Thursday, September 28, 2006

Long Term Care: Pension Protection Act of 2006 (& note on filial responsibility)

The Octoer 2006 issue of the SHRM HR Magazine has an important discussion of some health benefit changes associated with the Pension Protection Act of 2006, on p. 30. There appear to be new provisions to allow long term care riders to existing life insurance or annuity contracts, based on the investment earnings of these contracts. And there are provisions to allow certaine exchanges for long term care contracts. However, annuities from conventional pension plans apparently may not be exchanged.

The reason this is significant is that it provide more opportunities for workers to provide for their own possible future long term care (nursing come intermediate care facility) needs. As noted already elsewhere in this blog, the political climate, lower birth rates, longer life spans, and existing filial responsibilty laws in many states may place financial burdens on adult children in the future of parents who do not make some sort of provision like this.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

IRS and church exemptions

(The picture here is Metropolitan Community Church in Washington DC, not the Pasadena Church; see the comparative note further down in this posting.)

The latest fight in the area of the IRS challenging tax exempt status for churches that have crossed the line in politicking seems to be the case of the All Saints Church in Pasadena, CA.

Scott Oliver and Louis Sahagun have a story in the 9/18/2006 LA Times. The article is here. It may require a subscription once archived.

Apparently a guest pastor sermon two days before the 2004 election was conceived as a speech for Al Gore.

The government seems to be drawing the line at politicking for candidates. Whether it would go after issues is less clear. We have had a similar debate as to whether the government would try to restrict political blogging under the Campaign Reform Act, and it appears from a recent FEC rule that most blogging is OK as long as it is issue-oriented.

Nevertheless, some churches that seem to be organized around a secular issue (even when they confine themselves to the issue(s) rather than candidates) could conceivably be at risk, such as the Metropolitan Community Churches, which serve GLBT people.

But all of this would affect church tithers who take itemized deductions (usually homeowners). It would not affect those who take the standard deduction, or who use various tax credits.

Note: McGreevy on Oprah:

I am listening to Oprah talk to James E. McGreevy, former governor of New Jersey, author of The Confession (don't confuse with The Confessor, by Dan Silva), and they are getting into religion, Catholicism, and homosexuality, and why he led a lie. One thing strikes me: The pressure to conform to majoritarian ideas of heterosexuality and marriage seems to be that one owes one's family the ability to protect the family's welfare before one has the ethical permission to advance one's own personal expressive ends. But doesn't that tie back to free speech? Isn't speech, whether religious and expressed in a church (as with the IRS issue), or expressed in one's own relationships, part of who one is?

Friday, September 22, 2006

CDC advocates HIV tests for all Americans

The Centers for Disease Control has recommended that every American take an HIV test at least once between the ages of 13 and 64, and at least once a year if engaging in high risk behaviors.

The recommendations follow various developments. Medications like protease inhibitors enable HIV-infected persons to live almost normal lifespans in some cases. Early treatment may be beneficial, and when persons know they are infected, they will hopefully be more cautious in behavior.

In the mid 1980s, remember, the gay community had a mantra, "don't take the test," because of the fear of stigmatization and maybe even quarantine.

The CDC web reference is here.

All media outlets carried this story today. The New York Times story was by Donald G. McNeil, Jr. The Washington Post story was by David Brown.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Health issues for federal air marshalls perplexing

The Sept. 20, 2006 Washington Times has a story by Audrey Hudson, "Air marshalls ousted over job injuries."

We recall a flap some months ago about uniforms or dress codes for sky marshalls, as these could compromise anonymity and security when flying. The same furor came out of publishing the hotels they stayed at. (We won't.)

But now the media is wondering why air marshalls apparently are dismissed once they become medically unable to fly, where as other law enforcement people don't. And why are they having more problems than pilots? Are their hours longer and rest periods shorter? Is it a lack of union protection.

Severe problems have included barotits media (inner ear pressure differentials) and deep vein leg clots. Generally circulation problems in the legs occur with old age and problems like atherosclerosis, high cholesterol and smoking. They shouldn't occur in healthy young adults. This is actually embarrassing.

So many marshalls have been forced out, and apparently there is a shortage of people to fill these hard-to-qualify positions. A major component of the TSA's airline security programs then comes into question.

This story has some significance for ordinary Americans whose employment requires them to make many frequent long-distance flights. Similar serious health problems have been reported for such travelers.

This problem reminds one of other problems of aging or "tissue death" that occur in relatively normal life activities. For example, teenagers use special high frequency ringtones to receive cell phone calls without teachers' being able to hear them -- by adult age, extreme high frequency hearing in the cochlea has been lost (although on the rifle range in Army Basic in 1968 I lost hearing around 4000 cps but not higher in the right ear, from "coaching"). One story is by Melissa Block ("Teens turn "Repeller" into adult-proof ringtone") on NPR, at this link.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Do family-friendly policies in the workplace cheat the childless?

On Sunday, September 17, 2006 Amy Joyce has an article “Kid-Friendly Policies Don’t Help Singles” in The Washington Post, Business Section F. A continuation page reads “Singles Seek Benefits Parity at Family Friendly Firms.” “Childless workers thought they worked more than people who were married with kids and they had to work holidays more often and did not have access to as many benefits.” This was in a study Beyond Family-Friendly: Singles-Friendly Work Cultures and Employee Attachment, by Wendy Casper at the University of Texas at Arlington.

In the 1990s, I ran into this issue to a mild degree. I was a mainframe programmer analyst. On occasion, I took nightcall assignments for people with more family responsibilities. Various associates varied on this issue, but one or two of them did not like to be reminded of the situation. In the early 1990s, after the previous recession, there was an attitude that persons who demanded less in benefits were less likely to be seen as expenses or liabilities; there was a culture that "lowballing" or "leapfrogging" might be encouraged. This was not nearly as bad in my situation as in some other companies, as was occasionally reported in the media and even The Wall Street Journal. On the other hand, in the 1980s in another company, this had not happened at all because everyone was accountable for supporting his own system off hours all the time. This sort of problem occurs in a salaried, exempt environment, where employers have in theory unlimited use of the professional's time until a job is done. In the news story, employers are finding that in today's competitive economy it is not in their business interest to take advantage of associates this way.

Pandit Wright at Discovery Communications in Silver Spring MD was interviewed in the Post artocile. She discussed the difficulty for employers in striking a balance. “I don’t think a person should think in terms of tit for tat… Like it or not, the next generation is something you’re going to have to deal with. It behooves all of us to have an environment where parents can do what they do.”

This whole issue was the subject of Elinor Burkett's book: The Baby Boon: How Family-Free America Cheats the Childless, New York: The Free Press, 2000, reviewed here and also at this link.

On Sept 19, 2006 the NBC Nightly News had a segment about employers finding it advantageous to accomodate the needs of working and returning mothers, and then dealing with the complexity of offering comparable benefits to everyone.

On October 2, 2006 ABC World News Tonight provided a similar report. It provided a study that about 40% of career women taken an "off ramp" to care for children, and only about 40% of those return to the same level of employment, although about 90% want to. Employers are now trying to provide an "on ramp" out of the need to remain competitive.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


Today I saw an ad in a Washington DC Metro car regarding mountaintop removal and stripmining in Appalachia. Here is the link.
I had visited a stripmine in 1971 near Mt. Storm WVa and was almost arrested for trespassing while taking pictures. The picture here shows a scene on the Virginia/Kentucky border, very much in coal country (taken summer 2005).

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Longevity and having children

In a recent (Sept. 2006) issue of the AARP Magazine, Joe Treen has an interesting scientific article on longevity. One particularly interesting observation is that many people who live to be over 90 or 100 did not have children, or at least did not have many children. This observation would contradict "family values" arguments that married people with kids live longer, and also that women who postpone or avoid childbearing may be at greater risk for breast cancer.

He talks about "disposable soma," a tendency that genes that promote reproduction (and the ability to be personally competitive enough to reproduce) may promote faster aging. People who live very longer seem to eat less and taken in fewer calories, which may signal to cells the idea that they should dispose of free radicals -- ions with unpaired electrons that oxidise or "rust" cells faster (remember your college chemistry!). Most of them did not smoke and exercised a lot. Indeed, however, the agressive behavior sometimes associated with overly exhuberant heterosexuality (Masters & Johnson style) seems to be associated with faster deterioration later.

The study of aging is also associated with the study of cell immortality, knowledge which could lead to much less toxic and more universally effective treatments for most malignancies.

Promotion of longevity ,as associated with reverence for life as conservatives see it, would have to be accompanied by a determination of corporations and employers to keep seniors working much longer, rather than regarding them as health insurance liabilities and as "moral hazards." It will also raise questions about filial responsibility and commitment of adult children (even those without their own children), as noted on entries below.

Why do hospitals charge the uninsured several times as much for a procedure?

In November 2004 I had a tooth extraction, which was suddenly followed by a sudden peridontal infection on the other side. The short of it is probably that since I was biting differently, I drove some peridontal disease deep down underneath the roots onto the nerve track, resulting in sudden massive swelling and infection and a "numb chin."

The supposed "numb chin" syndrome is acually quite alarming, and is often indicative of a malignancy. So they ordered an oral outpatent cat scan.

The one side cat scan of the maxillary area and neck had a list price of $1750 at a major northern Virginia hospital. It takes about 20 minutes. My retiree health insurance, fortunately, with UHC turned out to be pretty efficient, despite the high deductibles. With a retiree group policy, the list price was about $370 (about 1/5 what would be charged an uninsured patient) and my copay as wbout $175. Not too bad.

As it turned out, the radiology was inconclusive, and the problem was probably an anaerobic streptococcal infection, which resolved with clindamycin. Again, with the ING drug plan, the copy per bottle as about $4 for a $100 prescription.

There is a moral in all this. I spent about $4000 on the dentist, including a crown, diagnosis and various plaque removals. I don't know why dental care cost has spun out of control for everyone.

But why does a hospital charge five times as much to an uninsured patient for a routine procedure than what a private insurance company can negotiate with group coverage?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Homework: some authorities want it to be abolished

I remember in high school (Washington-Lee in Arlington VA, when I graduated in 1961, one of the top public schools in the nation) that homework was a given. For term papers in English or social studies, we were expected to go to the DC library downtown to find enough detailed resources. There a great deal of studying for tests in courses like history, government, and all of the sciences. In math, on the other hand, it seemed to take less "study" if you did the work every day and became facile with working the problems (like factoring in algebra or proofs in geometry).

Yet some authorities think that even in high school, learning should be a more interactive experience, and be less a way to establish a meritocracy.

The Sept 12 Washington Post story is by Valerie Strausse, at this link (may require subscription).

Civil registry proposed in Ohio; ex post facto in VA

On this blog, I try to keep track of serious threats of civil liberty throuh legislation that could short-circuit due process, regardless of the political climate or public outcry about the purported problems.

There is a proposal, well advanced in the Ohio legislature, to give certain officials (like district attorneys) to place certain persons on a civil registry of potential offenders. Of course, this sounds very dangerous to civil liberties and could be unconstitutional. It reminds one of civil commitment (after a sentence or even without a sentence). The story was in the Toledo Blade, Aug. 29, 2006 (a daily paper) at this link.

This bill apparently being passed and it is being used in Hamilton County against a long accused priest. Apparently the law targets persons for whom possible charges expired. The news story (in USA Today Oct 5 2006)is here. The case is to be heard before a judge Dec 5 2006.

Jaqueline L. Salmon, of The Washington Post, reports on Dec. 4, 2006, two groups representing victims of abusive Catholic priests" went door-to-door with 38-page packets in Herndon, VA (Fairfax County) with information about accusations against a 56-year-old priest by the diocese of Wilmington, DE. The story is here. The priest has never been prosecuted or charged.

In Virginia there has been an ex post facto requirement to place non violent offenders on the registry, and this is being litigated in a "John Doe" case where a man wants to keep his name off the registry. The Washington Post story Sept 12, 2006 by Jerry Markdon is at this link (may require a subscription).

Health alerts on weight lifting, marital status

Amy Malick of ABC News (health issues) has a couple of interesting posts on 9/12/2006.

One is a study in the Archives of Ophthamology (link) that reports that weight lifting can lead to an increase in glaucoma later in life. For many people, weight lifting, especially with free weights, is key to looking good and a self-concept. There are some concerns that it can increase the pressure within the eye over time. Many "health doctors" on air have reported repeatedly that aerobics are much more important than muscle development. I wonder what the results would be for pro sports players where muscle strenght and mass is important (baseball, football).

The ABC link is here.

If weight lifting is an expression of vanity and narcissism, consider another report (Aug. 10, 2006, Joanna Schaffhausen) that married people do live longer. This is no real surprise; it has been mentioned by conservative commentators (especially George Gilder, author of Men and Marriage, 1986) for decades. A study reported at never married men are 58% more likely to pass away in any given year; widowed people are 40% more likely, and divorced or separated peop,e, 27%. These studies apparently came from the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. (Link.) The differential mortality rates seem to become steep with age. None of this should be a surprise. Marriage and child bearing involves emotional connectivity to others, some of it rather unconditional, that builds support networks and gives ill or aging people a will to live for its own sake, just for the warmth of filial connections. Never married people (like me) are likely not to experience this, but to build up an aesthetic life instead, often keyed in to technological expressions. The emotional life can get overdone (just look at the situations on the NBC soap "Days of our Lives" that come out of blind blood loyalty).

The link is here.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Filial Responsibility: feedback from NCFR

On September 7, 2006 I received an email from Nancy Wicklund Gonzalez, M.Ed., CFLE
Public Policy Coordinator and Collegiate Liaison, National Council on Family Relations,
3989 Central Av NE #550, Minneapolis, MN 55421, (763) 231-2887 or fax (763) 781-9348.

She mentioned the disturbing hypothetical scenario where "historic Poor Laws find an application in Long Term Care." She agrees that it could disparately affect the GLBT population, and also women, as women are more often the actual caregivers.

She also mentioned the National Center for Policy Analysis paper, which is here, from July 12, 2005.

HR 2355 Health Care Choice Act

Diana Ernst, Health Care Policy Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco, CA has a Viewpoint in the Sept. 9, 2006 DC Examiner about HR 2355, the Health Care Choice Act. This would allow individuals to buy health plans in states other than those in which they live. Insurance companies would still have to meet regulatory requirements in their home states.

The link is here.

The writer believes that the US needs a "national policy shake-up" rather than state-by-state "pseudo reform." She seems supportive of this bill in its "respecting federalism."

Commonwealth Coalition of Virginia on the Marshall Newman Amendment

The Commonwealth Coalition of Virginia is mounting a vigorous attack against the Marshall Newman amendment referendum, which would prohibit any legal recognition of any arrangement between any two persons other than a man and woman that approximates marriage. There is a lot of concern about unintended consequences of the amendment.

Here is a link to a piece by the Virginia Legal Review Committee.

Here is a link to a major blog about the amendment at the Richmond Times Dispatch.

Here is Judge Wilkonson’s piece on a blog.

Here is a link by Republicans against the amendment.

Here is a link for volunteers to hold house parties.

Here is the contribution link.