Tuesday, September 12, 2017

“S.P.A." / “P.P.B.M.A." / “P.P.B.M.E.I.S.F.”


Note: The following is not original material. My wife says it came from someone to whom she reported in her job but surely it came from someone else before him. Just enjoy!

Imagine you’re in a meeting, one of those boring company musts or a seminar to which your boss sent you at an exotic location but you’re stuck inside when outside paradise awaits the end of the theater style presentation which doesn’t seem to want to come.

You hear the speaker, a monotone decibel that’s not very loud but deafening because the room is so quiet. Actually it is too quiet, and everyone notices the speaker has stopped talking about a subject no one wants to hear much less learn, but she is far from the end.

“S.P.A.,” she says, emphasizing the individual letters. “S…P…A,” she repeats as she surveys her audience. “How many of you are S.P.A?” she asks and then answers, “Still Paying Attention?”

The room is amused and everyone chuckles, but she stops the laughter short with more initials.

“P.P.B.M.A.?” she proceeds and pauses long enough for everyone to look right and then left and then back at her as she explains, “Or are you Physically Present But Mentally Absent?”

The chuckles are more intense as most many attendees acknowledge the truth of the state of their being that afternoon, thinking the presenter is done with her alphabet game. And then she takes it one last step before she finishes her instruction.

“P.P.B.M.E.I.S.F.?”

The class leader watches carefully as everyone is now participating in the seminar, trying to put words to the letters, yet no one can figure it out. The murmur that engulfed the room comes to a halt after a few seconds as everyone anxiously turns to the front for the answer.

The presenter smiles, studying each face anticipating something mindful, truthful and funny.

“It’s simple,” she says. “P.P.B.M.E.I.S.F., “How many of you are Physically Present But Maybe Engaging In Sexual Fantasies?”

And that is the end of the non-original story. Hope you enjoyed it.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Let's open North Carolina's State Health Plan to non-State employees


United States Senator Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, in a 24-hour "cable" news station discussion about the Senate health care bill which he does not support (as of this writing), made an interesting suggestion: Let those who need Obamacare join plans with established entities that have group policies instead of the exchanges.

It's an interesting proposition but his proposal went nowhere with the interviewers because it seems most reporters care more about the politics of Washington than the actual exchange and discussion of ideas. Time was fleeting for the television network and a commercial break was more important. So the questioner pressed for an answer to 1. If the Senate bill will pass; and, 2. What would happen to the thousands in Kentucky who could be cut from the rolls of Obamacare if the bill did pass? The media doesn't care for a solid discussion of ideas for saving healthcare; they only care about asking glamour questions and about getting in the last word.

While I may not agree with much of what Paul wants to do with Obamacare and other federally funded health care solutions, Paul may be on to something constructive for health care insurance. The real problem is less about the cost of insurance and more about the cost of healthcare: the charges made by non-for-profit hospitals who hoard cash instead of reducing costs, the prices physicians charge that are different from office door to office door, the cost of prescriptions, though maybe in some cases such as opiods higher prices could lead to a lower death rate for the use thereof, and so on and so forth. Healthcare insurance rates as based on the costs of healthcare and what is and is predicted to be paid for that care.

So, what could be constructive about what Senator Paul said in that brief moment? Well, as related to North Carolina where I live, I ask: What if legal North Carolinians who are not in private group policies and who are on or should be on Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) are allowed to take part in the North Carolina State Health Plan designed for state and county employed teachers and state employees?

I'm not suggesting or conjecturing this non-state employed group pay the same premium prices for the same policy or coverage as a State employee because State employees policies are supplemented as a perk of employment. But I am suggesting these non-employees be allowed to buy into the system as what is known as 100% contributory subscribers, paying full price premiums and being covered the same as State employees.

A cursory look at two plans -- the 70/30 State Health Plan for individual, individual and spouse, individual and children, and families and the Obamacare rates for the Blue Cross Blue Shield traditional 70/30 plan -- reveals they are nearly identical in premium rates. However, the benefits to the State Health Plan are much better than the ACA benefits including lower deductibles, lower co-pays, and other financial pluses. In other words, for the policy holder, the State Health Plan is more affordable, a lot more affordable than Obamacare with less worries when someone needs care and insurance to cover that care.

However, when reality hits, affordability is relative to the subscriber. With Obamacare, there are financial supplements available. So, even for being able to subscribe to the State Health Plan, for those requiring subsidies, let's find a way to help by using tax benefits, government financial support, and Medicaid money based on income or some other reasonable formula, if necessary. The effort would be to put everyone in North Carolina who needs it on the State Health Plan. The same for others in other states and U.S. territories.

Currently, there are more than 710,000 North Carolina teachers, state employees, retirees, current and former lawmakers, state university and community college personnel, and their dependents on the State Health Plan. There are about 550,000 North Carolinians insured through the ACA. Why not add those 550,000 on Obamacare to the State Health Plan? Makes sense to me.

The first response to that last question would be the cost to support the additional subscribers of the State Health Plan, but that's probably a pittance compared to the overall savings, especially when the State Treasurer hopefully negotiates better rates with BCBS and United Healthcare (for retirees) when such large numbers are added, especially if many of them are healthy. It's the healthy ones who make Obamacare work. They pay the freight so those who need health care can get it at reasonable rates. The healthy need to understand that one day they'll need it as well. It's the healthy ones who make all insurances work as it reduces the risk of lots of high payouts while at the same time premiums roll in from subscribers who need little medical attention.

I think Senator Rand Paul said something very useful and constructive that could be applied to all states, not just North Carolina. However, it appears no one has picked up on his thoughts. I did, and I hope what I'm suggesting here has merit. I realize what's inside the policy -- what's covered -- is more important to many than the coverage itself. Leave in pre-existing conditions, leave in birth-control coverage and support for Planned Parenthood, leave in everything that's in today's Obamacare. Or allow for opting out of coverage that doesn't diminish the entire plan. Those are the weeds of the possibilities and very important, but a big picture is better than no picture as all.

There's must be something -- probably a lot of -- good that would come by moving 22 million from Obamacare to the State Health Plan in every state in the United States.

Monday, June 19, 2017

NC Governor & General Assembly should consider unaffiliated voters when scheduling elections


It’s admirable if not ambitious that North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper wants to have a special election for the General Assembly prior to its 2018 session. The special election would come after districts for the NC House and NC Senate are redrawn without using race or politics as a guide. Gov. Cooper’s push for a quick election is admirable—though many think he is grandstanding just as he accuses the Republicans of doing—even if the districts are set with any sense of decorum; it is ambitious if current election laws and schedules are kept intact.

Good luck, first, with redrawing the districts to please the Republicans which owns Raleigh's Jones Street legislature while satisfying the Democratic Governor who hopes at the very least his party can pick up enough seats in new districts and elections to keep the GOP from having veto proof law-making. The courts also have to be pleased with whatever happens in redistricting.

Federal court challenges and jockeying in Raleigh, unfortunately, are being done without consideration of the 2.031 million unaffiliated voters, an issue about which I wrote in April in an op-ed piece for The News & Observer, Gov. Cooper, US Senator Richard Burr, and President Donald Trump owe their North Carolina election success in 2016 to unaffiliated voters who controlled the North Carolina political process. When the winners' celebrations ended so did the desire to include unaffiliated voters in law-making and political procedures.

The law merging the North Carolina Ethics Board with the North Carolina Board of Elections is a good example. Those two terms—Ethics and Elections—should not be mentioned in the same breath as a functioning part of the choosing our leadership, but the Republicans think and thought so. The law combines those two boards and directs the Governor to appoint four board members equally between Democrats and Republicans. Previously, the Elections Board had five members, three from the ruling Governor’s party and two from the other. To date, the Governor has stalled the process by not appointing anyone to the combine board which prevents the appointment of county boards. The election process in North Carolina is slowly and surely grinding to a halt or an all-out court battle that will never end, even if the US Supreme Court says to end it.

Now, get this: Nowhere does the law give the unaffiliated registered voter a seat at the state or county level. The Republicans didn’t suggest it in legislation. Gov. Cooper hasn’t spoken up for it. He vetoed the legislation, not so much that it is a bad idea to merge the two boards but as a protest to his appointive power reduction by the General Assembly.

The law requires the evenly split state board to appoint county boards along the same lines, equally between the two parties. Gov. Cooper’s stamp of disapproval was over-ridden by the Republican dominated General Assembly so he challenged the law in court. There are all sorts of law suits currently in progress, some about redistricting near or at the United States Supreme Court. The battles are about competition or lack thereof between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.

One filing is by Michael Crowder, a lawyer from Carrboro, NC, whose lawsuit on the surface challenges the merger of the NC Board of Elections with the NC Ethics Board. More importantly his beef is the make-up of appointed state and county members to the combine board. Even with numbers to show the impact of the unaffiliated registrants—as of mid-June: 2.639 million registered Democrats; 2.051 million registered Republicans; and 2.031 million registered unaffiliated—there will be no unaffiliated registered voters on any of those boards and nothing in the law to rectify it. It’s the same for many other appointed boards and commissions throughout North Carolina and across the United States. Elected officials are telling us that if you’re not going to play in the two-party system, if you’re not going to register as a Democrat or Republican, you can only participate when it’s time to vote. Unaffiliated registrants should remember that when voting.

Last April, in that op-ed piece in The N&O newspaper, I advocated the establishment of an “Unaffiliated” party in North Carolina. While such an approach would be difficult at best, unaffiliated candidates can have a voice through the election process, and that’s where Gov. Cooper’s ambitious schedule meets resistance.

Unaffiliated candidates can appear on the general election ballot through petition of the (combined) NC Board of Elections. You do not have to be registered as unaffiliated to do so. You can be Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or unaffiliated. It takes lots of signatures of registered voters who live in the district of the office. For NC Senate and NC House, that’s 4% of the total registered voters in the districts.

With 50 seats in the NC Senate, 120 in the NC House, and nearly 6.8 million registered NC voters, each Senate district should have on average 136,000 registrants and require 5,400 petition signatures and each House district about 71,700, requiring 2,868 signatures. Those numbers vary in each district.

The law governing unaffiliated petitioners says the number of registered voters in the district is as of the first day of the election year and petitions must be submitted by the last Friday in June, six months after the number is determined and 4½ months before the election. A special election this year or any time prior to the 2018 General Assembly call into session may not allow an adequate time requirement for the petition process. But that would be typical of Democrats and Republicans to do whatever it takes to keep the unaffiliated off the ballots and out of the “normal” two-party process.

Our elections methods and how elected officials conduct business are all about political parties with little regard for unaffiliated voters and candidates. If all candidates, even those running in party primaries and for re-election, are required to petition to be on the ballot, lawmakers would think at least twice, maybe, before limiting the petition process.

Unaffiliated voters and the petition process should be considered when scheduling a special election. A short cycle gives advantage to the two political parties. Consider the English phrase extolling the virtue of patience: “Good things come to those who wait.” Though not desirable to Gov. Cooper, redistricting now (before the end of the year) and waiting until November 2018 is the best option for everyone, not just the two major political parties. And that's the way it should be.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Equity scheduling for a 20-game ACC schedule

Click on the schedule to enlarge and print!
Let’s stop with the permanent partners in Atlantic Coast Conference basketball and go to an equity schedule, similar to the NFL. Based on the results of the previous season the higher ranked teams play each other twice and the lower ranked teams play each other twice. 

The 2019-20 season—when the conference expands to 20 league games per team—is the right time to do it. ESPN, the major sponsor of all things ACC, may object at first, but in reality, the holder of TV rights will get a better overall broadcast slate.

In the summer of 2016, the ACC voted to expand to the 20 game schedule. Some coaches and athletic directors were for it; several were against it. ESPN wanted more conference games to show on the ESPN Digital Network, a combination of pure broadcast media and mobile device streaming. For the benefit of the conference, Boston College-Clemson games are preferred to a Clemson-Campbell game or a Boston College-SUNY Oswego State game.

My proposal schedules the coming season based on the previous year seedings for the ACC tournament. It divides the league into three “PODS” just for scheduling purposes, starts with all teams playing each other once, and adds six duplicate games based on a set formula.

The teams are placed in numerical order based on the previous season and divided into three groups: teams 1-5, 6-10, and 11-15. Based on the 2016-17 results, the PODs would be:
  • A: North Carolina, Florida State, Notre Dame, Louisville, Duke
  • B: Virginia, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Miami, Wake Forest
  • C: Georgia Tech, Clemson, NC State, Pittsburgh, Boston College
The teams in each POD play each other twice, giving each team four additional regular season games (18 total). The last two games would be assigned with this progressive formula: #1 plays #6 and #11 twice; #2 plays #7 and #12 twice, and so on and so forth. Every year the final standings (tournament seeds) could change, therefore the schedule would change. So, here is the formula for games showing the seed and the opponents for two games:
  • 1 plays two games against 2-3-4-5-6-11
  • 2 plays two games against 1-3-4-5-7-12 
  • 3 plays two games against 1-2-4-5-8-13
  • 4 plays two games against 1-2-3-5-9-14
  • 5 plays two games against 1-2-3-4-10-15
  • 6 plays two games against 1-7-8-9-10-11
  • 7 plays two games against 2-6-8-9-10-12
  • 8 plays two games against 3-6-7-9-10-13
  • 9 plays two games against 4-6-7-8-10-14
  • 10 plays two games against 5-6-7-8-9-15
  • 11 plays two games against 1-6-12-13-14-15
  • 12 plays two games against 2-7-11-13-14-15
  • 13 plays two games against 3-8-11-12-14-15
  • 14 plays two games against 4-9-11-12-13-15
  • 15 plays two games against 5-10-11-12-13-14
The chart above shows entire schedule. Here is the proposed two-game schedule for UNC, Duke, NC State and Wake Forest based on the 2016-17 results:
  • UNC (#1) plays two games against Florida State, Notre Dame, Louisville, Duke, Virginia and Georgia Tech.
  • Duke (#5) plays two games against UNC, Florida State, Notre Dame, Louisville, Wake Forest and Boston College.
  • NC State (#13) plays two games against Notre Dame, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Pitt and Boston College.
  • Wake Forest (#10) plays two games against Duke, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Miami, and Boston College.
The teams finishing at the top of the league would have a perceived tougher schedule than those at the bottom. That may not be true depending on returning players, those who do not return, and recruits and transfers but the schedule would be based on the previous season results. The teams at the bottom of the league could have a chance of moving up with a perceived weaker schedule.

Of course, ESPN would object because there is a chance the annual two games between UNC and Duke may be reduced to one, if they do not finish in the same group of five teams: 1-5, 6-10 or 11-15. So, since ESPN wants two UNC-Duke games each season, just make it happen. Guarantee two UNC-Duke games by adjusting the schedule when it doesn't happen by this proposed scheduling plan.

Doing away with permanent partners is the key to a more balanced schedule. Some NC State fans may not like limiting games with UNC to one a season, but some would like that idea. Overall, the league could balance itself year after year. And, actually, this formula could be used immediately for the 18-game schedule, just don't add the two extra duplicate opponents outside the POD.

It’s just a thought and should be considered.