The election-year debate on health care has begun. Bernie Sanders and liberal Democrats argue for old-fashioned “Medicare for All.” They want a single-payer system.”
Conservatives call the idea “implausible” and the “same old bad idea,” and meantime, Republicans chip away at Obamacare’s weaknesses.
But although partisan rancor prevents serious discussion of alternatives, American health care challenges have not gone away.
Health care is too expensive. Health care costs continue to rise faster than general inflation. Administrative costs are too high. Almost 20 million people still lack health coverage. Families are confused by the overlapping programs and health care options.
The Bernie Sanders Medicare for All plan is a good step, but it’s also imperfect and insufficient. It does reduce administrative cost. It builds on a successful Medicare model, one which enjoys high public confidence. It is a national health care solution, not the current patchwork of state programs. It has a robust administrative program — avoiding the failures of the early days of Obamacare. And it has popular support: In recent surveys, 59% of national respondents favored Medicare for All.
But those surveys did not mention the costs or how to cover them.
Sanders’ costly plan
The Sanders plan of taxpayer-paid single-payer health care will not work for three reasons. It is built on a model of Medicare from a quarter-century ago; Medicare today is different. Medicare in 2018 no longer a single-payer plan — despite the attraction of that political slogan.
Old-fashioned “Medicare for All” ignores the American tradition of health care choices — choice of plan, choice of physician. Obama famously promised, “If you like your health plan; if you like your doctor, you can keep them.” But that wasn’t true with Obamacare. The Sanders plan ignores the lesson of Obamacare — consumer choice matters. Although voters may like Medicare for All, they may not like single-payer.
Both liberal and conservative analyses of the Sanders plan reach the conclusion that taxpayer-funded Medicare for All is simply too expensive. A 2018 conservative Mercatus Institute analysis finds that taxpayer-paid Medicare for All would cost $32 trillion over a decade. An earlier analysis from the liberal Urban Institute found a similar cost.
Neither estimate is affordable, given the unpalatable choices for taxpayers — a 35% income tax increase or a 31% boost in payroll taxes from current levels. The Washington Post editorial questioned the Sanders’ math in a recent editorial, “The Cosmically Huge ‘if’ of Medicare for All.”
But there is a tested solution — Medicare Advantage for All. Let consumers buy into Medicare and Medicare Advantage — or if they choose, keep their private coverage.
Medicare, with choices
The name “Medicare Advantage” may be unfamiliar to some. If you ask a recent retiree, they might say, “I have my Medicare with Humana, United Health, Blue Cross or a local HMO.” Even the American Association of Retired Persons offers a Medicare Advantage plan. These are directed and regulated by the federal government but operated by private insurers. It is a national program with competition and consumer choice.
Medicare sounds simple, but it is an alphabet soup of coverages. Part A for hospital coverage is taxpayer funded. Part B is for physicians and is partly funded by taxpayers and partly by premiums; Part B is voluntary. Part C is Medicare Advantage —which must include both Part A and B basic benefits. Part D is voluntary pharmacy coverage — again funded by a mix of taxes and premiums.
For the parts with premiums charged to participants, there is a sliding scale based on income reported to the federal government. There are deductibles and co-payments. To cover the costs, 20% of participants in traditional Medicare also choose to buy a Medi-gap or Medicare Supplement insurance policy.
The federal government has a “star rating” system for all Medicare Advantage plans, giving consumers information to make better choices. Cost containment is built into the competitive plans. Using plan savings, consumers can gain additional benefits, such as vision benefits, dental coverage and wellness plans. Consumers can choose between competing plans — or take traditional Medicare. Or they can switch back if they are unsatisfied.
The practical solution of “Medicare Advantage for All” is to permit younger individuals to buy into the Medicare and Medicare Advantage programs. Employers today can buy into Medicare Advantage plans for retirees; there is an existing sliding scale of premiums based on income. Why not give younger individuals the same choice?
The George W. Bush administration created the Medicare Advantage model in the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003. Medicare recipients are essentially offered a voucher to buy Medicare Advantage coverage — private insurance coverage with benefits equal to or greater than traditional Medicare.
In a recent survey, 75% of respondents favored a public option — giving consumers the right to buy into Medicare and Medicare Advantage. Medicare Advantage enrollment has tripled in a little over a decade with nearly 18 million participants.
Consumers have spoken — the market has spoken. But politicians are not listening.
High marks for Advantage plans
A July 2018 McKinsey research report on Medicare Advantage gave the consumer information system high marks. The report, “Assessing the Medicare Advantage Star Rating System,” found that consumers were using the plan ratings to make better health care choices. It assessed performance over a decade, finding that performance had improved, quality standards had risen, and consumers were making good choices.
The report also found that Medicare Advantage saves money — using competition to create better cost containment — while still satisfying customers. In recent years, Medicare Advantage cost 90% of the traditional fee-for-service Medicare system, according to McKinsey. Insurers use those savings to offer additional benefits to consumers.
Under the Medicare Advantage model of Medicare for All, if consumers wish to continue their individual plan, they can keep it. If employers wish to continue their employer-sponsored plan, they can keep it. Physicians and hospitals can choose to participate —or not.
Medicare Advantage plans have quietly become the most successful healthcare financing innovation since Medicare itself. Without notice by the pundits, one-third of recipients have chosen a Medicare Advantage Plan over traditional Medicare. In Wisconsin, 40% of Medicare recipients — more than 400,000 individuals — have chosen Medicare Advantage plans.
Proponents of Medicare for All — of a single-payer plan — have overlooked the success of Medicare Advantage. The Sanders single-payer plan would force more than 400,000 Medicare Advantage participants in Wisconsin to change health plans again. In six states, more than 40% of Medicare recipients are enrolled in Medicare Advantage programs.
In only three states is Medicare Advantage enrollment less than 10%. One of those is Vermont, Bernie Sander’s home state, which may explain his failure to consider the consumer choice enjoyed in other states.
Similar to the choices offered to consumers, physicians can decide whether to participate in Medicare Advantage plans. Both consumers and medical professionals have a choice. They can opt-out, going back to traditional Medicare or going back to the private health insurance market or employer-sponsored plans.
The Medicare Advantage program is market tested. It is administratively robust and federally protected. Consumer confidence in the program is high. It saves money through competition.
Why is this choice so difficult? Because of differing political philosophies and histories.
Medicare was a Democratic idea, passed under President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. Medicare Advantage was a Republican idea, passed under President George W. Bush in 2003 in a cliffhanger congressional vote. Both were political compromises. The entire Part A and Part B structure of the original Medicare program — Part A government funded and Part B voluntary and participant funded — took ideas from both political parties. Part C of Medicare brought the Republican idea of consumer choice. Part D of Medicare brought prescription drug coverage — an idea first championed by Democrats. Parts C and D were passed together in 2003.
In the current political environment, perhaps Medicare Advantage for All should be called the Bush-Sanders Plan. It is a comprehensive national program — something Sanders and liberal Democrats want — combined with a buy-in program that includes consumer and physician choice and the competitive market efficiency promoted by Bush and Republicans.
Health care is about making people’s lives better — not about scoring political points.
Thomas R. Hefty is the retired chief executive of Blue Cross Blue Shield United of Wisconsin.
Elephants ought to get a lot of cancer. They’re huge animals, weighing as much as eight tons. It takes a lot of cells to make up that much elephant.
All of those cells arose from a single fertilized egg, and each time a cell divides, there’s a chance that it will gain a mutation — one that may lead to cancer.
Strangely, however, elephants aren’t more prone to cancer than smaller animals. Some research even suggests they get less cancer than humans do.
On Tuesday, a team of researchers reported what may be a partial solution to that mystery: Elephants protect themselves with a unique gene that aggressively kills off cells whose DNA has been damaged.
Somewhere in the course of evolution, the gene had become dormant. But somehow it was resurrected, a bit of zombie DNA that has proved particularly useful.
Vincent J. Lynch, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago and a co-author of the paper, published in Cell Reports, said that understanding how elephants fight cancer may provide inspiration for developing new drugs.
“It might tell us something fundamental about cancer as a process. And if we’re lucky, it might tell us something about how to treat human disease,” Dr. Lynch said.
Scientists have puzzled over cancer, or the lack thereof, in big animals since the 1970s. In recent years, some researchers have started carrying out detailed studies of the genes and cells of these species, searching for unexpected strategies for fighting the disease.
Some of the first research focused on a well-studied anticancer gene called p53. It makes a protein that can sense when DNA gets damaged. In response, the protein switches on a number of other genes.
A cell may respond by repairing its broken genes, or it may commit suicide, so that its descendants will not have the chance to gain even more mutations.
In 2015, Dr. Lynch and his colleagues discovered that elephants have evolved unusual p53 genes. While we only have one copy of the gene, elephants have 20 copies. Researchers at the University of Utah independently made the same discovery.
Both teams observed that the elephant’s swarm of p53 genes responds aggressively to DNA damage. Their bodies don’t bother with repairing cells — they only orchestrate the damaged cell’s death.
Dr. Lynch and his colleagues continued their search for cancer-fighting genes, and they soon encountered another one, called LIF6, that only elephants seem to possess.
In response to DNA damage, p53 proteins in elephants switch on LIF6. The cell makes LIF6 proteins, which then wreak havoc.
Dr. Lynch’s experiments indicate that LIF6 proteins make their way to the cell’s tiny fuel-generating factories, called mitochondria.
The proteins pry open holes in the mitochondria, allowing molecules to pour out. The molecules from mitochondria are toxic, causing the cell to die.
“This adds an important piece to the puzzle,” said Dr. Joshua D. Schiffman, a pediatric oncologist at the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah who has also studied cancer in elephants.
More experiments are needed to confirm that LIF6 works the way Dr. Lynch and his colleagues propose, Dr. Schiffman added. “As a start, I think this is fantastic,” he said.
LIF6 has a bizarre evolutionary history, as it turns out.
All mammals carry a similar gene, simply called LIF. In our own cells, it performs several different jobs, such as sending signals from one cell to another. But almost all mammals — ourselves included — have only one copy.
The only exceptions to that rule are elephants and their close relatives, such as manatees, Dr. Lynch and his colleagues found. These mammals have several copies of LIF; elephants have ten.
These copies arose thanks to sloppy mutations in the ancestors of manatees and elephants more than 80 million years ago.
These newer copies of the original LIF gene lack a stretch of DNA that acts as an on-off switch. As a result, the genes could not make their proteins. (Humans also carry thousands of copies of so-called pseudogenes.)
After the ancestors of elephants evolved ten LIF genes, however, something remarkable happened: One of these dead genes came back to life. That gene is LIF6.
Somewhere in the course of elephant evolution, a cellular mutation inserted a genetic switch next to LIF6, enabling the gene to be activated by p53. The resurrected gene now made a protein that could do something new: attack mitochondria and kill damaged cells.
To find out when the LIF6 gene first came back to life, the researchers took a close looks at DNA retrieved from fossils.
Mastodons and mammoths also carried LIF6. Scientists estimate that they shared a common ancestor with modern elephants that lived 26 million years ago.
Dr. Lynch speculated that LIF6 came back to life at the same time that the ancestors of living elephants evolved extra copies of p53. As they developed more powerful defenses against cancer, the animals could begin reaching their enormous sizes.
Elephants likely evolved other new genes that follow p53’s orders, Dr. Lynch predicted. He also suspects that elephants have also evolved ways to fight cancer that are separate from p53 altogether.
“I think it’s all of the above,” he said. “There are lots of stories like LIF6 in the elephant genome, and I want to know them all.”
There are countless personal finance books, blogs and articles that offer advice on investing, savings, retirement and taxes.
You could read all those books.
Or, you can listen to this University of Chicago social scientist.
His name is Harold Pollack, and when it comes to investment advice, he believes that you can fit all the investment advice you’ll ever need on a single index card.
In 2013, Pollack interviewed personal finance writer Helaine Olen about her book, Pound Foolish. During their online video chat, Pollack shared his views on personal finance advice and what Pollack calls the “financial industry’s most basic dilemma.”
“[The best personal finance advice] can fit on a 3-by-5 index card, and is available for free in the library,” Pollack said during the interview. “So, if you’re paying someone for advice, almost by definition, you’re probably getting the wrong advice because the correct advice is so straightforward.”
Pollack’s comment was not intended to be the centerpiece of the interview. If anything, it was a one-off comment and he did not even elaborate on the specific financial advice.
After Pollack posted the video, he started receiving emails asking where to find this index card and what was the advice.
The problem: the index card didn’t exist.
So, Pollack grabbed an index card from his daughter, wrote several personal finance principles, snapped a photo with his phone and posted it online. The actual index card was 4-by-6 inches (rather than 3-by-5).
The result: the photo went viral.
The idea of a video phone has been around for decades. While there have been a handful of real video phones, they were never widely available for the average Joe. Then, a company with a strange name harnessed the power of the internet and the ever-growing ubiquity of webcams to bring that dream to the masses. But what does the name Skype have to do with talking to other people online?
Skype is a peer-to-peer communication technology, meaning one person connects to another person, via the Skype service. Of course to the average person, the connection is happening in a mysterious, ethereal realm. So when they were developing the name, they hit upon the rather descriptive “Sky peer-to-peer,” which was shortened to “Skyper.” However, when they went to register the web address for their new product, skyper.com and the other .something variations were already taken. So, they decided to try dropping the “r” and, sure enough, skype.com was available. In hindsight, it worked out for the best – saying you’re “Skypering” with your friend sounds a bit clumsy.
Would President Obama have fought so hard to keep his “LeapFrog” phone? Because the phone was leaps and bounds over everything else on the market, this was one of the names considered for the BlackBerry. Another possibility was “Strawberry,” because the tiny keys resembled seeds. But when someone felt the word “straw” sounded too slow, another berry was suggested. For anyone addicted to their BlackBerry, the origins of the nickname “CrackBerry” should need no explanation. More possible names were mentioned in a 2011 article in The New Yorker: EasyMail, MegaMail and ProMail.
One of the fastest-growing websites around, Reddit was started in 2004 by then-college students Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian. The site allows community members to submit links to online content, which is then voted up or down to decide which submissions are most worthy of being read by everyone else.
The name Reddit is little more than a play on the phrase “read it,” as in, “I read it online.” But, as one member of the site (also known as a “redditor”) pointed out, there is a Latin parallel to the site’s name that turned out to be a pretty cool coincidence. One loose translation of “reddit” is “render,” which can mean “to submit for consideration or approval,” which is exactly what people do on the site. [See Also:Our 2008 interview with Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian]
Whether you’re cleaning out the attic or looking for a deal on your next must-have gadget, there’s a good chance you’re going to wander over to eBay. But where did this powerhouse of e-commerce come from? And what the heck does that name mean, anyway?
Oddly enough, there’s actually a legend surrounding the founding of eBay. For a while, it was widely believed that, in 1995, then-28-year old software developer Pierre Omidyar created a website called AuctionWeb just so that his fiancee could buy and sell collectible PEZ dispensers. While the PEZ part isn’t true – Omidyar was simply looking for a way to make something cool online – it does make for a good story. What’s not legend, though, is that the first item sold on eBay was anything but glamorous – a broken laser pointer. Omidyar only intended the laser pointer listing to be a test, but was surprised to find that someone actually bought it — according to legend, someone who collected broken laser pointers.
Thinking he might be on to something, Omidyar started working in earnest on the program. While contemplating names for the site, he initially planned to use the name of his computer consulting company, Echo Bay. However, echobay.com was already taken (and still is). So Omidyar shortened the name to “ebay” and bought the web address we all know and love.
E-readers have really hit the mainstream in the last couple of years, with the strangely named Kindle from Amazon leading the charge. The name is not meant to be a dig at paper books (as in “kindling” for a fire, now that e-books are so common). The company says the name refers to an intellectual fire of new ideas that could spread to readers all over the world who now have quick and easy access to the vast digital library at Amazon.
Since 2004, Woot has offered a new item every night at midnight to devoted fans, known as Wooters, who obsessively check Woot’s sites to buy everything from computers to flashlights to a “Bag of Crap” (BOC)—a coveted, mystery grab bag that is often sold out within minutes of its unveiling.
If you’re at all familiar with internet culture, you’ll know that “woot” is also an expression of excitement, sometimes spelled “w00t.” According to Matt Rutledge, Founder/CEO of Woot.com, that is where the company got its name, but it goes a bit deeper than that.
“The company Woot was designed from the ground up to fit that name and adapt itself as a public ’employee store’ type of liquidation retailer,” Rutledge said. “What type of store would you load up and say “w00t!” to? Answer…that would be what we built and strive every day to reach.”
So Woot is named after “w00t,” but where does “w00t” come from? That’s actually a bit of a mystery. Some believe it first appeared in the mid-90s, adopted from the songs “Whoomp! (There It Is!)” and “Whoot! There It Is!” Others define it as the acronym, “We Owned the Other Team,” originating as a victory cry for online gamers. Still others say it comes from an old hacker term used whenever someone has gained full, or “root,” access to a server, exclaiming “w00t! I have root!”
Whatever the origin, there are a few important distinctions between “w00t!” and “Woot.” The company name does not have the zeros replacing the Os, and the exclamation point is only used in the logo or when there is genuine cause for excitement.
Founded in 2005, the online marketplace Etsy has amassed over seven million registered users and saw revenues of just over $300 million in 2010. And while the name is catchy, many have often asked what it means.
For a while, the company was pretty tight-lipped about the origin, leaving users to come up with their own acronyms or explanations. However, in a January 2010 interview for Reader’s Digest, founder Rob Kalin finally revealed the secret:
“I wanted a nonsense word because I wanted to build the brand from scratch. I was watching Fellini’s 8 ½ and writing down what I was hearing. In Italian, you say ‘etsi’ a lot. It means ‘oh, yes.’ And in Latin, it means ‘and if.'”
When Microsoft was developing the name for their new search engine, they wanted something that was a single syllable, memorable, and easy to spell. Of course once they got into the naming process, there were other things to consider as well. For example, one idea—“Bang”—was rejected because you couldn’t make a verb out of it without sounding, well, inappropriate. (“What other movies has Kathy Bates been in?” “I don’t know. Bang her and find out!”)
So the marketers decided to put their money on “Bing.” Not only was it a single syllable, easy to spell, and easy to remember, it also sounded like “Bingo,” which is usually said when you’ve found what you’re looking for. The name also reminded people of the moment an idea is hatched, sort of like when that little light bulb goes off over a cartoon character’s head. You hear a “Bing,” which is what Microsoft hopes will happen when you use their website. Even better, in China, the website is called bì yìng, which translated means, “very certain to answer.” But Bing’s detractors are quick to suggest that the name is really an acronym: Bing Is Not Google.
Can you imagine if, instead of “TiVo-ing” the latest episode of Lost, you were “Bongo-ing” it? “Bongo” and “Lasso” are just two of the 800 possible names the marketing folks kicked around before settling on TiVo. The final name was cobbled together from “TV” and the engineering acronym “I/O,” which stands for “input/output.” Little did they know their noun would become a verb and their oddly-named invention would forever change the way people watch television.
Despite the lack of dignity displayed by people who shout into their Bluetooth headsets wherever they go, the name of the device actually has a rather regal origin. In the 10th Century, Danish King Harald Blatand was able to unite warring factions in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark under one banner. Similarly, the developers of the Bluetooth signal wanted to unite many different forms of technology — cars, computers, and mobile phones — under one communications network. So when they were coming up with a name, they went with the English translation of the Danish king’s last name, “Bluetooth.”
Hulu means many things to many people. To some, it’s a great online resource for watching their favorite TV shows and movies. But to a native Hawaiian, it means “hair.” To someone who speaks Swahili, it means “cease.” To an Indonesian, it means “butt.” While these translations are accurate, the folks behind naming hulu.com were inspired by a couple of Mandarin Chinese definitions instead ““ “interactive recording” and “a hollowed-out gourd used to hold precious things.” Despite this often misunderstood word, the website is rapidly becoming one of the biggest names in streaming video. Well, except in Indonesia…
12. Nintendo Wii
Although the off-color jokes almost write themselves, Nintendo had other ideas when they named their latest video game system. First of all, the word is pronounced “we,” which emphasizes the social concept that Nintendo envisioned for the console. The name is also universal, without any direct translation into any particular language, reinforcing that all-inclusive idea and avoiding any Hulu-like situations. They even liked the double-i spelling because it looks like two people standing side-by-side. The name was not popular at first, but the concept obviously caught on, because Americans have purchased over 20 million Wiis since its debut in 2006, making it one of the most successful video game systems ever.
While the origin of the second half of the name might seem rather obvious, the first half is still a mystery to many. “Wiki” is used to describe any website content that is specifically designed to be edited by its users. The name was first coined by Ward Cunningham to describe software he wrote back in 1994 that was meant to speed up the communication process between computer programmers. He borrowed the word from the Hawaiian language, where it means “fast”, after hearing it in the Honolulu airport when an employee told him to take the “Wiki Wiki Shuttle” between terminals. Many people mistakenly believe Wiki is an acronym for “What I Know Is.” However, that definition was actually applied to the word after the fact, making it instead a backronym (which is now my new favorite word).
14. Asus Computers
Netbook computers are the hottest gadget out there, with around 14 million of the cheap little laptops sold in 2008. One of the big names in netbook production is the Taiwanese computer company, Asus, which gets its name from the winged horse of Greek mythology, Pegasus. But if you took a quick glance at the phone book, “Pegasus” wouldn’t have been too high in the directory of computer companies. So, to increase their visibility in alphabetical lists, they dropped the first three letters of their name. It was an unusual strategy, but apparently it worked.
While developing the world’s first mass-produced hybrid vehicle, Toyota believed the Prius was going to be the predecessor of the cars of the future. So to name their groundbreaking car, they turned to the Latin word, “prius,” meaning “[to go] before,” the root of our modern word “prior.” And with the growing popularity of hybrid vehicles, it appears they were right about the Prius’ legacy. What they couldn’t have predicted, though, was the controversy the name would create when people want to refer to more than one of the cars. Many think the plural is “Prii”; others believe it should be “Priuses.” The official word from Toyota used to be that there is no plural form, it’s just “Prius” (sort of like “moose”). That was until 2011, when an online poll crowned “Prii” the official plural. But really, I’m sure they really don’t care what you call them if you’re buying two or more.
Informatics is a field that is primarily concerned with making sense of large amounts of data. In particular, informatics researchers strive to develop software for finding patterns in data that allow it to be organized, modeled, visualized, understood and manipulated in a comprehensible way.
The goal of an informatics system is to present the end-user, whether that is a researcher, a physician, or a member of the public, the information that is most relevant and useful to them. To accomplish this, informatics draws from a number of different fields including artificial intelligence, cognitive science, database systems, library and information science, statistics, and software engineering.
The term “informatics” was coined in the 1960s to mean “applied information science.” During the decades since, informatics has grown and evolved; making its biggest impact in medicine and biology. Medical informatics is primarily concerned with the information processing and communication tasks of medical practice, education and research. Bioinformatics, on the other hand, focuses on the interpretation and management of biological data (including human genome data).
Today, informatics is being used to deal with an ever increasing variety of data. The ability to discover knowledge from sources as unstructured as the world wide web will drive research in many different areas.
Here is a list of topics that I am planning on addressing in future episodes. Please feel free to leave comments with suggestions of other topics you would like me to cover.
Topics for Future Shows (in no particular order):
• Copyrights and other Intellectual Property
• The Proper Role of the Federal Reserve Board
• Intelligent Design vs. Evolution (The Dover Case)
• Transportation Subsidies
• Universal Healthcare
• Corporate vs. Social Welfare
• The War on Drugs
• Education (Vouchers, etc.)
• Civil Liberties
• Tax Breaks and Supply-Side Economics
• Social Security
• The Principle of Voluntarism
• The Golden Rule
• Wildlife Conservation
• Abortion (The South Dakota initiative)
• Marriage Rights
• The Role of the Post Office