Follow by Email

Monday, April 14, 2014

ACT NOW!!

Climate Panel Stunner: Avoiding Climate Catastrophe Is Super Cheap — But Only If We Act Now

Humanity’s choice (via IPCC): Aggressive climate action ASAP (left figure) minimizes future warming. Continued inaction (right figure) results in catastrophic levels of warming, 9°F over much of U.S. The latest IPCC report finds the annual cost of avoiding that catastrophe is a mere 0.06% of annual growth.The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just issued its third of four planned reports. This one is on “mitigation” — “human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases.”
"So we’re talking annual growth of, say 2.24% rather than 2.30% to save billions and billions of people from needless suffering for decades if not centuries."
The first two reports laid out humanity’s choice as depicted in the figure above, which appeared in both reports. The first report warned that continued inaction would lead to 9°F warming (or higher) for most of the U.S. and Northern Hemisphere landmass, resulting in faster sea level rise, more extreme weather, and collapse of the permafrost sink, which would further accelerate warming. Thesecond report warned that this in turn would lead to a “breakdown of food systems,” more violent conflicts, and ultimately threaten to make some currently habited and arable land virtually unlivable for parts of the year.
Now you might think it would be a no-brainer that humanity would be willing to pay a very highcost to avoid such catastrophes and achieve the low emission “2°C” (3.6°F) pathway in the left figure above (RCP2.6 — which is a total greenhouse gas level in 2100 equivalent to roughly 450 parts per million of CO2). But the third report finds that the “cost” of doing so is to reduce the median annual growth of consumption over this century by a mere 0.06%.
You read that right, the annual growth loss to preserve a livable climate is 0.06% — and that’s “relative to annualized consumption growth in the baseline that is between 1.6% and 3% per year.” So we’re talking annual growth of, say 2.24% rather than 2.30% to save billions and billions of people from needless suffering for decades if not centuries. As always, every word of the report was signed off on by every major government in the world.
Mitigation costs for 450 ppm
Global mitigation costs for stabilization at a level “likely” to stay below 2°C (3.6°F). Cost estimates shown in this table do not consider the benefits of reduced climate change as well as co-benefits of mitigation. The green columns show the consumption loss in the years 2030, 2050, and 2100 relative to a baseline development without climate policy. The light green column shows that the annualized consumption growth reduction over the century is 0.06%. Source: IPCC 2014.
Moreover, this does not even count the economic benefit of avoiding climate catastrophe. Afew years ago, scientists calculated that benefit as having a net present value of $615 to $830trillion. That means our current do-nothing plan is actually far, far costlier than aggressive climate mitigation.
And the IPCC warns “Delaying is estimated to … substantially increase the difficulty of the transition to low, longer-term emissions levels and narrow the range of options consistent with maintaining temperature change below 2 degrees C.”
These are not new findings. In its previous Fourth Assessment (AR4) in 2007, the IPCC found the cost of stabilizing at 445 ppm CO2-eq corresponded to “slowing average annual global GDP growth by less than 0.12 percentage points.”
These conclusions should not be a surprise since they are based on a review of the literature — and every major independent study has found a remarkably low net cost for climate action — and a high cost for delay. Back in 2011, the International Energy Agency warned “Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.”
As German economist Ottmar Edenhofer, a co-chair of the IPCC committee that wrote the new report, put it, “We cannot afford to lose another decade. If we lose another decade, it becomes extremely costly to achieve climate stabilization.”
The new IPCC report notes that renewable energy (RE) technologies have advanced substantially since 2007:
Since AR4, many RE technologies have demonstrated substantial performance improvements and cost reductions, and a growing number of RE technologies have achieved a level of maturity to enable deployment at significant scale (robust evidence, high agreement). Regarding electricity generation alone, RE accounted for just over half of the new electricity generating capacity added globally in 2012, led by growth in wind, hydro and solar power.
The IPCC notes, “In the majority of low stabilization scenarios, the share of low carbon electricity supply [RE, nuclear, and carbon capture] increases from the current share of approximately 30% to more than 80% by 2050.” That kind of rapid growth in near-zero-carbon energy over the next 3 1/2 decades leaves very little room for any new fossil fuel generation. The IPCC asserts that natural gas can act as a short-term bridge fuel if “the fugitive emissions associated with extraction and supply are low or mitigated” — which multiple recent studies make clear is not currently the case (see “By The Time Natural Gas Has A Net Climate Benefit You’ll Likely Be Dead And The Climate Ruined“).
In the scenario that gives us the best chance of avoiding catastrophe, stabilizing at 450 ppm CO2-eq by 2100, natural gas power generation must peak and fall “to below current levels by 2050″ — and decline further post-2050. So the world is already using more natural gas than it can safely afford to be using in just 36 years.
One final interesting factoid in the report that reveals just how stunning the increase in global emissions have been since 1970:
In 1970, cumulative CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, cement production and flaring since 1750 were 420±35 Gt [billion metric tons] CO2; in 2010, that cumulative total had tripled to 1300 ±110 Gt CO2.
The world has emitted more than twice the industrial CO2 emissions since 1970 as we did from the start of the Industrial Revolution through 1970. That is especially sobering because lags in the climate system mean we’re only now experiencing the temperature and climate changes from CO2 levels of a couple decades ago. The time to act is now.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

AC CASINOS DOWN 35% in 2013 !!


English: A view of the Atlantic City Boardwalk...
English: A view of the Atlantic City Boardwalk from the Tropicana Casino Hotel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The  headline in the AC Press yesterday. Atlantic City's Casinos down 35% in 2013 from 2012! The slide into oblivion continues for its 7th straight yr. for AC's Casino Industry. What happened to the Governor's great rescue plan for AC? He was to take over we were told and all would be well or at least that's what  his local fan club was shouting just a few yrs. ago. What excuse  for him will they drag out now? The truth is Gov. CRISCO's actual intentions for AC were always just the opposite. That's why he's been threatening to make gaming a Statewide affair if we didn't somehow get ourselves going again. What happened to his part in that? How did his promise to help somehow morph into a threat to destroy us if we didn't pull off some kind of miracle? What a joke the man is. The Bully is now in our face, whose surprised.  Anyway, the sad truth is someone is DOING AC alright but, not the way the stupid ass slogan says. DO us up is more like how its said on the street. 35% drop in revenue in 1 yr. folks!! Maybe its time to get a new promotional slogan and a new group to promote us as well. The so called AC alliance has done a dismal job these last yrs. To be blunt they don't know what the F*CK their doing. Go back to NYC already and let us be!! The reality is that gaming as the core of our economy here is game over! As for a future path for AC I leave that to the next generation to figure out. Maybe the new leadership in AC should get together a council of young people locally and ask them what they think is a better way forward. They can't do much worse then the so called experts have done these past 7 yrs. 35% drop in 1 yr. LOL !! What  a joke. Pathetic is the only word that comes to mind.

"Matt Levinson, chairman of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, said receipts from the luxury tax, hotel tax, tourism tax and sales tax hit record highs last year.
"These numbers show that Atlantic City's casinos are continuing to broaden their appeal and the casino industry's focus on developing non-gaming amenities is clearly bearing fruit," he said."
I only have this to say to Mr. Levinson, tell the thousands of laid off Casino/Hotel workers that  Sir. You can start by telling the ex-employees of the Atlantic Club. For them its bitter fruit!
Unfortunately, the reality is failure only seems to effect the staffs, not the upper managements of these places, nor the groups like the CCC and the CRDA etc., people like Matt don't seem to have to worry about losing their jobs, no matter how poorly things turn out. Ever ask yourselves why that is? 
Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, April 07, 2014

ITS VIOLENCE

Call Climate Change What It Is: Violence

Social unrest and famine, superstorms and droughts. Places, species and human beings – none will be spared. Welcome to Occupy Earth

Will our age of climate change also be an era of civil and international conflict? (Photograph: Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters)If you're poor, the only way you're likely to injure someone is the old traditional way: artisanal violence, we could call it – by hands, by knife, by club, or maybe modern hands-on violence, by gun or by car.
But if you're tremendously wealthy, you can practice industrial-scale violence without any manual labor on your own part. You can, say, build a sweatshop factory that will collapse in Bangladesh and kill more people than any hands-on mass murderer ever did, or you can calculate risk and benefit about putting poisons or unsafe machines into the world, as manufacturers do every day. If you're the leader of a country, you can declare war and kill by the hundreds of thousands or millions. And the nuclear superpowers – the US and Russia – still hold the option of destroying quite a lot of life on Earth.
So do the carbon barons. But when we talk about violence, we almost always talk about violence from below, not above.
Or so I thought when I received a press release last week from a climate group announcing that "scientists say there is a direct link between changing climate and an increase in violence". What the scientists actually said, in a not-so-newsworthy article in Nature two and a half years ago, is that there is higher conflict in the tropics in El Nino years, and that perhaps this will scale up to make our age of climate change also an era of civil and international conflict.
The message is that ordinary people will behave badly in an era of intensified climate change.
All this makes sense, unless you go back to the premise and note that climate change is itself violence. Extreme, horrific, longterm, widespread violence.
Climate change is anthropogenic – caused by human beings, some much more than others. We know the consequences of that change: the acidification of oceans and decline of many species in them, the slow disappearance of island nations such as the Maldives, increased flooding, drought, crop failure leading to food-price increases and famine, increasingly turbulent weather. (Think Hurricane Sandy and the recent typhoon in the Philippines, and heat waves that kill elderly people by the tens of thousands.)
Climate change is violence.
So if we want to talk about violence and climate change – and we are talking about it, afterlast week's horrifying report from the world's top climate scientists – then let's talk about climate change as violence. Rather than worrying about whether ordinary human beings will react turbulently to the destruction of the very means of their survival, let's worry about that destruction – and their survival. Of course water failure, crop failure, flooding and more will lead to mass migration and climate refugees – they already have – and this will lead to conflict. Those conflicts are being set in motion now.
You can regard the Arab Spring, in part, as a climate conflict: the increase in wheat priceswas one of the triggers for that series of revolts that changed the face of northernmost Africa and the Middle East. On the one hand, you can say, how nice if those people had not been hungry in the first place. On the other, how can you not say, how great is it that those people stood up against being deprived of sustenance and hope? And then you have to look at the systems that created that hunger - the enormous economic inequalities in places such as Egypt and the brutality used to keep down the people at the lower levels of the social system, as well as the weather.
People revolt when their lives are unbearable. Sometimes material reality creates that unbearableness: droughts, plagues, storms, floods. But food and medical care, health and well-being, access to housing and education – these things are also governed by economic means and government policy. That's what the revolt called Occupy Wall Street was against.
Climate change will increase hunger as food prices rise and food production falters, but we already have widespread hunger on Earth, and much of it is due not to the failures of nature and farmers, but to systems of distribution. Almost 16m children in the United States now live with hunger, according to the US Department of Agriculture, and that is not because the vast, agriculturally rich United States cannot produce enough to feed all of us. We are a country whose distribution system is itself a kind of violence.
Climate change is not suddenly bringing about an era of equitable distribution. I suspect people will be revolting in the coming future against what they revolted against in the past: the injustices of the system. They should revolt, and we should be glad they do, if not that they need to (though hope they will recognize that violence is not necessarily where their power lies). One of the events prompting the French Revolution was the failure of the 1788 wheat crop, which made bread prices skyrocket and the poor go hungry. The insurance against such events is often thought to be more authoritarianism and more threats against the poor, but that's only an attempt to keep a lid on what's boiling over; the other way to go is to turn down the heat.
The same week during which I received that ill-thought-out press release about climate and violence, Exxon Mobil Corporation issued a policy report. It makes for boring reading, unless you can make the dry language of business into pictures of the consequences of those acts undertaken for profit. Exxon says:
We are confident that none of our hydrocarbon reserves are now or will become 'stranded'. We believe producing these assets is essential to meeting growing energy demand worldwide.
Stranded assets that mean carbon assets – coal, oil, gas still underground – would become worthless if we decided they could not be extracted and burned in the near future. Because scientists say that we need to leave most of the world's known carbon reserves in the ground if we are to go for the milder rather than the more extreme versions of climate change. Under the milder version, countless more people – species, places – will survive. In the best-case scenario, we damage the Earth less. We are currently wrangling about how much to devastate the Earth.
In every arena, we need to look at industrial-scale and systemic violence, not just the hands-on violence of the less powerful. When it comes to climate change, this is particularly true. Exxon has decided to bet that we can't make the corporation keep its reserves in the ground, and the company is reassuring its investors that it will continue to profit off the rapid, violent and intentional destruction of the Earth.
That's a tired phrase, the destruction of the Earth, but translate it into the face of a starving child and a barren field – and then multiply that a few million times. Or just picture the tiny bivalves: scallops, oysters, Arctic sea snails that can't form shells in acidifying oceans right now. Or another superstorm tearing apart another city. Climate change is global-scale violence, against places and species as well as against human beings. Once we call it by name, we can start having a real conversation about our priorities and values. Because the revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides that brutality.

Friday, April 04, 2014

THE SUPREME S DO IT AGAIN!!

McCutcheon, and the Vicious Cycle of Concentrated Wealth and Political Power

If wealth and income weren’t already so concentrated in the hands of a few, the shameful “McCutcheon” decision by the five Republican appointees to the Supreme Court wouldn’t be as dangerous. But by taking “Citizen’s United” one step further and effectively eviscerating campaign finance laws, the Court has issued an invitation to oligarchy.(Photo: Public Citizen / cc / flickr)
Almost limitless political donations coupled with America’s dramatically widening inequality create a vicious cycle in which the wealthy buy votes that lower their taxes, give them bailouts and subsidies, and deregulate their businesses – thereby making them even wealthier and capable of buying even more votes. Corruption breeds more corruption.
That the richest four hundred Americans now have more wealth than the poorest 150 million Americans put together, the wealthiest 1 percent own over 35 percent of the nation’s private assets, and 95 percent of all the economic gains since the start of the recovery in 2009 have gone to the top 1 percent — all of this is cause for worry, and not just because it means the middle class lacks the purchasing power necessary to get the economy out of first gear.
It is also worrisome because such great concentrations of wealth so readily compound themselves through politics, rigging the game in their favor and against everyone else. “McCutcheon” merely accelerates this vicious cycle.
As Thomas Piketty shows in his monumental “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” this was the pattern in advanced economies through much of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. And it is coming to be the pattern once again.
Picketty is pessimistic that much can be done to reverse it (his sweeping economic data suggest that slow growth will almost automatically concentrate great wealth in a relatively few hands). But he disregards the political upheavals and reforms that such wealth concentrations often inspire — such as America’s populist revolts of the 1890s followed by the progressive era, or the German socialist movement in the 1870s followed by Otto von Bismarck’s creation of the first welfare state.
In America of the late nineteenth century, the lackeys of robber barons literally deposited sacks of money on the desks of pliant legislators, prompting the great jurist Louis Brandeis to note that the nation had a choice: “We can have a democracy or we can have great wealth in the hands of a few,” he said. “But we cannot have both.”
Soon thereafter America made the choice. Public outrage gave birth to the nation’s first campaign finance laws, along with the first progressive income tax. The trusts were broken up and regulations imposed to bar impure food and drugs. Several states enacted America’s first labor protections, including the 40-hour workweek.
The question is when do we reach another tipping point, and what happens then?  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

THE FIFTH IPCC SPECIAL REPORT ON CLIMATE

Scientists Gather to Finalize Dire Warning for Planet's Climate Future

World's scientists meet in Japan to complete summary of report that paints bleak future if climate inaction continues

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer
Sunset on the Arctic (Kathryn Hansen/ NASA Goddard Photo / Creative Commons license)The world's leading climate scientists gathered in Japan on Tuesday to begin hashing out the final details of a "grim" climate report, which both leaked drafts and those familiar with its contents say will call on policy makers to take immediate action or face a climate future that will otherwise be marked by widespread ecological and human catastrophe.
Of those harsh challenges, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report—according to a draft version of the leaked earlier this year— will show that the four degrees Celsius rise that we are currently careening towards will undoubtedly cause increasing natural disasters, including: more violent storms, forest fires, devastating droughts, flooding, widespread hunger, disease, and a rise in ocean levels by up to a meter.
However, as Kaisa Kosonen explains on the Greenpeace blog Tuesday, the difference in their latest report from previous work by the IPCC and other similar warnings from the global scientific community is its emphasis on the stark "choice" now before humanity.
This latest message from the IPCC, Kosonen writes, is that people—both inside and outside of government— either "reduce and manage the risks ahead and do what’s needed to keep warming as far below 2 degrees Celsius as possible, or we continue to do too little too late, drifting from crisis to crisis and on towards a disastrous 4 degrees world."
"The IPCC will paint a picture of both these possible futures," Kosonen notes.
Over the course of this week the scientists will be finalizing a summary of the 2,000 page report directed at policy makers. The report and summary will be released Monday, March 31, following the week-long summit.
"I think everybody who works on the climate issue understands that climate change is truly one of the defining challenges of the 21st century," Chris Field, of the U.S.-based Carnegie Institution for Science, told the event's opening ceremony on Tuesday. However, said Field, the IPCC is "uniquely positioned" to enable policymakers to "deal effectively, robustly and optimistically with challenges for the future."
The IPCC report is the second installment of the group's Fifth Assessment Report—a four year project that has combined the work of thousands of scientists around the world.
The first installment, released in September, said warming in the climate system is "unequivocal" and the cause of current and future weather-related catastrophes.
"Today we are in a situation where governments have promised to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius but are heading instead towards a 4 degree world," writes Kosonen. "They are neither preparing for a 2 degree nor a 4 degree world, trying to ignore the megatrend of climate change."
"Will we continue drifting from one disaster to another, or will we take control of our future?"she asks. "We're at a crossroads and the choices we make now will determine how history judges us."
______________________

Monday, March 10, 2014

ANOTHER SHOE FALLS - THE RECENT NJ AG LETTER TO MARGATE MAYOR BECKER

Logo of the Attorney General's Office.

  Copied below is an official letter sent from the State of NJ Attorney General's Office to Mayor Becker dated Feb. 26th 2014.
It basically reads as a demand for Margate's immediate surrender and acquiescence to what amounts to a State take over of our beaches. In it  the AG ( acting on the behest of THE GOV.) makes it perfectly clear what he expects from Margate and when. No hint of compromise, no attempt to soften  their demands. Nothing, but a rather absurdly weak claim that the Project is meant to provide a level of personal safety for Margate's citizens and that they should be grateful about it. Of course the reality is that during Hurricane Sandy no one in Margate died or was injured. Nor was there much property damage along the beachfront.






    
  
SO WHAT'S NEXT ?

I imagine next up will be the over turning of the 2001 Margate "Dunes" Ordinance requiring a vote to join any "Dunes" project. I'd  expected they'd do just that right after Sandy, as  Longport's Mayor's Russo had done.  In fact, in a blog back then, I'd  even urged them to do just that if they wanted to join "the Project."  As I remember, my reasoning back then was by doing so  they'd probably be saving Margate a long drawn out and almost certainly divisive election ordeal.  Too bad for Taube , Abbott and Becker they hadn't had the Gov.'s edict back in August of last year. If that had been the case, my guess is it would have been highly unlikely we'd have ever had an election last fall. By the time it had been issued ( Sept. 25th 2013) though, the election wheels were already grinding forward.   Doesn't seem to matter now anyway, because it seems whatever the locals  wanted , it wasn't going to get in the way of that $ 20 mil., being handed out.   So, my guess is by this summer the local 2001 law will be gone and Becker and Taube will be discussing how to  hand over the city easements, as well as any other city assets the invaders might request.  From here on, its all going to be a staged and scripted theater folks, pay it no mind. All that will matter to these people going forward is that the $20 mil. in Federal MONEY starts flowing to the right people's bank accounts. The rest is just process and theater, nothing more. 

THE POLITICS OF SURRENDER

The biggest problem any existing leadership has during an INVASION, is not pissing off the invaders too much, while at the same time not looking to obsequious to them as well.  With elections in the spring of 2015, if Becker and Taube want another term, they'll have to somehow turn around this ugly invasion and  rape of our cityscape by OUTSIDERS, aided and abetted by a fifth column ( themselves.)  Personally, I doubt its going to escape the attention of the voters in the spring ( 2015) that they've failed the most important test of any leadership ( defense of their constituents property and rights.) That spring , if the unwanted Project is there before the election,  people are going to be looking at that new wall of sand and those huge walkovers they will be dragging themselves and their families over, and they're NOT going to be happy as they walk into the voting booth once again. ( The last time being when they voted down the same Project in 2013.)  Hopefully, in that election, the only  directions they'll be giving to Commissioner Taube and Mayor Becker will be, is to go away.  It would be as City Solicitor Abbott might say, the expedient thing for them to do under the circumstances.



Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, March 07, 2014

WORSE THEN THE MOB

Worse Than the Mob: The Insurance Industry Is Organized Crime
by William Rivers Pitt | March 7, 2014 - 11:55am
— from Truthout
We got accountants playin' God
and countin' out the pills
Yeah, I know, that sucks - that your HMO
Ain't doin' what you thought it would do
But everybody's gotta die sometime...

— Steve Earle
Nothing so thoroughly dominated the American political landscape over the last year more than the Republican assault on the Affordable Care Act, colloquially known now as "Obamacare." The GOP's eternal refrain that "Government is the problem" was used as a battering ram against the law, and House Republicans have voted to repeal or denude it exactly fifty times as of today. Ted Cruz and his cohort of wreckers shut down the government over it, and the Tea Party base broke out their Sharpies to make gloriously stupid protest signsthat read "Government Keep Your Hands Off My Medicare."
Amusing as all this was, the dark underbelly of it all is dangerously wrong. Yes, the ACA exchange website rollout was a train wreck, and yes, a small segment of the population has had problems with the new law. This is not in dispute. Websites can be fixed, however, and problems can be solved. None of this holds a candle to the awesome misery and financial pain inflicted upon the populace by the holy and sainted world of private business, known in this instance as the insurance industry.
My own saga with these broad-daylight thieves began in late summer, when I moved my family to New Hampshire. We were living in Boston before the move, and had health insurance through my wife's employer. My wife has Multiple Sclerosis, and one of the big reasons we felt comfortable about moving was that, if she changed jobs after the move, she could not be denied health insurance due to her pre-existing condition, thanks to the ACA.
We made the move, and my wife's employer transferred her to their location in Concord, more than an hour's drive away from our new home. She worked full-time to keep the health insurance, but after three months of ten-hour days combined with almost three hours on the road getting to and from work, it became clear that the situation was untenable. She was exhausted all the time - fatigue is the #1 danger zone for people with MS; it leaves you wide open for an attack - and worse, she felt like she was missing out on raising our daughter because she was gone more than thirteen hours a day.
On top of that, winter was coming, and the last thing she wanted to deal with was driving one-lane roads at night in a snowstorm, which would have happened more than a dozen times given the severity of this winter. After careful consideration, she asked her employer to transfer her to a location only 20 minutes away from home. The price of that transfer: going from full-time to part-time, and losing our insurance.
We looked into the insurance available through my employer, but came to the conclusion - based on the information provided on the Healthcare.gov website - that going through the exchange was our best option. So we went to the website, and shopped for new insurance. The website was klunky, to be sure, but when I reached a point where it didn't seem to be making sense any more, I called the 800-number provided and spent a couple of hours talking to a tremendously nice woman with a near-parody Wisconsin accent - "Ooh yah, dearie me" - who was amazingly helpful, and got me the rest of the way through the process. Given the fact of my wife's MS, our process was particularly complicated, and this person did everything necessary to make sure we were taken care of.
That's when my dealings with the government ended, and my dealings with the insurance industry began, and it has been downhill at speed ever since.
There is exactly one insurance company in New Hampshire peddling plans through the ACA: Anthem BlueCross BlueShield. After completing the enrollment process through the exchange, the next step was to deal directly with Anthem, which quickly came to be about as fruitful as trying to batter down a brick wall with my daughter's teething ring. First it was two weeks of phone calls, involving serial hours listening to on-hold music that could easily have come straight out of a bad porn movie soundtrack, just to establish that Anthem actually recognized Multiple Sclerosis as a real disease. Then it was another week of porn-flick hold-music to get a straight answer on the location and availability of MS doctors that were "in the network," and thus covered.
Every phone call yielded a different set of answers, a different phone number to call, which invariably led nowhere. The calls that finally yielded answers and useful information felt like luck-of-the-draw; we either got someone on the line who actually felt like working that day, or were simply fortunate that the person we spoke to actually picked the correct answer off their sheet of go-away pat responses. In the end, all of this took so long that we wound up shelling out nearly a thousand dollars to get COBRA coverage from my wife's employer, just to make sure we had something over our heads. Finally, after almost a month of nonsense, we managed to get everything squared away, I cut Anthem a check, and we received insurance cards in the mail.
All was quiet for a while, until the beginning of last week, when my wife's MS medication began to run low. Previously, and with no hassles, the process to acquire a refill for her prescription was to call the company that makes her medicine about a week before it ran out, place an order for a refill, and it would be delivered two days later. When we called the drug company at the beginning of last week, however, we hit a great big pothole: they could not do the refill until our new insurance company approved it.
My wife contacted Anthem a month ago to clear the way for this approval process. They required a statement from her neurologist in order for the prescription to be approved. That statement was acquired, and sent to Anthem, a month ago. According to every conversation we had with Anthem this week, however, the statement from her neurologist did not exist, and the process had to begin again from scratch.
And so it was phone calls to Anthem, and more phone calls, and hold music - between the two of us, my wife and I have logged enough hours on hold to fly to Neptune and back - and one answer with one phone call once we finally got someone on the line, another answer with another phone call once we finally got someone on the line, and all the while my wife's stock of MS medicine dwindled, and dwindled, and dwindled.
Last Wednesday, fearing the worst, my wife began rationing her medicine: one dose a day instead of two. We made this very clear to the people at Anthem - I HAVE MS AND AM ALMOST OUT OF MEDICINE - but still, it was "Call this number" that went nowhere, "Call that number" that went nowhere, one answer, and then another, no two ever the same, the awful infinity of hold music, and then oops, we accidentally inverted the numbers on your prescription, we have to start over again, we will call you back, and then silence, and silence, and silence.
For those not in the know, Multiple Sclerosis is an auto-immune disease that causes the body's own immune system to attack the brain. Think of the neurons in your brain as if they were stereo cables: copper wiring encased in a rubber sheath. With MS, the immune system chews through that rubber sheath and attacks the wiring, destroying it. The damage done is irreversible, and in the worst case can cause paralysis, blindness, weakness, loss of motor function in arms and legs, an inability to swallow, and permanent disabling pain. It is a filthy, wretched disease that does not even have the common decency to kill you after it is done torturing you; it leaves that to the other diseases that come galloping through the door after your body has been destroyed. The only thing keeping the beast at bay is my wife's medication. When she has it, she is fine and strong, able to work and hold her child, able to live a normal life. When she does not have it, she is hedging Hell.
This was the cocked pistol at my wife's head as we tried and failed all week to get Anthem to approve her prescription refill.
By Friday morning, we were frantic; she had one dose left, her MS symptoms were escalating rapidly because she had been rationing her medication for days, and if we didn't get it done today, there could be no Saturday delivery of the medication, and we would be stuck with no medicine until after the weekend, and likely into the middle of the next week, if not beyond. Repeated calls to Anthem resulted in the same lather-rinse-repeat runaround, so in extremis, we reached out to her neurologist in Boston to see if he could help.
My wife's neurologist is one of the best MS specialists in the city of Boston, which makes him one of the best MS specialists on the planet. He was appalled and astonished by what we had been dealing with, and took it upon himself to deal with Anthem himself...and after five hours on the phone with them, getting one different answer after another, he was finally told that approval for my wife's medication had to be put before a review board, and would take at least 72 hours, and it wouldn't happen until Monday at the earliest. In all the phone calls we'd made to Anthem regarding this prescription, not one person had told us about a review board. One of the best neurologists in practice was forced to surrender.
As a last-ditch Hail-Mary option, my wife's neurologist told us to call the drug company directly; in extreme circumstances like ours, a lot of pharmaceutical companies will provide enough medication at no cost to serve as a bridge until a prescription is approved...but by then, it was after 5:00 p.m. on Friday, and when we called the company, we discovered they were closed for the weekend. It was over. My wife took no medicine on Saturday, and took her last remaining dose on Sunday night. She has not been on her medication since.
On Monday morning, a phone call to the drug company yielded immediate results: a month's worth of medication was coming, and should arrive soon. Still, when my wife goes for her annual MRI, I expect to see a new brain lesion on the print-out of the scan, caused by this gap in her course of medication. We will name it "Anthem," in honor of all the people who worked so diligently to make sure she could not get her medicine.
As of this writing on Wednesday night, we still have heard no word from Anthem as to the status of their suddenly-revealed approval process for my wife's medication.
I believe down to my bones that what we have endured at the hands of these cretins has been entirely deliberate. No amount of incompetence or laziness can account for the appalling lack of response, the runaround, and the sudden appearance of this "approval process," we have gotten from Anthem. They do not want to co-pay for my wife's medication or for her disease in general, and are doing everything they can to avoid it. Period, end of file.
If you think this is a unique situation, a one-off that does not represent the general experience people have with the insurance industry, think again. I made mention of our situation on social media, and the testimonials I received in response were both astonishing and harrowing:
S.L.: As someone who worked for a big, local health insurance company, I can tell you that this sort of thing happens a LOT. And it's one of the reasons I didn't last too long, at that job. I felt like the biggest piece of poo, for having to follow "company guidelines" that royally screwed people over. I'd rather scrub toilets than to ever work in the health insurance field again.
J.R.: I have rheumatoid arthritis and have had nothing but hassles with BCBS denying coverage for blood work and medicines. In fact, I was on the Arkansas Risk Pool because I have a "pre-existing condition" and no other health insurance company would take me. But now that very same Risk Pool is not going to pay my office visits and labs from last year because...(wait for it) I have a pre-existing condition! Fuck all of them. I am sick of being punished for my chronic condition.
R.M.: As a mental health professional I'm convinced insurance companies will do ANYTHING to delay or avoid payment. Michael Moore understood that years back, providers bang heads against walls and get scared shitless we'll be caught up in the outcomes of reckless disregard for what patients desperately need, and it's the love of profit, pure and simple. The history of "insurance" in its many forms is book-worthy, from the black and poor families who used to save every penny for when the insurance man came around, often just so they'd get buried without ruining their families, to the people who literally sit and go over dental x-rays and challenge whether you really need that more expensive treatment when they've never laid eyes on you, to the many people who have been in your wife's situation.
T.R.: Similar thing happening here with my lead-poisoned kiddo - waiting 4 months - sick 11 year old misses 9 weeks of school - waiting to see a specialist because he "isn't in enough pain to expedite" and he can't eat or breathe without pain - we finally get in to specialist on Wednesday (Pediatric GI) and she said - and I quote " I don't even need to examine him really - I've reviewed all the paperwork" WTF - sending us away with a referral to a pain clinic! Fuck - an 11 year old needs to be in debilitating pain for four months so he can see an idiot who refers him to a pain clinic !!!
G.S.: Our insurance company did the same thing with my migraine medicine, zomig. Told me I could only have 6 pills a month- which is awesome when your migraines come in clusters, multiple times a day, weeks on end. We ended up having to pay hundreds of dollars to get them. Doctor even called in an override to no avail.
K.B.: I have stories, many of them from my husband's last 6 months of life in hospitals, or the ten years before as he slowly became more ill each year. What killed him? Mostly incompetence or willful disregard. Steve had been in the hospital since April 5 for a surgery to remove an aneurism that had been allowed to grow to nearly 23% of his body mass. A man that was 6'4" and right at 225 pounds. On his birthday (June 10th) he was about 145 lbs unable to walk at all without two people holding him.
T.S.: Once, when the firm changed plans, I found that my insulin pens were covered by the new one, but the syringe tops were not. The pens are sitting there full of medicine, but you must tap the pen with a syringe top to get at it, obviously. These needle are fairly expensive, and as an item that must be changed for every shot, I could go through 6-10 a day. Of course I spent weeks on this, and ultimately someone approved my claim, seeing the obvious problem. But I always thought it was a deliberate bottom-line choice to begin with, and that I was lucky to get a fix at all.
A.S.: I had a wrangle with United Health Care last year over a denied claim. I had had an echocardiogram to determine if high blood pressure was causing damage to my heart, a procedure covered for that purpose. However, the code submitted by the provider's office indicated that the echo was done to DIAGNOSE high blood pressure, for which it is not covered.
M.S.: You'll never hear me say a good word about any health insurance company, not after the one I had in 2001 decided that the only kind of chemo they would pay for is one that gave me congestive heart failure seven years later.
L.S.: I got out of the hospital yesterday and did the pharmacy drive thru for my pain control script on the way home. Had to pay for it out of my own pocket because of some screw up at the insurance company. It is fucking Sat. morning and I have just been released after a few days in the hospital trying to stop an internal bleed someplace around my spleen. Trust me when I say pain control was not an optional thing. I paid the man for those drugs and cussed while I did it.
K.F.: Humana screwed me over by first denying coverage for emergency surgery (because I had not asked Mother May I & instead relied on a doctor telling me I needed surgery--silly me), then covering the expenses after I made a ruckus, then a YEAR LATER, deciding on their own that they didn't have to pay after all, resulting in me getting calls from a collection agency threatening all kinds of nasty stuff.
L.D.K.: I had Aetna tell me they wouldn't pay for an anti-fungal prescription for my toenail fungus......after multiple appeals and proof (biopsy results) that only this certain (expensive) medication would be affective in curing it.....but that they WOULD PAY to have all my toenails SURGICALLY REMOVED!
I.B.: Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare canceled my prescription for Provigil when I lost my job. They said that since I no longer "do productive work," I no longer needed a medication that prevented me from sleeping all day. My doctor had to write them a letter explaining that without the medication, I wouldn't be able to SEEK productive work, let alone ever HAVE productive work. We eventually got them to reinstate the prescription, but it took a couple months.
S.C.: My health insurance company tried to refuse to cover the brand of ADHD medication I need and force me to use one that contains a dye I'm allergic to.
A.W.: My dad's been a doctor for 40+ years. From talking with him, the growing bureaucracy and endless paperwork that has come to typify interactions with the insurance companies makes actually doing the job of caring for the sick increasingly difficult. He also knows a few doctors who were charged with insurance fraud, for lying to the insurers in order to get patients the treatment they needed.
I could share a hundred more similar stories. The pattern is self-evident.
One person who wrote to me asked the pertinent question: why, given all the new customers the ACA will be funneling to the insurance companies, would the industry be so intransigent in its resistance to the law? Why would they keep deliberately screwing people even though their balance sheet is being flooded with new paying customers? The answer, I believe, lies in an article I wrote back in November:
According to the American Medical Association, more than 81 million people currently suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 11 million people currently suffer from some form of cancer.
According to the American Diabetes Association, almost 24 million people currently suffer from diabetes; the Centers for Disease Control estimate that half of all Americans could suffer from the disease by the year 2050.
The Centers for Disease Control estimate that some 50 million Americans suffer from arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or lupus, 21 million of whom are disabled due to the condition.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, more than five million Americans are currently afflicted with Alzheimer's disease, a number that will shortly spike as our Boomer population grows older.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, some 400,000 Americans currently suffer from MS.
According to the National Parkinson's Foundation, between 50,000 and 60,000 new cases of Parkinson's are diagnosed in America each year.
The CDC estimates that close to a million people a year become infected with herpes.
More than a million Americans are infected with AIDS.
Some 79 million Americans are infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV), a disease that causes cancer in both women and men.
That, right there, is more than half the country.
That, right there, is the reason. Whatever other flaws may exist within the ACA, the one aspect of it that is a perfect good is the law's mandate against people with pre-existing conditions being denied coverage, or getting wildly over-charged because of their condition. Before the law's passage, this pool of customers - more than half the country, by the numbers - represented the insurance industry's main cash cow, their profit engine...and when the ACA became law, they lost that, and are now seeking to make up the profit gap wherever and however they can.
The ban on insurance companies denying coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, or over-charging for that coverage, is comparable to telling the Mafia they can no longer take kick-backs from the businesses under their "protection." In the movie Goodfellas, the main character, Henry Hill, succinctly lays out the Mob's business philosophy regarding those who are struggling to make ends meet:
"Business bad? Fuck you, pay me. Oh, you had a fire? Fuck you, pay me. Place got hit by lightning, huh? Fuck you, pay me."
In other words, they're going to get paid one way or the other. If the insurance industry can't screw you by charging triple rates for your pre-existing condition, they will get their pound of flesh some other way, like denying or delaying approval of an expensive prescription for a serious medical condition that will ruin your body and your life. But they are going to get that pound of flesh, and nothing is going to stop them.
Fuck you, pay me.
The Mafia has broken a lot of legs over the years, and put a lot of bodies in the ground, and extorted a lot of money from fearful people who have no choice but to obey, but the Mafia is left in deep shade by the insurance industry in America. The Republicans have spent oceans of time over the last few years yodeling about fictional "death panels" being a part of the ACA, but those "death panels" are all too real, and have existed for years in the guise of insurance companies that will drain your body of blood before refusing to approve coverage for a transfusion.
So, yeah, those who rant on about government being the problem with health care in America are cordially invited to take a flying fornication at a rolling doughnut on a gravel driveway in the rain. If you're going to ding the government for anything, ding them - ding the Obama administration - for willfully abandoning the idea ofsingle-payer universal care in favor of allowing the shameless muggers of the insurance industry to retain control of the process. They were awful before, and are worse now, because they are scratching as hard as they can to make up for the revenue they will be losing because they can no longer shaft sick people on the books.
Abandoning the concept of single-payer health care is the Original Sin of the Affordable Care Act. While I and the half of the country dealing with pre-existing conditions are grateful for the prohibition against denying coverage to people thus afflicted, that protection is next to useless when dealing with the shark tank that is the insurance industry. They have less morality than a Mafia leg-breaker, but far more power, and someone decided to keep them in charge of the process anyway.
The wrong people are running this show. Again.
_______

ABOUT AUTHORWilliam Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence. His newest book, House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation, will be available this winter from PoliPointPress.