Medical Elasticity

How elastic are medical costs versus demand? Higher deductibles, outpacing wages, are putting that to the test. Personally, if my cardiologist hadn’t switched me from visiting twice a year to once, I might have done that myself. I managed to get last year down to one physical and one cardiology checkup. A physical is fully covered, but the grand in blood tests associated with it are not. I’m still paying for the almost $500 my share of the cardiologist this spring, and a somewhat lower cost specialist’s bill should bring the running balance back up soon.

On the plus side, the more than $300 a month that I pay toward coverage through my employer is easily offset by what we save on prescriptions, and the dental part of the coverage, low in cost, was a boon.

In any event, a serious medical issue would likely mean the insurance keeping the medical providers from being completely stiffed by my total inability to pay, but would otherwise mean I’d owe and be unable to pay a bill that would amount to a substantial portion of my income.

In theory, if you need medical attention, you need medical attention. In practice, you can skip or delay appointments or tests to some degree, as the article discusses. Delays can be problematic, or they can simply trim the revenue from an overzealous business. After all, medical practice is a business.

Happy Birthday

I was thrilled to see the news of summary judgment declaring what we’ve all known for decades to be true: The copyright cash cow for the 1800s song Happy Birthday is invalid. It’s sort of like the ultimate patent troll, but with copyright. It’s astonishing that nobody has pursued this sooner, but perhaps it’s been a matter of the right evidence becoming available to make it stick.

It’s The Regulation, Stupid

I couldn’t resist the title, which would make a great theme/reminder for a Presidential candidate. At the risk of redundantly linking Warren Meyer, I wanted to note his latest post, describing through his own experiences how growth in regulation and compliance has led to a fundamental shift in the economy. I don’t need the firsthand experience to see that this is the case. This is a great way to stifle growth, making people hesitate even to go into business, or changing their approach to one that limits regulatory overhead. It becomes more than just a matter of tax avoidance or minimization. Don’t grow too large. Don’t hire. Don’t expand. Or, in the linked post, can’t expand any longer. A business that doesn’t start or expand reduces jobs or sales to that business that otherwise might have been.

Yellow Pages

Warren Meyer has a post about a Yellow Pages (now YP) nightmare that begins to smell like fraud. Talk about desperation, continuing to bill you after you’ve closed a location and informed them as much repeatedly.

Anyway, this reminded me of my experience with Verizon Yellow Pages when I ran XTreme Computing. It’s more humorous than anything, although we never got the slightest little bit of work from an ad in our local book and listings in the books for a large chucnk of Southeastern Massachusetts. All we did was generate a phone bill that peaked at over $800 a month when most of it was the monthly charge for Yellow Pages.

When I spoke with the sales rep about getting an ad, she gave me a number. I was excited, because the number was low compared to what I’d expected, to the tune of half what I thought it would be for the year. I went all expansive, pricing listings in other books than our own.

Then I found out that what I had taken to be an annual rate was a monthly rate! No wonder it seemed low. It was, in fact, high. Extrapolating from my initial perception, that would make it about six times what I had expected.

After a year, I canceled most of it. After 2-3 years I canceled the local ad, too. We couldn’t afford or justify it. Heck, eventually I canceled our second line, for faxing, and well before we closed entirely, I canceled our phone service entirely. There really was never any excuse for it to be as costly as it was. By that time, I could be reached by pager, cell or e-mail more readily than by the office phone, and I worked from home more than not.

In retrospect, we should never have done the Yellow Pages in the first place, and arguably should have skipped the second line.

Gone Galt

Be it unintentional or not, the economy isn’t the same after many workers have gone Galt, dropping out of the full-time workforce on an extended, if not permanent, basis. This hits close to home. I didn’t start out intending to participate negligibly in the economy until the economy rejected me. Now it’s about stability, bare adequacy or making do, and refraining from helping the economy any more than necessary until at least 2017.

C is for Conglomerate

Recently I found myself toying with the new .XYZ top level domain, checking whether anything interesting might be available.

Naturally I tried which, predictably, was taken. Makes sense, right? Since something like ABC would naturally tend to snag a new TLD to match, or since someone like me, but faster, would snag it on a whim.

Some whim!

Google is now under an umbrella of many disparate companies in one, but as Alphabet, rather than as Google. It becomes one of many. I found out about this in the middle of the night, just before going to my “day job,” seeing the announcement at that time.

My overwhelming thought about it since then has been: Didn’t we used to call this a conglomerate? Those were all the rage, decades ago. Breaking those up to extract shareholder value was all the rage fewer decades ago.

Still, if being a conglomerate is effectively a done deal already, it makes some sense to brand the conglomeration differently from the original and presumably still most major component of the conglomerate. One could poke fun at the name, but hey, this is a company that called itself Google and wound up taken utterly seriously.

My secondary thought: .XYZ will be taken seriously as a TLD in a way that it might not have been.

I Didn’t Realize It Was THIS Bad

However, this corroborates my view that there is indeed a new/continued housing bubble and, naturally, the potentially for it to fuel another crash. I’m lucky to be in an apartment with rent that doesn’t routinely increase, but what was barely affordable market rent ten years ago is now slightly less affordable below market rent. In a world in which we need either an even larger apartment or, better still, a house rental. Neither of which will happen any time soon, though certainly they will happen sooner than home ownership. The only way I’ll ever own property is if I pursue my old dream of buyng a piece of insanely cheap land in the middle of nowhere so I can at least camp out on it now and then, perhaps build a cabin getaway, or if the housing market fully crashes next time and I am in a position to take advantage of it. It was a big surprise to me that houses didn’t deflate to what they were worth in the last crash, and tended still to be overpriced. The house next door last sold in a $100,000 short sale, at a price that was somewhere between 20 and 70 grand more than I’d have considered appropriate.

Walter S. Mack Jr

Don Surber has been running a series of posts on exceptional Americans, with the first set now in book form. Many of them are, naturally, people from the world of business, invention and innovation.

Today’s example was a real education for me, as I did not know the history of Pepsi, or how there came to be a longstanding two cola rivalry.

Read about Walter S. Mack Jr and how he turned an obscure drink owned by a candy company into a huge success, at the same time helping to normalize racial equality of opportunity.