi, and English, and there are lots of Indians from other parts of the country there where other languages are spoken. So there’s Hyderabad – big (it’s about to attain megacity status with a population over 10 million), chaotic, and dynamic.

I’m putting Ramoji Film City as something to see on my next trip.

Facebook: upon reflection, we decided to be even worse

faceeyeSo, how is Facebook being terrible today? It is hard to keep up, people. But this one is kind of extraordinary even by Facebook standards.

Several years ago Facebook bought a VPN company called Onavo. VPNs are awesome, although you have to be careful whose VPN service you use, because if they’re shady you’re really just giving them access to all your activity instead of accomplishing what a VPN is supposed to do – keep it private.

Now “a VPN from Facebook” mostly should provoke eye-rolling and laughter, but they do have market reach. So they started pushing Onavo. Except, um, what Onavo was actually doing was sucking up huge amounts of tracking data and giving it Facebook. I guess they were confused about what the “P” in “VPN” stood for.

Once it became clear that Onavo was basically spyware for Facebook, there was an uproar, and Apple booted them out of its app store. The end?

Of course not. Facebook’s brilliant idea for this – hey, let’s sneak it into phones under another name, and pay teenagers to use it so we can watch them! Maybe Sheryl & Zuck came up with this in one of their reflection sessions.

Techcrunch has the ugly details.

We asked Guardian Mobile Firewall’s security expert Will Strafach to dig into the Facebook Research app, and he told us that “If Facebook makes full use of the level of access they are given by asking users to install the Certificate, they will have the ability to continuously collect the following types of data: private messages in social media apps, chats from in instant messaging apps – including photos/videos sent to others, emails, web searches, web browsing activity, and even ongoing location information by tapping into the feeds of any location tracking apps you may have installed.” It’s unclear exactly what data Facebook is concerned with, but it gets nearly limitless access to a user’s device once they install the app.

Facebook seems to have purposefully avoided TestFlight, Apple’s official beta testing system, which requires apps to be reviewed by Apple and is limited to 10,000 participants. Instead, the instruction manual reveals that users download the app from and are told to install an Enterprise Developer Certificate and VPN and “Trust” Facebook with root access to the data their phone transmits. Apple requires that developers agree to only use this certificate system for distributing internal corporate apps to their own employees. Randomly recruiting testers and paying them a monthly fee appears to violate the spirit of that rule.

It’s just a fucking mess. Facebook killed the program, along with some huffing about how unfair it was. And Apple, to its credit, invalidated Facebook’s enterprise developer certificates, causing them a ton of headaches. Good.

Facebook is not the only company whose actions raise privacy concerns… but they are unique in their willingness to be utterly shady, lie to users, and make protecting one’s privacy as difficult as possible. They are just bad news all around.

You don’t need it as much as you think you do, and if you stop using it, you make it marginally less valuable to everyone else. Don’t participate in it.

Lost letters

thornQuartz writes about six letters dropped from the English alphabet: eth (ð), thorn (þ), wynn (ƿ), yogh (ȝ), ash (æ), and ethel (œ). Read the article for the fun history of “ye olde,” which we’ve all been pronouncing wrong while visiting vile tourist-trap areas of old cities.

I say, let’s bring them back. They’re pretty and have actual uses (except maybe yogh) and what the hell, English is already a confusing mishmash of things from all over the place, so why not make it a little more so?