Tuesday, October 1, 2013

When in doubt, blame Obamacare

It was not unexpected that I would receive some pushback on last week’s commentary, which featured (drum roll, please) a discussion about the Affordable Care Act or – what it is has come to be widely known as – Obamacare.

Critics included an old friend – Joanne Limbach – who happens to be a Democrat, a former county commissioner, former Ohio tax commissioner, former and current Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District trustee and former president of the Ohio chapter of AARP, which formerly was known as the American Association of Retired Persons.

(Sidebar: AARP no longer cares whether you are retired. In fact, there likely will come a time when no one is retired because no one will be able to afford to retire. Anyone over the age of reason can now join AARP. Seriously, there are more members with jobs than actually are retired.)

What I said in my commentary was that the hysteria over the law, which as of this writing was to take effect Tuesday, might have some legs because of the announcement a few weeks ago by the Cleveland Clinic that it had to cut $330 million from its budget because of “healthcare reform.”

Limbach told me in no uncertain terms that it’s a bunch of phooey to blame the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

“The reason why hospitals are counting on less revenue, and lots and lots of less revenue, at least in Ohio, is because our General Assembly has not passed Medicaid expansion,” Limbach wrote in an email.

“In the Medicaid Expansion legislation is the money to pay hospitals for their coverage of the uninsured via emergency care. They have had this reimbursement for some time. But this time the funding is in a different section.

“The Ohio Hospital Association and much of the health care industry are prepared to spend around $20 million to get the expansion on the ballot for Nov. 14. They have already cleared the first step with the Ohio Secretary of State for the ballot issue.

“The irony is that the governor who does not support the ACA does passionately support Medicaid Expansion. He understands how the money is really helpful and necessary for hospitals and the state’s budget will be greatly helped. It means economic development as well as healthy Ohioans.”

Clinic spokesman Eileen Sheil was quoted in the Plain Dealer and by other media outlets as saying, “Healthcare reform has really changed things, and the burden of cost is going to be falling on patients. We want to make sure we can keep care affordable.”

Well, that sounds like she’s blaming Obamacare for the cutbacks, but, as Limbach claims, is she really?

After I received Limbach’s email, I set to work again to find out whether there was a link to the Clinic’s budget cuts and Obamacare. The Atlantic, a respected monthly news and issues magazine, vetted the reports.

Reporter David A. Graham tracked down Sheil for his piece in the Atlantic, headlined: “Obamacare Isn’t Really Taking Away Jobs: Cleveland Clinic Edition.”

“In fact, the ‘Obamacare is killing jobs’ story isn’t really accurate,” he wrote.

“It’s not totally false – the Cleveland Clinic will in fact take in less money because of the law – but it’s a more complicated story about changes in medicine. When I reached Sheil on Thursday, she seemed a bit confused by the emphasis on Obamacare in reports. ‘We’ve been working on reducing costs for years,’ she said.
“‘We felt health-care reform was absolutely necessary,’ Sheil said. ‘This is the new normal. This is where hospitals have to focus to be viable in the long run. This is not doomsday for the clinic. We’re still growing – we’re still hiring. The hardest thing is when it affects people.’”

So, there you have it, folks. Crystal clear, right?

Nothing is crystal clear any longer it seems. Not Obamacare. Not government shutdown. Not managed bankruptcies. Not the Democrat nor the Republican platforms.

I think we’ll have to see where all this takes us, and then make the appropriate changes to correct the errors.

The new normal?

Oh, yippee.

Dick Farrell writes this column weekly for the Bargain Hunter.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Is Cleveland Clinic adding to Obamacare hysteria?

I’m not one to be all doom and gloom – well, maybe a little – but you have to admit this Obamacare hysteria might have some legs.

The Cleveland Clinic announced recently it will cut $330 million from its budget because it anticipates taking big hit on annual revenue.

“Some of the initiatives include offering early retirement to 3,000 eligible employees, reducing operational costs, stricter review of filling vacant positions, and lastly workforce reductions,” said Eileen Sheil, executive director of corporate communications for the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, who was quoted by numerous media sources.

Or, translated and paraphrased: “Of course we’re going to cut jobs – a lot of them.”

(Note to parents: You might want to rethink the previously sound advice you gave to your kids to seek a healthcare career.)

If you live in Greater Cleveland, or northeastern Ohio for that matter, your path likely will cross with that of the clinic, which owns and operates many of the formerly independent hospitals in all directions.

Indeed, the clinic is Ohio’s second largest employer behind Wal-Mart, which by the way doesn’t provide healthcare coverage to most of its employees. That’s rather ironic, don’t you think?

According to Reuters, the Cleveland Clinic is the largest provider in Ohio of Medicaid health coverage for the poor, the program that will expand to cover uninsured Americans under Obamacare.

“We know we are going to be reimbursed less,” Sheil said.

OK, if Obamacare is going to have that kind of an impact on the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, what happens to the smaller independent (or nearly independent) hospitals that serve our smaller communities in Tuscarawas and Holmes counties?

That’s right. Obamacare probably isn’t good news for them either.

Already, I’m hearing that finding a doctor is becoming increasingly difficult in this area because doctors are as worried about Obamacare as anyone and would rather wait and see what the future holds than take on new patients (and their potential additional financial liabilities) now.

Obamacare is actually the Affordable Care Act, and there’s plenty of information online – some good, some bad. Here’s the White House’s link to the official line, which you probably ought to check out first: http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/health-care

We’ll see how all this shakes out over the next few weeks, months and years. It looms as the defining issue for measuring the worth of Obama’s presidency, and frankly a lot of people are counting down the days until it’s over.

Every time I see John McCain on the news, I wonder if some day, in his memoirs, he will admit to the mistake he made by agreeing to have Sarah Palin as a running mate. I think if he had selected someone who was not so divisive – a moderate – he probably would have won the presidency.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, during the season finale of HBO’s “The Newsroom,” star Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy summed up rather nicely the GOP’s problem with reacquiring the White House and why a lot of moderate Republicans are troubled with the current state of things.

McAvoy was asked by a Republican strategist during an election night program if he was a Republican because it gave him credibility when he criticized the party.

“No, I call myself a Republican because I am one,” he said.

“I believe in market solutions and common sense realities and the necessity to defend ourselves against a dangerous world and that’s about it.

“The problem is now I have to be homophobic.

“I have to count the number of times people go to church.

“I have to deny facts and think scientific research is a long con.

“I have to think poor people are getting a sweet ride.

“And I have to have such a stunning inferiority complex that I fear education and intellect … in the 21st century.

“But most of all, the biggest new requirement, really the only requirement, is that I have to hate Democrats.
“And I have to hate Chris Christie for not spitting on the president when he got off of Air Force One.

“The two-party system is crucial to the whole operation. There is honor in being the loyal opposition. And I’m a Republican for the same reasons you are.”

Daniels/McAvoy is right. We need a strong two-party system in this country without the hate.

There I go again.

Dick Farrell writes this column weekly for the Bargain Hunter.

Hooray for the fair! (And I don't have to go.)

I have a confession to make.

I never really liked going to the Tuscarawas County Fair.

There. I said it – got it off my chest.

That’s not to say I don’t like the Tuscarawas County Fair because I know that if I said that, I probably would be shunned forever by native-born Tuscarawas County folks. Not liking “The Fair” is akin to treason in these parts.

I just never liked going to it. My kids, of course, thought the fair was the highlight of the year so I did my duty, traipsing through mud and straw and junk to “enjoy” the pigs, goats and cows.

And the carnival games. And the rides. And the junk food. And the tractor pulls.

Oh, boy.

My non-love affair with the Tuscarawas County Fair started many years ago when I got in line at the Grange lunch counter, finally being able to order a hamburger after a long wait.

“Can you put some cheese on that?” I asked.

“No,” replied the Grange lady. “We don’t have any cheese.”

In fact, if I remember correctly, there were few condiments available for that coveted Grange hamburger that everyone fawned over – maybe a little ketchup and mustard but nothing else. No onions, no pickles, no special sauce.

Big disappointment, Grange ladies.

With all due respect.

In a piece I wrote for the local daily newspaper, I told of my experience with the condiment-less burger. It wasn’t criticism actually. I just thought – in 9 1/2-point text forever laid down on brilliant white newsprint – that perhaps the next year the Grange ladies might offer cheese on the burger.

The Grange ladies and about a thousand or so of their supporters (it seemed like that) let me have it in no uncertain terms. I think it was one of the times I was chastised for “not being from around here.” I learned from that experience that I should keep my thoughts about “The Fair” pretty much to myself.

I was thinking about the piece while listening to WJER owner Gary Petricola relate during a “fair update” segment this week that he had interviewed 19 sets of fair kings and queens. God love him, I thought.  He’s a stronger man than I.

So, this is kind of a true confession moment for me. Being a kid from the city, the culture of “The Fair” was wasted on me. I just wasn’t into it.

As irony would have it, however, I am proud to announce that my 4-year-old grandson Brendan finished in third place in the (ahem) kiddie tractor pull contest at this year’s Geauga County Fair, qualifying him to compete in next year’s Ohio State Fair in Columbus.

He got his picture on the front page of the local newspaper. Grandpa is very proud.

So, there’s a distinct possibility I’ll be on the fair circuit next year, following my grandson (good gene pool obviously) in his quest for greatness on the kiddie tractor pull track.

And that ultimately might lead us to the Tuscarawas County Fair.

Bring it on. I’ll be there.

Dick Farrell writes this column weekly for the Bargain Hunter.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

'Right here on our stage, the dean of rock and roll....'

The year was 1973, and the scene was at the Ed Sullivan Theater.

“Right here on our stage – you’re going to see them after we take a quick break – will be five young lads from Canton, Ohio, who have taken the music world by storm,” announced famed TV producer and variety show host Ed Sullivan.

Screams from teenage girls overwhelmed Sullivan’s stage microphones at that point. Sullivan waved both of his hands in a downward motion. He smiled broadly.

“OK, now, Brimstone will be right here on our stage right after a word from our sponsor and a performance by that incredible mouse, Topo Gigio…”

OK, I made all that up. Well, not Ed Sullivan, or Topo Gigio – they were real. Well, Sullivan was real and Topo Gigio was a real puppet.

But the part about Brimstone appearing on “The Ed Sullivan Show”?

I made that up.

And, hopefully, I got your attention.

Brimstone actually is a real rock band and is reuniting for a special show Oct. 12 at the Performing Arts Center at Kent-Tuscarawas. The band will open for Evolution, an Eric Clapton tribute band.

Brimstone and Evolution feature guitarist Chris Wintrip, but there is one special member of Brimstone whose talent might surprise the students who walk the halls of Kent-Tuscarawas.

Dean Gregg Andrews – and I make no apologies for admiring the work Andrews has done for the campus and community since his arrival here 15 years ago – was and is Brimstone’s vocalist.

So, shill I must.

Brimstone, which I had never heard of until a couple of years ago, apparently was a pretty good band.
“You were in a rock band?” I asked Andrews at the time.

“Yes, I was,” he said with a straight face.

Holy cow. Who would have believed that?

Andrews holds a doctorate degree and loves numbers and organization. He doesn’t remind me of Glen Frey or Don Henley, but what the heck.

The band, also comprised of Ken Miller, Jeff Miller and Dan Porter, played a lot of gigs in the Canton area and cut a critically acclaimed record – “Paper Winged Dreams” – before breaking up in the ’80s.

The album, by the way, has attained cult-like status in Europe. A copy of it was available earlier this week on eBay for $130.

According to the notes on the PAC’s website, Brimstone “evolved from a combination of several traditional rock bands. Brimstone's ‘Paper Winged Dreams’ is a unique progressive-art-rock work with influences from a wide range of musical genres.

“Brimstone’s ambitious effort focuses on ensemble collaboration, lyrical content and vocal harmonies resulting in a delicate, introspective outcome…

“They have been named Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honorees in the ‘My Town’ display.”

Perhaps the best thing about this upcoming Brimstone/Evolution night at the PAC is the price. Seats are $10 or $20.

But I think there’s a lesson here as well as a great night of music.

You don’t have to give up that “I want to be a rock star dream” no matter how old you are. Gregg Andrews, after all, is just south of Mick Jagger’s and Paul McCartney’s age.

And, surprise, so am I.

Ah, boomers. Those of us who’ve been around awhile should be encouraged by Brimstone’s upcoming concert. Heck, all of us can do other things.

 “The Dean” obviously is musically inclined and perhaps will be re-living something next month that he might have thought was long gone.

 “…A delicate, introspective outcome,” say the “liner” notes.


I’ll be there, God willing.

Dick Farrell writes this column weekly for the Bargain Hunter.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Maybe they should have called them dumbphones

I was listening to a friend tell a story about a recent experience he had had when for some inexplicable reason I pulled out my smartphone and looked at it.

Immediately interrupting his own train of thought, he called me on my behavior.

 “Well, I can see you’re not listening,” he said.

OK, that’s embarrassing.

Actually, I was listening to his story, but pulling out my smartphone to look at something on it – such as the time – has become pretty much of a reflex for me. I don’t realize I’m doing it until someone mentions it.

A few hours later, an online piece posted by the New York Times caught my attention.

“Disruptions: More Connected But More Alone,” said the headline.

The piece, written by Nick Bilton, told of a YouTube video that showed in three minutes or so how our lives have become controlled by the smartphone, which we use to surf the Web, check text and email messages, take pictures and videos, order a cab, check airline flight schedules, and, yes, even use as a phone.

And when we do use it as a phone, we raise our voices in restaurants to levels so loud that patrons sitting 10 tables away know what we need at the grocery store (or some other innocuous detail of our lives).

Bilton’s story’s crux is that we seem to be missing out on life’s simple pleasures – such as face-to-face communication with people – because of the devices that most of us carry. In our quest to take a video of the sunset, we miss the sunset.

Let’s call it “The Plague Of The Smartphone,” which has infected all generations, including my own (despite our advancing ages). Let’s chill on blaming young people.

(Young people will tell you that old people are killing Facebook because, I guess, we’re pretty stupid about it.)

Anyway, I’m not going to throw away my smartphone. It’s too valuable a tool to do that. Mine has apps for GPS travel navigation and golf course yardages and is generally the neatest thing I own. Being able to Google a sports question and instantly obtain the answer is invaluable.

A friend of mine recently admitted that he didn’t have a smartphone and wasn’t planning on getting one. I felt sorry for him because he really doesn’t know what he’s missing.

But, alas, it’s time we come up with commandments for smartphone etiquette and vow to stick with them. I promise to obey them as well (really, I do):

–Thou shall not drive a car and use a smartphone (or any cell phone) at any time unless in an emergency or when utilizing that neat GPS app.

–Thou shall always have your smartphone in “quiet” or “vibrate” mode, especially in public places.

–Thou shall never pull a smartphone out of your pocket or purse while in the middle of a conversation with a live person.

–Thou shall wear a watch, so that looking at a smartphone is never really necessary. (Sigh.)

–Thou shall never take a picture of food served to you at a restaurant and then text the pic to friends or post it on Facebook.

–Thou shall never publicly share a smartphone picture or video of your dog, cat, gerbil or bunny under any circumstances. (I know I will get pushback on this one.)

–Thou shall talk in a normal tone of voice on your smartphone even if the person you’re talking to is in a different part of the country. (Trust me. He can hear you.)

–Thou shall never play with your smartphone in a house of worship under any circumstances. Taking pictures of a bride is permitted as long as proper decorum is observed. In other words, don’t be jumping into the aisle or asking the bride’s father to get out of the way.

–Thou shall not take videos of your kid’s soccer game unless you have enjoyed – sans smartphone – the experience of watching him play on at least five different occasions.

–Thou shall never place a live smartphone in front of you on the table during a meeting unless there is a reasonable explanation, i.e., “I’m waiting to see if I still have a job.”

–Thou shall never fire or discipline an employee via text, email or voicemail. This is a mortal offense if there ever was one and is punishable by death. (OK, I’m kidding. Kind of.)

Dick Farrell writes this column weekly for the Bargain Hunter.