Health Care – Bleeding Heart Statistics Unhelped by Obama’s Plan

The bleeding hearts will give you statistics like, “22,000 adults died in 2006 because they did not have health insurance” as a reason to support the Obama Health Care Plan.  While that is sad, Obama’s plan DOES NOTHING to solve this particular problem.

Let’s break it down.

America has about 3.5M homeless.  1.4M of those are children.  That means 2.1M adult homeless people.  How many of these people have medical insurance?  None.

For the adult homeless, let’s assume a fixed distribution between 19 and 75, and lets assume they have a typical life expectancy (although they probably live less).  That means that at least 38,596 of them will die this year.  Will many of them die because they didn’t have health insurance?  Of course!  But unless Obama’s magic health care plan can also solve homelessness, these statistics aren’t going to change one bit.  So the whole claim that this is a problem with our insurance program is bunk.

Make your own conclusions about Obama’s health care plan.  But when you hear these ludicrous arguments about “number of uninsured Americans”, “number of Americans to die without insurance”, “high cost of insurance” – remember these statistics are very complicated and never accurately summarized in a pithy headline.

Response to Barbara Boxer

barbara_boxer I received the following letter from Senator Boxer today.  Inline are my thoughts.

Dear Friend:
I need your help.
Making sure America’s families have access to affordable, quality health care is a complex challenge, but one we simply cannot afford to ignore any longer.

Who is ignoring it?  I’m not; you’re not.

The status quo is unsustainable:

I agree.

46 million Americans have no health insurance.

Yes, we also have about 30 million unemployed Americans.  If you will focus on growing employment, many of the 46 million will be able to afford health insurance.  You point out that health care costs too much; how will your plan reduce the cost of healthcare?

America also has about 60 million smokers.  About 9 million of the 46 million uninsured people you mention are smokers – should they be allowed to continue smoking while we are paying for their healthcare?  Is it fair that they don’t pay for their own insurance when they’re buying cigarettes which kill them?

The U.S. spends more than twice as much on health care per person than most other industrialized nations, yet we rank 29th out of 30 industrialized nations on infant mortality.

This doesn’t appear to be true (see stats).  While it is sad that the mortality rate is not lower, it is not clear that this is an indictment of the American medical system.  Moreover, how is your plan going to fix it?  I don’t see any evidence that it will.

America has the best medical care in the world – bar none.  Americans don’t fly out of country to have surgery – to the contrary, foreigners fly here to have surgery.  The best medical care costs money, and the counter examples you provide are not representative of the entire system.  Yes, we should work to reduce the infant mortality rate, but we should do many things – including cure cancer too.

Employer-sponsored health insurance premiums have more than doubled in the last nine years.
And, a recent study found that, if we do nothing, families in many states, including California, will have to spend 40% or more of their pre-tax income on health insurance through their employer.

Yes – why are they paid pre-tax?  Why do health insurers get paid with pre-tax dollars while the rest of us are paid with after-tax dollars?  Stop subsidizing the medical industry with pre-tax dollars and costs will come down.

The time for action is now.

I agree – you mentioned that already.  But your plan doesn’t even address the problems you’ve listed, so I don’t think it is a good one.

What about the rising cost of malpractice insurance?  Why don’t you fix that?  Oh – right – your husband is a lawyer.  You wouldn’t want to take away his revenue stream.

As I work with my Senate colleagues to craft healthcare reform legislation, I ask you to help me by sharing your stories and experiences – both good and bad – with our healthcare system. 
Please go to  to share your stories with me. 
I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you for the letter.

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

Companies That Know You

Who knows more information about you – Google or your Wireless Phone Company?

Google knows your search history, but doesn’t know your address or name.  Google knows what ads you clicked on and what search results you clicked on.  Google may know what city you are in if it can geo-locate based on your IP address, but it might be wrong too (if you are using a proxy).  Google might have your email if you use GMail.  But Google doesn’t know your name, email, or anything personal if you don’t login to any Google services.  Google purges all records in less than one year.

Cell Phone Carrier
Your cell phone carrier knows where you are all the time within 5-10 miles.  Your phone company knows who you talked to, and when, and for how long.  They know who you texted.  They have the content of your voicemail.  If you use a data plan on your phone, your phone company knows what websites you visit, what web searches you did, and what links you clicked.  And unlike Google’s information, which is all anonymous (unless you logged in), the phone company can tie it all back to your name, address, and phone number…  And these records are never purged.  In 2025, the phone company will still know where you were at 3pm on Saturday, July 11, 2009.

NOTE: These opinions do not reflect those of my employer.

Search Result Censorship

One of the most valued freedoms in America is the freedom of speech.  It’s part of the first amendment to the US Constitution in the Bill of Rights.  We defend it rigorously in everything we do.

When we read, listen or watch the news, we individually can choose media that reflects our own political views.  For instance, those that watch FOX news or listen to KSFO560 may be looking for a conservative view.  For a more liberal viewpoint, we might chose ABC News or Bloomberg.  Regardless of your political slant – America gives you the freedom to choose.

Recently Google’s search engine has been criticized for being overly algorithmic and perhaps too inhuman.  Certainly we all prefer to interact with people than we do to interact with purely the machine. But if search results were not algorithmic, then they would be editorialized.  And if they were editorialized, who should do the editing?  Certainly some governments would like to be involved in that process!  But generally, how do we avoid biases? How do we avoid censorship?

Of course, even if search results are algorithmic, humans created that algorithm, so it is not impervious to biases either.  So far, none of the big search engines have been accused of massive political censorship within their search results.  But maybe we just haven’t noticed yet?

By the way, I’m not talking about Google News, Yahoo News, or Bing News.  When using these sites, I’m well aware that biases are introduced simply by the choice of which news content is included in the site’s news index.   Web search is different.  Web search is like going to the library – I expect that there is no implicit content filter and I further expect all results will be at my disposal.  If there is editorial going on at this library,  I need to know so that I can either use a different library or modify my expectations.

Let’s take an example.  Search for “Martin Luther King” on Google, Yahoo, and Bing.  On Google, the top result is from Wikipedia.  Wikipedia is an independent, collaborative encyclopedia on the web.  It is also the #4 result on Yahoo and the #2 result on Bing.  I find this to be a fairly credible source. Yahoo’s top result is from, the official site of the Nobel Prize organization.  This site ranks as the #2 result on Google and the #5 result on Bing and also seems like a reputable and credible source. Finally, on Bing, the top result is from MSN Encarta, an online encyclopedia owned and operated by Microsoft.  This web page does not rank in the top 10 on either Yahoo or Google.  Wait a minute – MSN Encarta is owned and operated by Microsoft?

Since neither Yahoo nor Google rank the Encarta page very high, it is unclear what editorial process Microsoft uses to decide that Encarta deserves the #1 search result spot on Bing.  If Microsoft succeeds in its mission to become the top search provider, does this mean that Microsoft hand picks the content we see?  Sometimes editorial is good, but sometimes it is not.  And how can the user know which is which?

My example may seem trivial, because in reality, the Encarta page seems pretty fair.  But, what if Bing had editorialized it’s #4 result ( (also #3 on Google) to be the top search result?  This page looks like an official Martin Luther King history page, but it is actually written by white supremacists.  Interestingly, while this page shows up on both Google and Bing, it does not appear in the top-100 results on Yahoo at all.  Yahoo appears to have editorialized this result out of their index.  While most of us disagree with the, should our search engines be using their own political beliefs to sensor your search results?

Of course, the advertising displayed on each of the search engines is also editorialized – or at least it is displayed at the discretion of the search engine in question.   This can confuse the issue, but at least the 3 search engines all label advertisements distinctly from search results.

To wrap up, we should all be aware that search engines today are biased in some way.  As long as those biases are based on algorithms designed to return content most people want and avoid content most people don’t want (spam, malware, etc) without outright censorship, that is okay.  But when biases start reflecting political opinions via exclusion or preference of self-created content, search engines have a real problem.  Because I don’t believe humans are capable of editorializing a world-wide-web index without introducing accidental or intentional biases, I’ll stick to search engines which use cold, calculating algorithms.

NOTE:  These opinions are my own and do not reflect opinions of my employer.

Free Markets and Lawyers

lawyers I watched the Arrington/Reback interview last week.  It was quite interesting.  Reback claims (and I agree) that competition is what ensures a fair marketplace.  Without competition, consumers ultimately get burned.

I was thinking about how this applies to lawyers in America.  Does competition keep the legal industry in check?

Consider what would happen if tomorrow, the population of Accountants in the United States doubled.  Suddenly there would be too many accountants.  The price for accounting work would drop instantly due to over supply.

Now consider what would happen if tomorrow, the population of lawyers doubled.  Unfortunately, there would be no such drop.  A lawyer’s job is to make an argument (lawsuit).  And we’ve created a government which has infinite capacity for new lawsuits.   If there were twice as many lawyers filing claims, our government is *required by law* to expand to meet the needs of all those lawyers.  Is this right?

According to this study, we can see the number of lawyers in America has sharply increased between 1970 and 2000.  Was this growth due to increased demand for lawyers?  Or do we have a supply/demand chain in the legal profession which is out of whack?  Could it be that the same claims which Reback makes about businesses needing competitive pressure to remain balanced applies to lawyers?  And if so, when we’ve got a government willing to accept any lawsuit, from any lawyer at unbounded capacity, how do we enforce competition in the legal industry?

The problem boils down to “frivolous”.  Currently it is virtually impossible to get a case thrown out as frivolous.  “Frivolous” is a specific legal term which has to do with making an grossly wasteful case.  Generally, lawyers can make most any claim and sue anyone without being frivolous.  This process can potentially cost the defendant hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend; and because it is so costly, defendants usually find it easier to settle, even for moderatly large amounts of $25,000 to $100,000.  Even if the defendant is ultimately right and wins in court, the plaintiff owes the defendant nothing for all that wasted time.  Further, the taxpayers were left with the bill for all the court costs.  Why is this so?  When bringing forth a lawsuit where you ultimately lose, why doesn’t the loser pay court costs and defendant costs?  What other checks-and-balances can we put in place to provide the equivalent of “competition” in a legal system which inherently has no bounds on growth?

Unfortunately, our legal system is the pinnacle of the conflict of interest.  Lawyers are one of the highest paid professions in the United States.  Laws which regulate lawsuits will bring down lawyer wages.  How can we expect politicians (largely lawyers themselves), judges, and lawyers to accept legislation which limits their livelihood?  We cannot.