Archive for Common Cents

Did anyone ever use this?

A note from the guys at PayPal:

As we continue to evolve and improve your PayPal experience we’ve decided to remove the Pay After Delivery payment method. After April 18, 2018, this will no longer be a choice when you check out with PayPal. If you’ve made a Pay After Delivery purchase that is scheduled to be billed after April 18, 2018, we’ll still complete the transaction as scheduled (10 days after purchase for domestic transactions and 14 days after purchase for international transactions).

I mean, if I need to pay over time, there are credit cards. Even PayPal has credit cards. But maybe this is just a reflection of my own predilections.

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Oh, by the way

A really dreadful gurney-side manner, this is:

Laura Cameron, then three months pregnant, tripped and fell in a parking lot and landed in the emergency room last May — her blood pressure was low and she was scared and in pain. She was flat on her back and plugged into a saline drip when a hospital employee approached her gurney to discuss how she would pay her hospital bill.

Though both Cameron, 28, and her husband, Keith, have insurance, the bill would likely come to about $830, the representative said. If that sounded unmanageable, she offered, they could take out a loan through a bank that had a partnership with the hospital.

I got hauled to the ER twice in 2016. The first time, an underling who came off like Truman Capote’s taller brother let me know that I was facing a hundred-dollar copay, and would I like to take care of that now? I was sufficiently conscious to nod assent, and dug out my debit card.

An hour later, part two of the Truman show: “They’re telling us you haven’t met your deductible yet this year.” I shrugged, handed over the plastic, and signed for a thousand. Shortly thereafter, I was wheeled to an actual room.

[P]romoting bank loans at hospitals and, particularly, emergency rooms raises concerns, experts say. For one thing, the cost estimates provided — likely based on a hospital’s list price — may be far higher than the negotiated rate ultimately paid by most insurers. Sick patients, like Cameron, may feel they have no choice but to sign up for a loan since they need treatment. And the quick loan process, usually with no credit check, means they may well be signing on for expenses they can ill afford to pay.

I suppose I was fortunate in that I actually had $1100 in the bank. Not everyone is in such a position.

Here’s an option I heartily endorse when possible:

If you should find yourself in hospital unexpectedly, and confronted with this sort of aggressive approach, I suggest you tell them to talk to your significant other, or ask them to wait until you’re in a proper mental and physical and emotional state to make such decisions. If they persist, tell them what they can do with the paperwork. After all, they’re in a place where it can be extracted once they’ve done that!

Damn straight.

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Didn’t notice a thing

Email received from American Express:

We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience you may have experienced over the weekend when using your Card to make a purchase or withdraw money at an ATM. We experienced high transaction volumes
and some intermittent disruption to our services. Because of heavy call volumes, we were unable to provide you with the level of service that you should expect.

We are working quickly to resolve any lingering issues, including correcting any unexpected pending transactions that you may see on your account.

That last bit is perhaps a little scary, but I noticed no such transactions, and went back to check just to make sure.


What’s yours is mined

Nearly half the electrical power in Iceland is going to create cryptocurrency:

Iceland is facing an “exponential” rise in Bitcoin mining that is gobbling up power resources, a spokesman for Icelandic energy firm HS Orka has said.

This year, electricity use at Bitcoin mining data centres is likely to exceed that of all Iceland’s homes, according to Johann Snorri Sigurbergsson.

He said many potential customers were keen to get in on the act.

“If all these projects are realised, we won’t have enough energy for it,” he told the BBC.

Johann’s figures are startling:

[H]e expects Bitcoin mining operations will use around 840 gigawatt hours of electricity to supply data centre computers and cooling systems, for example.

He estimated that the country’s homes, in contrast, use around 700 gigawatt hours every year.

Iceland has a population of about 350,000, not quite as many as Bakersfield, California.

(Via Fark.)

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Don’t let them leave home without it

Warren Meyer says that if your kids are traveling, you should make sure they’re traveling with American Express:

I am a flaming hypocrite on this topic, because my company does not accept Amex, but for travel, particularly if it is a shared family card you are giving your kids, don’t use Visa or Mastercard. Most banks have systems now that are simply hair-trigger in freezing an account if they see a charge they don’t expect, which generally means a charge in a new city, i.e. when you are traveling. It is merely irritating on my own card, as I have to call and get it turned back on (which can be a pain in certain foreign lands) but it creates a real problem for my kids. Twice my son has been traveling and twice they have immediately shut down his card. When he called, they would not talk to him so he had to find me somewhere and I had to call them to verify a charge. But since I did not make the charge I have to call my son back and then call the credit card company back… In my experience, perhaps due to their background as a travel company, Amex is far, far less likely to have travel to new lands trigger these sort of pre-emptive account shutdowns.

I think I’ve had only one such incident with American Express, and they made a point of actually calling me before taking more severe action. What’s more, since then they’ve designated a couple of customer-service people to keep an eys on Twitter, not quite 24/7, but it’s better than a telephone tree.

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Pocket now better lined

Anyone who listened to the yammering — “debate” just doesn’t describe it — over the Trump administration’s insistence on a tax cut of some sort would be eminently justified in asking “Yeah? How much?”

I clearly don’t know how you did, but here’s how I came out. Despite my allegedly lofty position on the org chart, I am paid on an hourly basis. Over the past two years, I’ve cut those hours back somewhat, from 94 or so every other week to more like 84. The first order of business, therefore, was to find a pay period pre-Trump that, in terms of hours and bennies, matches my first post-Trump check. Only had to go back to October ’17. The difference in take-home: $32.05. Over a year’s time, this comes to $833. One could legitimately say that this is not a huge sum. On t’other hand, it’s more than my house payment. (Keep in mind that I have yet to see a proper Form 1040 or its instructions.)

The (at one time) Loyal Opposition has pointed out that these cuts, as enacted, will expire in ten years. Then again, I can reasonably expect to expire in ten years, if not sooner.

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A credit to the species

Bark M. has a long talk with a subprime auto-lending specialist, and he asks one of the questions I most wanted to have answered:

“So who are your very best customers, then?”

“Drug dealers. No question.” She’s very definitive on this point. “They pay on time, every month, in cash at the office. They’ll even pay extra money toward the principal — I’ve explained how that works to a few of them, and they really love the idea. Of course, the money smells like weed and makes the office reek for the whole day. Great customers. Horrible people, yes, but great customers.”

You’d almost wonder why they’d go shopping subprime if they’re such careful, um, money managers.

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Caracalypse now

Stefano Pozzebon reports from Caracas for CNN Money that getting a dollar in Venezuela is a long, arduous task [warning: autostart video]:

It was noon. I had been looking for cash for more than two hours. I returned to the first bank I tried.

I waited another hour in line before reaching the teller with my checkbook in hand. I noticed how everyone in line was still calm and silent, as if general resignation had forced these people to simply accept the situation.

At 1:23 p.m., I finally presented my check and got the hard-earned cash: 10,000 bolívars, or 6 cents.

Yarmira de Motos, the teller, informed me that the bank manager establishes every morning how much each customer can withdraw based on how much money is delivered by the Venezuelan Central Bank.

For this reason, some banks may allow 5,000-, 10,000- or even 30,000-bolívar withdrawals depending on the day. It’s a total gamble.

With my 10,000 bolívars in hand four hours later, I met a friend for a coffee. My cappuccino cost 35,000 bolívars.

Probably fifty thousand by now.

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Plastic fantastic haters

A couple of gas stations in town charge you a few pennies extra per gallon if you pay with a credit card, which, to me anyway, is no big deal. To the European Union, it’s an outrage:

From Engadget, apparently the EU has banned retailers for adding a surcharge on credit card purchases. Since it is an absolute fact that credit card sales cost retailers at least 3% more (due to merchant processing fees) than cash sales, I likely would have written about this story something like “EU knuckles under special interest lobbying from credit card processors and forces non-customers (i.e. those paying in cash) to subsidize credit card purchases.” Of course, given the consistent and predictable economic ignorance of Engadget, that is not how the story actually was written.

Besides, pay-by-phone stuff is ultimately card-driven, and anything you can do on a phone these days is infinitely cool compared to what your parents had to do; the only thing less cool than paying with cash is writing a check.

The law essentially forces cash customers to subsidize credit card customers. I know what retail profits look like (think small single digits) and the lost surcharge is not coming out of profits, it is going to be covered by establishments in generally higher prices paid by everyone, including cash customers. In my mind, this retailer is a hero, by actually making this legally-mandated cross subsidy transparent.

Speaking of heroes of this sort, let’s hear it for Costco:

Costco has adopted a novel way to show its objection to a new soda tax in Seattle: It’s telling customers just how much the tax will cost and encouraging them to buy soft drinks outside the city.

The city recently enacted a tax of 1.75 cents an ounce on surgary beverages. The result: A case of Gatorade that used to cost $15.99 now costs $26.33 — a 65% markup. And a case of Dr. Pepper now costs $17.55 instead of $9.99, according to Costco. That’s a 76% surcharge.

The Costco store in Seattle was also kind enough to let customers know the tax did not apply in the company’s stores outside the city.

And if there’s anything politicians hate, it’s the exposure of something they hoped you wouldn’t notice.

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Things are tough all over

One of Lorna’s 2018 resolutions:

Start saving as much money as I can to put towards a house — I don’t know what it’s like in other countries but trying to save money for a house is difficult. Most houses in nice areas are a minimum of £200k here and you always need a deposit of around 20% before you can figure out the mortgage, so I’m trying to save as much as I can for mine and Adam’s future.

Which means £40k down, about $54,000. The United Kingdom is evidently pricey. From time to time, you can wangle a deal here in the States for less than 20 percent down, through the Federal Housing Association, but you’ll generally have to fork out a premium for mortgage insurance, which might be half as much as your interest rate — which means you’re in effect paying a rate half again as high as it says on the note.

Halfway through my own mortgage, I owe, yes, about $54,000.

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You call that fleshtone?

Having gotten an earlier loan paid back, I decided to help out these fine folks:

Launched in 2016, House No. 3028 LLC is the brainchild of sister and brother duo, Thressa Smith and Norrell Casey, based out of Oakland, CA. With Thressa Fashion Institute training, backgrounds in sales and fashion inspiration from their mother, this dynamic team set out to shake up the world of nude shoes.

On a wing and a prayer, they set out to make their dreams come true: be successful black entrepreneurs, make a mark in the fashion industry geared toward the inclusion of all women of color, and buy back the family home, located in the Oakland foothills, the home bears the House No: 3028! House No: 3028, nude shoes for women of color. The inspiration was fashion frustration. Unable to find the right nude shoe, unless she wanted to pay over $600 for a Christian Louboutin nude, Thressa decided to design and sell her own.

The initial offering of The NU 2″, 3″ & 4″ heels, in six stunning hues: Honey, Cookie, Brown Sugar, Caramel, Brownie & Cacao, was quite successful … NU Pumps allow brown girls to perfectly match, complement or contrast their skin tone. Before long, it became clear that women wanted a little more edge and more variety. After months of additional research to find the right supplier and product development to provide the best product, the best quality and the best price.

They’re seeking $15,000; they’re almost there.

Update, 31 December: They made it.

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Bubble down

Some poor soul reportedly had to fork over this impressive collection of goods:

Viceroy tulip, as seen in 1637

  • Two lasts of wheat
  • Four lasts of rye
  • Four fat oxen
  • Eight fat swine
  • Twelve fat sheep
  • Two hogsheads of wine
  • Four tuns of beer
  • Two tons of butter
  • 1,000 lb. of cheese
  • A complete bed
  • A suit of clothes
  • A silver drinking cup

All this for a single Viceroy tulip bulb, around the peak of the Dutch tulip bubble in February 1637.

Hmmm. Wonder what all that would be worth in bitcoin?

(Via American Digest.)

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Oh, a wise guy

If only it had been funnier:

The radio deejay ordered to pay a symbolic $1 to Taylor Swift after he groped her during a photo op said he mailed her the money last week.

David Mueller told the Associated Press that he sent Swift a Sacagawea coin and provided proof of payment to the outlet, which he said was sent on Nov. 28.

“I mean if this is all about women’s rights … It’s a little poke at them, a little bit,” he told the AP. “I mean, I think they made this into a publicity stunt, and this is my life.”

Two ways this could have been more amusing:

  • Send her 77 cents and blame it on the wage gap.
  • Send her a check and leave a, um, blank space.

Then again, no sense risking a contempt finding over a buck.

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Return of the heart of zinc

From a couple of months ago, the beginning of an experiment:

Some people have gotten so serious about it that they are building a computer farm in Iceland for the specific purpose of mining Bitcoins. I gave them $100 to see if they can make any money for me.

Sixty-odd days and $120 later:

They seem to be a new outfit that is having normal start-up problems, so I cut them some slack, but like I said, it’s been a couple of months so I inquired, and now I have some numbers. Since they sat on my money for a month to ensure that it was legit and not some from some scammer, the money has only been at work for a month, but in a month it has produced $5.38. Theoretically speaking. To actually get the money, I have to transfer it to an electronic ‘wallet’, and from there I should be able to get actual moola.

I dutifully set up the wallet, but nothing had gotten transferred. Seems there are transaction fees, so Genesis doesn’t transfer any funds until you have at least $15 to transfer.

Anyway, $5 a month times 12 months is $60, so in two years I should double my money. Assuming of course that this whole thing doesn’t collapse like the house of cards it is.

There we go. A House of [IBM] Cards.

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Bang for one’s buck

This should require no explanation:

In defense of the little hut in Lincoln Heights, it’s only four miles from Dodger Stadium (1000 Vin Scully Avenue). That must be worth a dollar or two.

And while I can’t aspire to anything like that Texas McMansion, my own palatial estate, not quite one-third its size, sits on the same size lot: circa 11,000 square feet.

(Incidentally, Trophy Club, on the Denton/Tarrant county line north of Fort Worth, was built around the only golf course designed by Ben Hogan. More amusing: its high school was named for Byron Nelson. Are these folks golf-crazy or what?)

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Headed for 1 terabolívar

No time to play. We have to go to the bank:

I’m betting President Maduro has at least two — which is, after all, the limit.

(Via @dicentra33.)

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Schedule A takes a hit

Francis W. Porretto on the local impact of the GOP’s current tax proposal:

Long Island is in a tizzy over one of the revealed portions of the current GOP federal income tax bill: specifically, the one that limits the deductibility of property taxes to a maximum of $10,000 per year. Our property taxes are the highest in the nation. Few Long Island homeowners pay less than $10,000 per year in property taxes. (To give you a sense for the extortionate nature of our rates, I live in a fairly ordinary three-bedroom ranch on an acre of property, and my annual property tax bill is just over $12,000.) The taxes imposed on more recent purchasers of homes have often been over $20,000 — and not because their homes are places of palatial magnificence. So this provision of the bill will hit Island homeowners hard.

Yet it must be done. The federal deductibility of state and local taxes has allowed states and localities to squeeze their residents that much harder, for no return the victims would value. Here on the Island, the major complaints are about our roads, which are wholly inadequate to the traffic burden and are therefore infrequently and sketchily maintained. (Yes, therefore. Think about it.) Yet as our property taxes have skyrocketed, the roads have become poorer. Clearly, the problem has not been mitigated by throwing more money at it … but Island politicians like the set-up just fine.

I have no doubt that the residents of other regions have similar complaints, and that they anticipate considerable pain from a cap on the deductibility of their state and local tax burdens. Yet it must be done. The deduction is a form of collusion between Washington and the “donor class:” a way to benefit wealthy persons who live in opulent areas, but without being obvious about it. The same goes for the deductibility of mortgage interest, a special-interest subvention to the housing industry that originated after World War II and was rationalized as a “recovery measure.”

To give you a sense for the nature of our rates here on the prairie, I live in a not all that ordinary, but decidedly small, three-bedroom ranch on a quarter-acre of property, and my annual property tax bill — for this year, anyway — is just over $900.

Our roads are fairly terrible, but in this state, property-tax receipts are not used for street maintenance.

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How it’s done down under

An American expat meets up with Australian health care:

Off to the ER I went. After a wait of 4 hours, I was brought into a procedure room, where I was examined other doctors brought in, and was told immediately that I’d be scheduled for surgery. They had me in a ward within 20 minutes, and began pumping me full of anti-biotics. The next morning, they had me prepped and the anesthesiologist asked me if I would prefer to be sedated with a mixture of ketamine and other fine drugs, or epidural. I’ve had an epidural before. That did not go well. IV cocktail it is.

There followed the actual surgery, and then:

I was made to stay another night for more antibiotics being pumped in while they looked after me. The next day, the nurses did a repack and bandaging. From there, it was a matter of getting me scripts and arranging for a care nurse that will come to my home everyday for the next month and deal with dressings until it’s no longer needed.

His one out-of-pocket expense was for those scripts:

Individual pharmacy bill from an Australian hospital

Ten antibiotic, ten painkillers, 100 acetaminophen. Twenty bucks American. About what you’d fork over for a single antibiotic in the States, if you’re lucky.

(Via Fark.)

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A trillion a year

Says a Forbes report, this is what we can expect in the way of budget deficits in the Trump years and thereafter:

In July, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the Trump fiscal 2018 budget will result in an average annual deficit of about $677 billion between 2018 and 2022. But that took the Trump budget proposals at face value and assumed Congress would agree to all the spending cuts proposed by the White House, something that the House and Senate have already shown no interest in doing. That makes the average annual baseline deficit over the next five years closer to $750 billion.

While the White House and its congressional supporters insist the tax cut the House and Senate will consider in the next month or so will eventually pay for itself with much higher economic growth rates, the congressional budget resolution passed by the Senate late last Thursday (and highly likely to be accepted by the House) assumes that the deficit will increase by about $150 billion a year over the next 10 years. Nonpartisan analyses show that the deficit will increase by an average of between $220 billion and $240 billion between 2018 and 2027 and even more thereafter. An average of the three estimates results in about a $200 billion increase in the budget deficit for each of the next five years.

That will make the annual deficit around $940 billion.

When $60 billion is a rounding error, something is seriously wrong.

Remember when everyone was complaining about budget deficits in the Obama years? Me neither. And that won’t change any time soon:

Trump appears to be heading down the same road. The only difference today is that the GOP will be openly applauding him for it, or at least shrugging it all off like it’s no big deal. And a GOP Congress — which sometimes pretends to act on behalf of limited government when a Democrat is in office — gains zero political mileage out of opposing big spending when it is proposed by a Republican president.

“Not a dime’s worth of difference,” said George Wallace. Before adjusting for inflation, of course.

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Vaya con queso

Just don’t expect to take a lot of it when you go.

Venezuela, this past week:

(Historical numbers.)

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Fark blurb of the week

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It’s only fare

The New York City MetroCard replaced the old subway token system in 2003. Now the MetroCard itself is on the endangered list:

[T]he MTA has officially begun testing a mobile phone payment and scanning system.

Aimed for the moment at commuters riding the train and then transferring to the subway, the new mobile ticketing service is actually the expansion of one already in place for riders on the Metro-North Railroad and the Long Island Rail Road who use the MTA’s eTix app. The MTA is testing out the expansion at specific stations where riders on the Metro-North and LIRR usually transfer with turnstiles now fitted with new scanners for commuters to swipe their phones past, instead of using their MetroCard.

Not yet addressed: how people will handle this without smartphones.

The new mobile scanners are slated to be installed in 14 key stations around the city before the end of the year, including Penn Station, Grand Central, the 14th St-7th Ave. Station, as well as the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center Station.

(Via Kevin J. Walsh.)

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Closer to home

I continue to play microfinancier. My first three loans were to Third World women; one’s been entirely paid back, one’s within a couple of bucks, and one’s making normal progress.

Number Four goes to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and a fellow named Demetrio:

I was born and raised in Mexico City, a magnificent place to live in. Ever since I was a little child, I have always wanted to have my own restaurant. Today, I find myself as head of the family and also a grandfather, finally having established “La Catrina” in the city of Pittsburgh.

I seek to make my business grow, so I put forth the most effort every day. Immigrating to this country demonstrates my determination in making my dream a reality, despite the difficulties of learning English and working at restaurants to learn how to manage my own business.

I put up $25 toward the $10,000 he seeks. He’s about halfway there.

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Greed is eternal

There are, I am told, a few people who are irked that CBS expects you to subscribe to their All Access service to see episodes of Star Trek: Discovery. However, this new stunt has all the earmarks (so to speak) of a Ferengi scheme:

The websites of US telly giant CBS’s Showtime contained JavaScript that secretly commandeered viewers’ web browsers over the weekend to mine cryptocurrency.

The flagship and its instant-access sibling silently pulled in code that caused browsers to blow spare processor time calculating new Monero coins — a privacy-focused alternative to the ever-popular Bitcoin. The hidden software typically consumed as much as 60 per cent of CPU capacity on computers visiting the sites.

The scripts were written by Coin Hive, a legit outfit that provides JavaScript to website owners: webmasters add the code to their pages so that they can earn slivers of cash from each visitor as an alternative to serving adverts to generate revenue. Over time, money mined by the Coin-Hive-hosted scripts adds up and is transferred from Coin Hive to the site’s administrators. One Monero coin, 1 XMR, is worth about $92 right now.

Shlubs like me aren’t privy to such things: my attempt to look at the Hive got me a Blocked message from Malwarebytes.

Did the Eyeball Network pull these shenanigans deliberately? Probably not:

[I]t’s extremely unlikely that a large corporation like CBS would smuggle such a piece of mining code onto its dot-coms — especially since it charges subscribers to watch the shows online — suggesting someone hacked the websites’ source code to insert the mining JavaScript and make a quick buck.

The JavaScript, which appeared on the sites at the start of the weekend and vanished by Monday, sits between between HTML comment tags that appear to be an insert from web analytics biz New Relic. Again, it is unlikely that an analytics company would deliberately stash coin-mining scripts onto its customers’ pages, so the code must have come from another source — or was injected by miscreants who had compromised Showtime’s systems.

But just in case, you ought to blow the dust off that book of Rules of Acquisition.

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The unsoaked rich

Colonel Bunny, on the subject of the one-percenters and how they stay there:

The mask has slipped in the last 25 years as the infection of high-speed trading on the stock market, the flood of insane derivatives, the chummy relationship of public employee unions and politicians, open borders, and massive money creation, among other things, have come to light. The result has been the enormous transfer of wealth to the richest 1% that has accompanied astronomical wage stagnation. This is parasitism.

No one’s been minding the store in the West for a long time. Almost all Western nations have flooded themselves with savages and run up massive debt and money supplies, all to satisfy, I presume, the moneyed interests and their lumpenproletariat clients on whom the former rely to deliver reliable votes for economic destruction and the slide into third-world grime and savagery. This has nothing to do with common sense or patriotism.

There’s scarcely any money worthy of the name down here in the old Teeming Milieu; at best, what we have turns out to be nothing more than positive ledger entries. The more pragmatic among us will note that this is better than negative ledger entries; but at any moment your personal balance may be confiscated at the whim of the State. And if they want you in red ink, in red ink you shall be.

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A miner for a heart of zinc

Step right up and take a chance:

Some people have gotten so serious about it that they are building a computer farm in Iceland for the specific purpose of mining Bitcoins. I gave them $100 to see if they can make any money for me. Some people might want to call it an investment, but to me it’s more like gambling. It’s just enough money that I should remember to check on it occasionally to see if it is producing any results. It’s entirely possible they have faked the video and have taken my money and spent it [on] lattes for all their friends. We shall see.

This is the video of which he speaks. The actual value of bitcoin varies, like every other currency, “real” or crypto. (Possible exception: the Venezuelan bolívar, which has been worth pretty much nothing for some time.)

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It ain’t nothin’ but trash

Remember when cash was king? Now it ain’t jack:

More than three-quarters of respondents to a recent U.S. Bank survey said they never carry more than $50 in currency with them. Nearly one-quarter said they keep $10 or less.

And, when given a choice between paying someone with cash or a peer-to-peer (P2P) payment app, 47% said they would choose the digital option, as opposed to the 45% who said they’d rather use cash.

You’d think this might be dependent on how much cash they have on hand. Last actual art I bought at the downtown Festival of the Arts was $125; I seldom if ever have $125 in my pocket. Often the determining factor is the nearest ATM from Humongous Bank and Trust Company (Member FDIC), which has an option labeled “Fast Cash $60.”

(Via Fark. Title swiped from Charles Calhoun, aka Jesse Stone.)

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BFFs again

Integris Health, the biggest hospital in town, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the only insurer left in the federal insurance exchange for this state, were on the outs. Shortly before the pertinent contracts ran out, they kissed and made up.

Yesterday, I got a letter from Integris, signed by CEO Bruce Lawrence, to this effect:

I sincerely apologize for any frustration, inconvenience or concern you experienced during these contract negotiations. Our intent was to negotiate an agreement that would allow Integris to continue to offer the critical services not offered elsewhere in Oklahoma … service you or a family member may need some day. Although we tried to be as reassuring as possible during this process, we recognize the uncertainty the negotiations may have caused you.

Well, yeah, considering the war of words was fought largely in local media, with FUD as ammunition. To bolster that impression, here’s Mr Lawrence again:

I truly appreciate those of you who made phone calls to Blue Cross on our behalf; your efforts made a significant impact.

Of course, this has been the guiding principle of high-zoot health care since the invention of the phrase “Ask your doctor if [hyperexpensive new drug] is right for you.”

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Downright cheap, maybe

Try not to look at the digits:

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved a futuristic new approach to treating cancer, clearing a Novartis therapy that has produced unprecedented results in patients with a rare and deadly cancer. The price tag: $475,000 for a course of treatment.

That sounds staggering to many patients — but it’s far less than analysts expected.

The therapy, called a CAR-T, is made by harvesting patients’ white blood cells and rewiring them to home in on tumors. Novartis’s product is the first CAR-T therapy to come before the FDA, leading a pack of novel treatments that promise to change the standard of care for certain aggressive blood cancers.

Novartis’s therapy is approved to treat children and young adults with relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukemia. It will be marketed as Kymriah.

The generic name of this stuff is “Tisagenlecleucel.” Now, about that price tag:

Novartis picked the $475,000 price tag in an effort to balance patient access to Kymriah while giving the company a return on its investment, said Bruno Strigini, Novartis’s head of oncology, in a conference call Wednesday. The cost is below Wall Street analyst expectations, which reached as high as $750,000 for a dose. And it’s considerably cheaper than the roughly $700,000 price tag that U.K. regulators said would be fair considering Kymriah’s potential benefits.

For one dose?

In a clinical trial, a single dose of Kymriah left 83 percent of participants cancer-free after three months, results oncologists have hailed as a major advance for patients with few other options. The most frequent side effect was an inflammatory storm called cytokine release syndrome, a reaction to CAR-T that can prove fatal in some patients but is commonly controlled with immunosuppressant drugs.

About that CRS:

Deaths due to cytokine release syndrome with OKT3 (muromonab-CD3) have been reported, and it can cause life-threatening pulmonary edema if the patient is fluid overloaded. However, if treated appropriately it is usually not dangerous, just extremely unpleasant for the patient.

I bet it is. And it’s probably unpleasant for one’s insurance carrier as well.

(Via Joanna Blackhart.)

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Do not honor

The purveyors of plastic know they have us by the short and curlies:

My Citi card was refused at Costco today. Seems I haven’t paid my bill. Well, where is it? I’ve been looking for it but all I’ve seen have been promotional mailings offering to lend me even more money. So I call them and I get a pleasant sounding robo-cop, but no matter how loud I yell she can’t understand me. She won’t shut up either, she keeps yammering away about some useless information (supposed to fry my imagination). I give her two chances and she fails on both so get me to a real person you stupid shit. It takes persistent hammering on the keypad and yelling to get a connection to a real person who then wants to play 20 questions. Screw you, Citi bank. You want your money, send me a bill.

The credit card problem sent me over the edge. This is like the first week this summer without some kind of catastrophe and I was finally thinking that maybe I could relax and then this bullshit happens. I mean, what happened to the frickin’ bill? I could have misplaced it, or someone along the delivery chain could have lost it, but that has never happened before, so why would it happen now? Especially since I know it’s liable to be a big bill and I’ve been watching for it. So no, it didn’t get lost on the way. Stupid Citi failed to get it out the door. I suspect all large corporations are evil (they aren’t intentional evil, they are just big, relentless machines that have replaced thinking with blind, rote obedience), and in this case evil Citi bank screwed up. I am almost willing to bet that someone clicked on the little check box that signed me up for paperless billing. God damn commies.

The last time I had a card declined was after returning from a World Tour, some time during the previous decade; the bill had been paid on time, all right, but the Postal Service, instead of holding all the incoming mail as they usually do, somehow returned the bill to the card issuer, which promptly informed Lowe’s that they shouldn’t accept this obviously fake slab of polywhatchamacallit disguised as a Visa. American Express, proffered in its place, wasn’t anywhere near as fussy.

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