And newspapers wonder why they are dying

Today brings the news that, according to this AP article, “some major health insurance companies have stopped issuing certain types of policies for children.”

Perhaps you are wondering why the insurance companies are doing this. Well, the AP says that this development is “an unintended consequence of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law, state officials said Friday.”

Okay, how so?

The next paragraph brings this “explanation”:

“Starting later this year, the health care overhaul law requires insurers to accept children regardless of medical problems. Insurers are worried that parents will wait until kids get sick to sign them up, saddling the companies with unpredictable costs.”

Okay, so that’s a pretty good explanation of why-like the insurance companies are saying and some insurance commissioners are agreeing-we probably need some sort of enrollment period for the “guaranteed issue” policies for children, so that parents can’t put off buying these policies until they are “on the way to the hospital,” as one insurance company executive worries that they will do.

And it helps make the point why, contrary to what some critics of the reform bill want to do, we can’t in general just tell insurance companies not to pay attention to preexisting conditions without forcing everyone to buy coverage. Again, people could just wait to enroll until they get sick, adding only costs and no revenue to the picture from the insurance companies’ point of view, which, you know, really would be anti-business and un-American and whatever other negative things the health-insurance-reform bill is alleged by critics to be.

But it’s not an explanation of why companies would stop issuing policies to children now, while they can still pick and choose which children to cover on the basis of preexisting conditions, general health, etc.

Perhaps the article is trying to make the point that there are two problems: (1) the insurance companies are stopping issuing policies now, and (2) they aren’t planning to start again once the new rules that will require guaranteed issue take effect in September.

Perhaps. And that really could be a problem, one for which the fairest solution would probably be to institute the aforementioned enrollment periods.

But the article only ever gets around to talking about problem 1, and never gets around to explaining problem 2, so I’m just guessing.

It’s disheartening that so few Americans can be bothered to follow important news (as opposed to news about, say, the New Black Panthers).

But when you read articles that make as little sense as this one, it’s hard to blame people for tuning out of coverage about the important stuff.

Did you know you can subscribe to Margin Notes by email? No more than one email per day (and then only if there is anything new to report). What’s not to like?

The Week’s Tweets (2010-07-18)

  • WHY won't the contractor just FINISH. THE. JOB. #AboutToRunAmokWithAMachinegun #
  • Intriguing that my pro-legalization article is getting supportive comments even at a "conservative" publication. #pot #
  • Oil leak capped, financial reform passed. Here's hoping Obama keeps "failing." #
  • "Mystery Plumber" may be brains behind containment cap. (Presence of "brains" indicates it's not Joe, however.) #
  • Indication no. 437 your news source is lying to you: they act like there is something significant about the "New Black Panthers." #
  • Either (1) the oil leak is capped or (2) BP is lying, so, you know, grain of salt. #bp #
  • Glad I just jury-rigged a standup desk! #
  • Dick Cheney is in the end stages of congestive heart failure. #
  • Yup: seeing "a bald eagle dumpster-diving, feathers matted with waste is … like walking in on Uncle Sam on the john." #
  • Tons of comments on my pot-legalization article–mostly pro. If you're against it, you'd better jump in! #pot #
  • You can now say f*** on the air. #
  • Legalize it, and I'll advertise it (well, I'll write a Went West column about it, anyway): #pot #legalization #prop19 #
  • Mark Twain: "Interviewers are courteous and gentle-mannered, even when they come to destroy." #
  • Why does everyone call the Russian spies "dumb"? They got paid for doing nothing. Sounds like their bosses are the dumb ones. #
  • My latest Went West column grapples with that New York mag article on parenting. #
  • "Wall Street hiring in anticipation of recovery": Reassuring? Or yet more proof that these guys aren't that bright? #

The Week’s Tweets (2010-07-11)

  • People are actually talking about whether tanning tax violates whites' rights. #MostInconsequentialSuperpowerEver #
  • Oooh, death panels are back! Also, new Medicare chief will somehow institute UK-style national healthcare on his own! #
  • So I hear there is someone who calls himself LeBron James. #
  • If the MSM is so "liberal," how come reporters only get fired for espousing liberal viewpoints? #
  • I know mama grizzly bears. Ex-governor Palin, you are no mama grizzly bear. #
  • Wow, Flickr now lets you "grab the code" to use Creative Commons photos, rather than having to download/reupload them. Nice! #
  • Republicans abusing filibuster rule angry at Obama for "abusing" recess-appointments rule. #
  • Is there some kind of big sports thing happening today or something? #
  • After 10+ yrs with credit unions, it's disconcerting to learn of all the different fees I'm expected to donate to a bank's shareholders. #
  • Internet petitions used to be meaningless/ineffective (due to ease of faking signatures, etc.). Has that changed? #
  • "Sometimes people who are self-righteous and not very bright say things they don't mean but think they should mean." #

Banks vs. credit unions

Piggy Bank

One dollar a month might not sound like much, but let it ride for a couple million years and pretty soon you are talking about real money.

It felt like the last straw.

“I don’t know if we’re going to be able to do business,” I told the nice woman sitting across the desk from us.

We were at a local bank here in Elkins, setting up new checking and savings accounts, and it seemed like all we’d been hearing about for the last fifteen minutes were the many opportunities we would have for transferring our money directly into the pockets of the bank’s shareholders. These included:

  • A $5 charge every time money is transferred from savings to checking to cover an overdraft.
  • A $33 charge per overdrawn transaction if there isn’t enough money in our savings account to cover an overdraft, and an additional $33 charge for every ten days that this situation persists.
  • And the aforementioned $1 charge in any month that our savings account falls below $100.

Not to mention the $10 charge we’ll incur if we need to replace a lost savings-account “passbook.” My eye fell on this item as I scanned the “Schedule of Fees and Charges.” At first I dismissed this, imagining that it only applied to little old ladies who archaically insist on keeping paper records of their withdrawals of crisp, new twenty-dollar bills to insert in their grandchildren’s birthday cards. Who else would even use a passbook in the first place, much less replace it if they lost it?

Then I looked inside our passbook and learned that “it must be presented when money is deposited or withdrawn.”

What year is it again?

Admittedly, there is part of me that had been looking forward to moving to Elkins because of the somewhat more old-fashioned way of life available there. But I was excited about things like my son being able to ride his bike to friends’ houses. I didn’t think about the way a small town with an aging population might serve as a sort of time capsule for the old way of doing business, in which banks made their problems into their customers’ problems without worrying about losing anyone to more attractive competitors because, well, the presidents of all three local banks eat lunch together.

I suppose it’s not really all that “old-fashioned” for a bank to charge its customers essentially every fee it thinks it can get away with. It’s probably not all that different from what most banks do, no matter what size town they are in.

It’s just different from the credit unions I’ve been using for the last eleven years, which imposed no account minimums (well, maybe $5), and which came to me to suggest setting up an overdraft line-of-credit to avoid being charged fees for nonsufficient funds.

This last option is technically available at our new bank, but I had to ask about it, and it’s hard to imagine the bank’s directors deciding not to foreground this option for any other reason than to protect profits. It’s not that I mind a business making profits, of course, but I’m reluctant to get involved with a financial institution whose business plan includes a dependency on its customers making financial mistakes. Something just feels off about that.

In the end, we finished signing the forms and opening the new accounts, but there’s a good chance we won’t really use them for anything except a place to deposit any paper checks before transferring them to ING DIrect, the online bank-assuming ING can give me a larger line of credit than the $25 one they offer as a starter. And we’ll stick a few checks from the local bank in our wallets, in case of emergencies; that’s also unfortunately not an option with ING.

After all, thrift is among the many virtues we assign to small towns (with varying degrees of actual connection to reality, admittedly), and I just can’t see throwing money away, even in such small increments, when I don’t have to.

Did you know you can subscribe to Margin Notes by email? No more than one email per day (and then only if there is anything new to report). What’s not to like?

The Week’s Tweets (2010-07-04)

  • The church bells in this town are all five minutes fast. Although that may sound like a Tom Waits lyric, it's just an observation. #
  • So apparently they sell power recliners now. #
  • Idaho GOP plank: "Payments to [public] employees requested to be paid in silver and or gold, Will be complied with." #
  • Fun as it is to crack on pro athletes' salaries, can football players ever be paid enough for sacrificing their brains? #
  • “They couldn’t have been spies. Look what she did with the hydrangeas.” #
  • If failure were ever really "an option," would it be called "failure"? #
  • Yes! "I have to think (and experiment) every single time I want to decipher one of these keyboard 'shortcuts.'" #
  • My latest Went West column continues to trace our experiences on the fringes of the mortgage crisis. #wtcomm #