Sunday, March 25, 2012

Obamacare gets the Supreme test this week

Obamacare gets hit with the biggest of spotlights this week with six hours of oral arguments over three days before the United States Supreme Court which will determine the constitutionality of the part of President's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that requires everyone to buy health insurance. This is great election year stuff, and the citizens of the United States are in a damned if you do and damned if you don't situation.

On one hand, if the Supremes uphold the law, this opens the door for more laws that require the citizens to buy something. You can fill in the blank there. To put it in simplistic terms, this is not just about what might be good for you; it's about what a majority of Congress thinks what's good for you.

On the other hand, the healthcare industry in the United States is costing taxpayers billions of dollars each year as we pay for the services that the uninsured cannot afford but receive anyway. The way President Obama and his merry gang of healthcare reformers see it, our healthcare system is dependent on insurance companies and their coverages, taking premiums from a large group of healthy people who can afford to pay (but who may rarely use the system) to pay for those who cannot afford to pay.

Healthcare should be available for everyone, but I lean away from requiring everyone to have the insurance to pay for it. However, I have a close friend who, when talking about the birth control portion of Obamacare, feels we should insist on free birth control and free day care for a certain segment of our nation in an effort to 1) Stop unwanted pregnancies and births that are the result thereof; and, 2) Provide day care to the children of those mothers so they can get an education and find a good job and afford to raise their children, especially when there are no responsible fathers around. Her argument is a little more complex than that, but I think I just repeated the nuts and bolts of it.

Part of my argument for stopping the requirement that everyone buy healthcare insurance has to do with not being able to shop across state lines for the purchase which should help reduce the cost of insurance. Another argument part is that the reason healthcare is so costly has little to do with insurance rates and more to do with healthcare rates, the enormous prices charges by doctors and hospitals and drug companies and the others related to that part of society. That's what is out of control not the rates charge by insurance companies.

A personal example: I had a hacking-cough problem so I went to see my primary physician, paying a co-pay upon leaving, but not before she ordered a chest X-ray which cost me another co-pay. Then I went back to my primary care physician to understand what was found (nothing) but because she was concerned, after another co-pay, she sent me to a lung specialist, whatever the correct terminology for that is. He did a consultation and charged me a co-pay, convinced me to have a CT scan and another co-pay, and then a breathing test and another co-pay. (He tried to sell me a breathing device but I said my method was fine.) My primary care physician continued to be concerned when nothing definitive was found and she wanted to give me a TB test which I agreed to do but told her only if she did it at no charge, which she did, at least for me. No co-pay and the results were negative. She was still concerned and wanted me to be studied further by the lung specialist. I said no the first quack she scheduled and agreed to go to another who looked at my chest X-rays and CT scan and declared that whatever it was that was making me cough had probably been with me from birth and suggested that the cough would go away when the weather warmed up. He was right, but charged me a co-pay. I have no idea what the total claims were to the providers, but I was out too many co-pays. I appreciate the concerns of my primary physician, but most of what I experienced was completely unnecessary. It accomplsihed only two things: More money in the pockets of medical providers and possibly higher insurance premiums. It's out of control.

So back to the Supreme Court: No one is sure when the decision will be made on the legality of the insurance requirement of Obamacare, but whenever that happens, the argument will continue for years to come.  However, if the Supreme Court sides with the President, there's one thing I want Congress to do to help everyone. Congress needs to pass a law that says all healthcare providers will have to accept all insurance policies. Right now, it's left to the providers and the healthcare givers to negotiate a deal, and not all healthcare providers are willing to negotiate in good faith with all insurance companies. By requiring all healthcare providers to accept all insurance then insurance rates should be the same for everyone and everyone should have equal access to all healthcare at the same, and possibly reduced, rates. Is that not what President Obama intended?

Friday, March 16, 2012

2B or not 2B, that's the question

First, there was the headline about a golf tournament playoff that wasn't, and then there was the headline that referred to a sports writer instead of a United States Senator. The two, both in The News & Observer this week, are what moved me to today's column and reminded me about the art and craft of headline writing when I was a student at NC State University, writing and editing for The Technician, the student newspaper.
The excuse these days is simple. There's just not enough staff to give thought to writing headlines. Many newspaper editors and publishers, especially with cutbacks to personnel working the nighttime deadline shift when the newspaper is put to bed (that's newspaper jargon for being finished with the writing and editing and layout and sending to the press what the readers will see the next day), blame bad headlines and mistakes in headlines on not having enough people or the right people to handle that job.

Writing headlines is a craft that seems to have been forgotten. It's not just applicable to The N&O, but since that's what I read daily, that's where I find the mistakes and lack of headline-writing thought. It's obvious that headline writers are in a hurry to finish the task. That's when mistakes are made. As a regular reader of The N&O (which, by the way, helps keep me regular nearly every morning, if you get my drift), I discover the errors and I have fun re-writing a banner or two. Here are the two mistakes from this week's The N&O.

The first (Mon, March 12) declared Justin Rose takes Doral with win in playoff which was not close to reality. There was not a playoff. He won that World Golf Championship event by shooting a final round 70, posting a four-day total of 272, then waited and watched as Bubba Watson missed a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole that, if it had gone in, would have forced a playoff. The headline writer obviously scanned the first two paragraphs of the story, saw the word "playoff" and penned story title. It could have said: Steady Rose rallies to win at Doral. To make matters worse, the headline writer, in the sub-headline, wrote Tiger Woods reinjures tendon, forced to finish early when actually, Woods didn't finish the round and he wasn't forced to do anything. He reinjured his tendon and voluntarily withdrew, not completing the final round. That sub-headline should have read: Woods withdraws after reinjuring tendon.

Today (Fri, Mar 16), the headline writer obviously confused former (and the late) Alaska Senator Ted Stevens with the longtime N&O prep sports editor/writer Tim Stevens. They both wear glasses (not sure if Ted was buried with his on); they both have gray hair (Ted's hairline recedes little more than Tim's); Ted served in the United States Senate, representing Alaska; Tim still serves at The N&O, representing Garner and high schools across North Carolina. Not sure how this happened. Ted's name is in the fourth line of the story on page 6 of the front section of the paper; Tim's name is on the next to last page of today's sports section. Someone wasn't thinking when that headline was written: Misconduct found in Tim Stevens prosecution.

At the bottom of the front of today's Triangle & Co. section is the headline Out with RBC, in with PNC at arena when better would have been Out with RBC Center, in with PNC Arena or Down with the old RBC, up with the new PNC.

Then there was the headline on Burgetta Eplin Wheeler's column Raleigh woman uses her blog to share a year of hugs leading us to believe the story is about her blog when it is really about Melinda Schmitt's desire and effort to fulfill a desire and "to create connections and spread kindness through her touch," as Wheeler reported. Maybe a better headline would have been: A tugging for hugging spreads joy and love.

There's an art to writing headlines, but most of the time that's what draws the reader to the writer so writers should give more thought and be a little less hurried especially to keep from making the Ted-Tim kind of mistake. And, being clever is always a good way to draw the reader to the story. In the 1975 April Fool's editon of The Technician, the lead story was about Jesse Helms being appointed to succeed retiring Chancellor John Caldwell. To make fun of headline writers, the banner screamed Helms Tops Top State Post In Flash Pick! But, you get the idea on headline creativity.

As for the story behind today's headline neatly written at the top of this column, it comes directly from an article in a mid-1970s edition of The Technician. At NC State baseball home, Doak Field, the outfield fence was no more than a four-feet high picket type barrier without a covering. Students would sit beyond the fence and watch the games through the wooden pickets. Here's what happened, to the best of my recollection, at one of the games: Down by a run in the bottom of the final inning and a man on first base, the Wolfpack batter slammed a ball over the left fielder's head. It fell near the fence, either inside the park and bounced over or it landed over the fence. The umpire called it a home run, and State won the game. The left fielder and the opposing coach argued that the ball landed on the warning track and bounced over the fence, which would have been a ground-rule double and put runners on second and third. The game would have continued. The home run ruling stood but questions about it lingered. The game story chronicled the situation and thus the headline: 2B or not 2B, that's the question
MISTAKE UPDATE: I'll admit to my share of mistakes in print, misspelling of words, typographical errors, etc., but finding such in The N&O is a hobby not only for me but for many of its readers. Today, (Sun, Mar 18) the latest discovery was on page 1A, in the story: In N.C., 'Hunger Games' finds grit and brillance. The writer is referencing movies filmed in North Carolina, and when he mentions "Dirty Dancing" he says it was filmed at Luke Lure. Of course, he meant Lake Lure where some of the scenes of the movie were filmed. It's hard to believe it's just a typo when the "a" is on the left most position on one row of the keyboard and the "u" is to the right of middle on the line above. And, to carry it a step further, on the back of the Arts&Living section, page 12D, there's a story, Go 'Dirty Dancing' at hotel, about the Mountain Lake Hotel in Pembroke VA where parts of Dirty Dancing not filming in North Carolina were filmed. The writer of that story and the local editor got it right, referring to the North Carolina filming location as Lake Lure. Maybe The N&O Arts&Living editor needs to do double time by editing front page articles. If you come across mistakes in The News & Observer, let me know. Be sure to include dates and pages and the mistake. By the way, mistakes of opinion do not count.

Friday, March 9, 2012

No-No to toss The N&O on a wet driveway

Maybe it's another way for The News & Observer to drive its readership away from the printed edition and to it's Internet site, but to someone who prefers to hold the newspaper in his hands, flipping the pages for something interesting to read as well as to look at the advertising, the sight of the newspaper sitting in my wet driveway raises my ire. I know what confronts me.

When it is raining or has rained, and the newspaper, even in one of those (excuse the pun) "paper-thin" plastic bags, is on the concrete surface, I know, before I waddle out there in wind, rain, sleet, snow, cold of night, the newspaper inside its not-so-secure cover is wet. Sometimes it's soaked through and through and other times just a few pages. In either case, it's one of those irritating things that continues to happen even after calls to the newspaper's circulation department which is not at the newspaper office in downtown Raleigh, which is not even in North Carolina. Who knows where it is these days, but no matter where it is, the solution to the wet newspaper on rainy days is never solved.

And, it's such an easy fix. The carrier, not only an independent individual these days but a small business that now employees those early-morning travelers who drive throughout our neighborhoods tossing The New & Observer to its subscribers, may get word from the newspaper where to toss it, but that easy solution, tossing it on the lawn or in pine straw, never seems to get to the deliverer.

It happened again this morning, the second time in the last couple of weeks. It was raining; the drive way was wet; water was running down its slight slope. As I walked from the front door to the newspaper, I knew already what I would find. Not only was the side facing the concrete soaked, but the top side was wet. So much water had penetrated the plastic wrap that nearly the entire newspaper was drenched.

The ire was boiling as I informed my wife that we were once again the victim of ineptness by a representative of The News & Observer, and as I fished in the small change jar for 75-cents to buy a newspaper from the rack a few blocks away at the Grocery Boy Jr. Nancy began dialing for circulation to make a complaint. She talked to a representative who said the way the newspaper was delivered is not the way they tell their circulators to deliver the newspaper. They are supposed to toss it in the grass when it's raining or wet. Obviously, the carrier didn't get word, or part of it.

As I drove from our neighborhood to buy the replacement because there are no "re-delivers" by The N&O during the week, only on Sunday, I took my own survery of other newspapers delivered this morning. Of eight along the way, six were in the driveways (all wet), one in the yard and one in pinestraw. The latter two were dry, sitting above the running water. One lady, carrying her wet newspaper, displayed one of those disappointing, disgusted looks on her face.

The circulation representative said she would call the contracted delivery company and suggest they contact the paper tosser to keep this from happening again. But, if you have this problem, here's my suggestion: Call Jim Puryear, Vice President of Circulation for The News & Observer. His direct office number is 919-829-4727. Or send him an email. I think it's In any case, just bypass the call to the circulation department. Those calls fall on deaf ears.
IMMEDIATE FOLLOW-UP: Shortly after posting this espisode in the continuing saga of N&O delivery, I heard from Jim Puryear with whom I've contacted during other times of delivery-stress. He responded: "Thanks for the note.  We'll get with the contractor and will credit your account for today.  Please let me know in the future if you get a wet paper and I'll replace it.  I'm sorry this happened and the contractor can do better."

The N&O on the lawn not driveway!
Saturday morning, shine not rain, the newspaper was resting comfortably on the lawn. Same for my next door neighbor but in the driveway of another within eye-sight. More reports after the next rainy night and morning.