21 October 2014

This is the Best Idea that I have Heard all Day

The canvassing board in Michigan has just certified the language for a petition to prevent hospitals to overcharge the uninsured:
The Board of State Canvassers on Monday unanimously approved the form a statewide ballot initiative petition that aims to prohibit a health care provider from charging a higher price to some for medical goods or services.

A group called Stop Overcharging is backing the "citizen initiated" legislation, which would limit a hospital or provider to charging somebody any more than 150 percent of the lowest amount the provider had accepted as payment in full.

The example they give is if somebody was charged $2,000 for an MRI but the provider accepted $600 as payment in full, the provider couldn't force an uninsured person or auto accident victim to pay more than $900.

It's something that has come up in the discussion of no-fault reforms. The petition is designed to incite action from the state legislature on that topic.

"We would hope that they would, we would wish that they would, but we're preparing if they wouldn't," said Rocky Raczkowski, a former state lawmaker who is heading up the petition drive.


The Board of State Canvassers unanimously approved the petition as to form, meaning it meets state guidelines and can be circulated.

The group can start collecting signatures after the Nov. 4 election, and Raczkowski said they plan to move quickly. Asked if paid circulators would be circulating the petitions, he said the group was still examining its options.
There is some political baggage along with this, it seems to be associated with insurance "Reforms" that favor the auto insurance industry, but the idea that part of the healthcare delivery problem in the USA is the price of healthcare appears to be gaining currency, and this is a good thing.

The idea that, for example, the cost of an identical service can vary by over an order of magnitude at the same hospital in the is much, if not most of the problem here.

The New York Times revealed something very similar recently, when it discovered that many hospitals employed ER physicians who were out of network, who then price gouged patients, since they were not covered by any agreement with insurance carriers:
When Jennifer Hopper raced to the emergency room after her husband, Craig, took a baseball in the face, she made sure they went to a hospital in their insurance network in Texas. So when they got a $937 bill from the emergency room doctor, she called the insurer, assuming it was in error.

But the bill was correct: UnitedHealthcare, the insurance company, had paid its customary fee of $151.02 and expected the Hoppers to pay the remaining $785.98, because the doctor at Seton Northwest Hospital in Austin did not participate in their network.

“It never occurred to me that the first line of defense, the person you have to see in an in-network emergency room, could be out of the network,” said Ms. Hopper, who has spent months fighting the bill. “In-network means we just get the building? I thought the doctor came with the E.R.”

Patients have no choice about which physician they see when they go to an emergency room, even if they have the presence of mind to visit a hospital that is in their insurance network. In the piles of forms that patients sign in those chaotic first moments is often an acknowledgment that they understand some providers may be out of network.
Note that this sort of shenanigans is why ER doctors income has gone up in recent years.

ER's are going Wall Street, and the only people who win in this game are the worst among us.

20 October 2014

The Universal Nature of Humanity*

I can think of nothing that unites us more than the fact that even the Dalai Lama is pissed off about telemarketers:
Tibet’s spiritual leader has delivered an extraordinary rant about the things that do his head in.

The Dalai Lama’s rare display of belligerent human frailty occurred in London, during an acceptance speech for the Templeton Prize for ‘affirming life’s spiritual dimension’.

He said: “I am not a special person. I spend my days mostly in quiet contemplation.

“It is during these moments, when I am tantalisingly close to nirvana, that the phone always rings.

“‘Hello,’ says the voice on the line, ‘can I speak to Mr D Lama?’

“‘He’s not in,’ I always reply, because it is fine to lie in these situations, ‘and if he was he wouldn’t be interested.’

“Then they go, ‘surely he’d be interested on saving 25% on his monthly heating bills with double glazing’. For Zen’s sake!
Now, everyone link hands, and start singing, All we are saying, is telemarketers suck.

*Yes. I know. It's a parody site, and this is fake news, but it really should be real.  After all, who amongst us does not hate phone sales calls?

Worst Constitutional Law Professor, Ever

Note that FBI Director James Comey was specifically chosen by Barack Obama, and the President's behavior to this point has indicated a strong bias toward the position that, "You don't need to worry about privacy if you have nothing to hide."

Thus I see Comey's request for sabotaging the security of computers and mobile devices by requiring back doors to be a position explicitly supported by the whole administration, and as the saying goes, the Cossacks work for the Czar:
FBI Director James Comey has launched a new “crypto war” by asking Congress to update a two-decade-old law to make sure officials can access information from people’s cellphones and other communication devices.

The call is expected to trigger a major Capitol Hill fight about whether or not tech companies need to give the government access to their users' data.

“It's going to be a tough fight for sure,” Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the Patriot Act’s original author, told The Hill in a statement.

He argues Apple and other companies are taking the privacy of consumers into their own hands because Congress has failed to pass legislation in response to public anger over the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.

“While Director Comey says the pendulum has swung too far toward privacy and away from law enforcement, he fails to acknowledge that Congress has yet to pass any significant privacy reforms,” he added. “Because of this failure, businesses have taken matters into their own hands to protect their consumers and their bottom lines.”

“If this becomes the norm, I suggest to you that homicide cases could be stalled, suspects walked free, child exploitation not discovered and prosecuted,” he said last week.

Comey is asking that Congress update the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), a 1994 law that required telephone companies to make it possible for federal officials to wiretap their users' phone calls.
It's a back door, much like the infamous Clipper chip, and the greatest effect of such a change would be to allow cyber-criminals to access your data, your machines, and your identity, because if they cripple security in the interest of law enforcement, criminals will avail themselves to the same technology.

What Can I Say About Ebola and Fox News that Hasn't Already been said by America's most Influential Writer*

I am referring, of course to Edgar Allan Poe.

What I catch about the Fox News coverage of the epidemic (Mostly via The Daily Show and Crooks and Liars) is very similar to that of the main character Poe's short story, The Masque of the Red Death, Prince Prospero.

The impetus of cowards (Fox News and our Prince) to wall themselves off, and cower behind a facade of bombast is rather illuminating.

Damn, that U Va dropout could write.

It is kind of creepy just how much the Red Death is like Ebola.

I post the story in its entirety, it is in the public domain, after the break:

*Poe can reasonably be credited with creating both the genres of the horror story, and the detective story. The most, the prestigious award for Mystery writing in the United States is called Edgar Allan Poe Awards are named after him for just such a reason.

19 October 2014

I'll Believe It When I See It

Commercial fusion has been just 15 years away for the past 50 years, so I am necessarily skeptical of Lockheed Martin's claims of a fusion break through: (Paid subscription required)
Hidden away in the secret depths of the Skunk Works, a Lockheed Martin research team has been working quietly on a nuclear energy concept they believe has the potential to meet, if not eventually decrease, the world’s insatiable demand for power.

Dubbed the compact fusion reactor (CFR), the device is conceptually safer, cleaner and more powerful than much larger, current nuclear systems that rely on fission, the process of splitting atoms to release energy. Crucially, by being “compact,” Lockheed believes its scalable concept will also be small and practical enough for applications ranging from interplanetary spacecraft and commercial ships to city power stations. It may even revive the concept of large, nuclear-powered aircraft that virtually never require refueling—ideas of which were largely abandoned more than 50 years ago because of the dangers and complexities involved with nuclear fission reactors.


Until now, the majority of fusion reactor systems have used a plasma control device called a tokamak, invented in the 1950s by physicists in the Soviet Union. The tokamak uses a magnetic field to hold the plasma in the shape of a torus, or ring, and maintains the reaction by inducing a current inside the plasma itself with a second set of electromagnets. The challenge with this approach is that the resulting energy generated is almost the same as the amount required to maintain the self-sustaining fusion reaction.

An advanced fusion reactor version, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), being built in Cadarache, France, is expected to generate 500 MW. However, plasma is not due to be generated until the late 2020s, and derivatives are not likely to be producing significant power until at least the 2040s.

The problem with tokamaks is that “they can only hold so much plasma, and we call that the beta limit,” McGuire says. Measured as the ratio of plasma pressure to the magnetic pressure, the beta limit of the average tokamak is low, or about “5% or so of the confining pressure,” he says. Comparing the torus to a bicycle tire, McGuire adds, “if they put too much in, eventually their confining tire will fail and burst—so to operate safely, they don’t go too close to that.” Aside from this inefficiency, the physics of the tokamak dictate huge dimensions and massive cost. The ITER, for example, will cost an estimated $50 billion and when complete will measure around 100 ft. high and weigh 23,000 tons.

The CFR will avoid these issues by tackling plasma confinement in a radically different way. Instead of constraining the plasma within tubular rings, a series of superconducting coils will generate a new magnetic-field geometry in which the plasma is held within the broader confines of the entire reaction chamber. Superconducting magnets within the coils will generate a magnetic field around the outer border of the chamber. “So for us, instead of a bike tire expanding into air, we have something more like a tube that expands into an ever-stronger wall,” McGuire says. The system is therefore regulated by a self-tuning feedback mechanism, whereby the farther out the plasma goes, the stronger the magnetic field pushes back to contain it. The CFR is expected to have a beta limit ratio of one. “We should be able to go to 100% or beyond,” he adds.

This crucial difference means that for the same size, the CFR generates more power than a tokamak by a factor of 10. This in turn means, for the same power output, the CFR can be 10 times smaller. The change in scale is a game-changer in terms of producibility and cost, explains McGuire. “It’s one of the reasons we think it is feasible for development and future economics,” he says. “Ten times smaller is the key. But on the physics side, it still has to work, and one of the reasons we think our physics will work is that we’ve been able to make an inherently stable configuration.” One of the main reasons for this stability is the positioning of the superconductor coils and shape of the magnetic field lines. “In our case, it is always in balance. So if you have less pressure, the plasma will be smaller and will always sit in this magnetic well,” he notes.
These are nice claims, but the only measurable claim that I can see is they might be a smaller and more compact installation. They may actually be onto something, or they may not. What I do know is that there have been claims that a fusion breakthrough is just around the corner for a very time, and their caveats lead me to believe that much of they are implying a level of maturity:
With just such a “Holy Grail” breakthrough seemingly within its grasp, and to help achieve a potentially paradigm-shifting development in global energy, Lockheed has made public its project with the aim of attracting partners, resources and additional researchers.
When a fusion prototype exceeds break even to the degree that it can function as a power station, I'll find it worth my while to look at the relative virtues of different configurations.

Until that point, I will assume that fusion claims of this nature are humbug.

It's Bank Failure Friday!!!! (On Sunday)

And here they are, ordered, and numbered for the year so far.

    1.  NBRS Financial, Rising, Sun, MD
    Full FDIC list

    It's the first bank failure in almost 3 months, much better than the peak in 2010.

    So, here is the graph pr0n with last few years numbers for comparison (FDIC only):

    I'm Back!!!!

    I've missed something less than 10 days blogging since I started in 2007.

    This is the first time that I have taken 2 days off from blogging in a row.

    This was a good thing.

    My kids were helping with a haunted house with Open Space Arts, and Sharon* and I decided to make the most of it.

    We had a couple of romantic evenings, including going to the movies to see The Judge, which has amongst its stars Robert Downey Jr, Robert Duvall, and Billy Bob Thornton, 3 actors for whom I would pay admission to hear them read a phone book.

    *Love of my life, light of the cosmos, she who must be obeyed, my wife.

    16 October 2014

    I am not as Thunk as you Drink

    Today is Simchat Torah, where Jews celebrate getting to the end of the Torah, and starting back at the beginning.

    Sharon will be my designated driver.

    Probably light posting this evening.

    Posted via mobile.