Afternoon reading

I read this a zillion years ago but somehow lost or gave away my copy. It’s a 1954 book which appeared first in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, slightly abridged. The Star Beast is one of Heinlein’s juveniles, and it’s great fun. It holds up pretty well 60 years on, at least in part because there’s very little real “science” in this book. It’s a pet-and-owner tale.


Aging in America

Now it’s getting personal. I just got a notice from HHS that I’m going to be automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A as of the first day of November, four months from now. I’m also going to be enrolled in Medicare Part B on that date unless I opt out of it.

Okay, what’s covered here?
Medicare Part A:

  • Hospital care
  • Skilled nursing facility care
  • Nursing home care (as long as custodial care isn’t the only care you need)
  • Hospice
  • Home health services

And Part B? Part B is the day-to-day stuff. It covers medically necessary services, services or supplies that are needed to diagnose or treat your medical condition and that meet accepted standards of medical practice, and preventive services, health care to prevent illness (like the flu) or detect it at an early stage, when treatment is most likely to work best.

You pay nothing for most preventive services if you get the services from a health care provider who accepts assignment.

Part B covers things like:

  • Clinical research
  • Ambulance services
  • Durable medical equipment (DME)
  • Mental health
  • Inpatient
  • Outpatient
  • Partial hospitalization
  • Getting a second opinion before surgery
  • Limited outpatient prescription drugs

Well, that sounds good. So why would you opt out, particularly if there’s a penalty assessed if you don’t enroll?

You’d opt out if you’re already covered by a spouse’s insurance and that insurance gets billed for your care before Medicare does. In that circumstance there’s no penalty.

Otherwise, enroll.

Regardless of whether you have Medicare based on disability or age, you should definitely enroll in Part B (or not refuse it) if you have health insurance that will automatically become secondary to Medicare (it will pay after Medicare does) when your Medicare benefits begin. This includes the following:

  • Health insurance that you buy yourself on the open insurance market and that isn’t provided by an employer
  • Health insurance from an employer with fewer than 20 employees (if you’re 65 or older)
  • Health insurance from an employer with fewer than 100 employees (if you have Medicare due to disability)
  • Retiree benefits from a former employer (your own or your spouse’s)
  • Health benefits from the military’s TRICARE For Life retiree program

You should enroll in Part B coverage in the preceding situations for a very good reason quite apart from the possibilities of late penalties down the road if you don’t. When Medicare is considered primary coverage, it pays your medical bills first.

So if you’re not enrolled in Part B, you run the real risk of having your insurance plan deny any claims that Medicare could’ve paid — from basic ones like doctors’ visits and lab tests to major ones like surgery. In other words, you may face having to pay the entire bill.

The premium isn’t insignificant: for most people it’s $104.90 per month, which can be roughly 10% of your Social Security income. But think of the alternative. Who can afford to pay medical bills out of pocket?

Bread and circuses

Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker and his pet Senators in the state legislature just came up with $250 million to keep the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks in the state by building them an arena downtown. The deal will eventually cost taxpayers $400 million including interest.

In theory the team’s owners are on the hook for the balance of the cost of building this thing. Whaddya bet they figure out some way to wiggle out of their obligations?

Meanwhile, he cut the University of Wisconsin’s budget by $250 million (odd similarity in the numbers there, huh?).

Wisconsin can’t see the back of this man too soon, and the rest of us had better ensure he’s not elected President next fall.


Somehow I have gotten into a rhythm with my dentist and my periodontist. I see one or the other every quarter. Tomorrow is the regular dentist’s turn.

It’s a good racket. Each of them gets paid once every three months. The patient benefits, I guess, but it gets tiresome.

Oy, Our Modern Conveniences!

Unlike many people, I don’t use a smartphone (I’ve got a tablet). In fact, it wasn’t until 2006 that I got around to even getting a cellphone. I’ve been using no-contract (Tracfone) flip phones ever since (well, the first one was a Nokia candy bar). I have found it useful to have one, particularly at night, since I can put it on the bedside table and Mom can call me if she needs something.

Last night she tried to call me and the call went straight to voice mail. I’ve never run this phone down to even a low battery, so this struck me as odd. However, I didn’t know what else to do so I plugged it in to charge, and it told me it was doing so. A little while later it told me the battery was full. Yeah, well, then why aren’t you showing me the home screen? And why when I call you does the call go straight to voice mail?

Today I went out looking for a replacement battery. The one the nearest battery place had in stock was $37 for one with a lifetime guarantee. I said, “Nah. Not when I can buy a new flip phone for $15.” So that’s what I did. Unfortunately Tracfone hasn’t yet figured out how to transfer its customers’ phone contact data from an old phone to a new one, so now I have to re-key those numbers in to the new phone. Fortunately I don’t use the thing much so I only have about a dozen numbers to enter.

Oh, and it was raining the whole time I was out looking for phones and batteries. Bleah.

R.I.P., Ken “The Snake” Stabler

Former Raider, Oiler and Saint quarterback Ken Stabler died today of colon cancer at the young age of 69.

If Ken Stabler had the ball with two minutes left in the game and you were rooting for the Raiders’ opponent, you were in trouble and you knew it. He was a superb passer and leader.

Here’s one of his most famous plays.

The NFL changed the rules after that game to say that the only man who can advance the ball after a fumble is the guy who dropped it in the first place. Had that rule been in place, only Stabler could have moved the ball. Neither Banaszak’s nor Casper’s actions would have been legal.

Bye bye trademark

Not trademarks in general, mind you, but the very specific federal ones that the Washington Redskins have claimed on their name.

U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee’s decision affirmed an earlier ruling by the federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. Last year, the appeal board declared in a 2-to-1 vote that the team’s moniker is offensive to Native Americans and therefore ineligible for federal trademark protection under the Lanham Act, which bars protection for names that “may disparage” or bring people into contempt or disrepute.

Lee agreed with that assessment, rejecting the team’s argument that the vast majority of Native Americans had no objection to the name when the trademarks were granted between 1967 and 1990. Instead, the judge questioned why the team ever chose the name, pointing out in his ruling that Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defined the word as “often contemptuous” in 1898, “seventy years prior to the registration of the first Redskins Mark.”

This doesn’t mean the team can’t continue to use the name. It just means that others can copy it and the team logo if they like. Given the loathing much of the public has toward both the word and the logo, I’m not sure how many entrepreneurs might want to copy the things, but now they’re allowed to.

The team plans to appeal the decision.

Brownback sets Kansas back further

This man is going to be known as the most divisive and possibly the stupidest governor Kansas has ever had. First he falls head-over-heels in love with Arthur Laffer’s supply-side economics and implements policies to put them in place, which results in his state losing tax revenue by billions of dollars, causing deep pain to Kansas’s poorest citizens.

Then he and his pet legislature put daily limits on the amount of cash welfare recipients can get from ATMs in any one day, and he then denied he had anything to do with it (except for signing the legislation, of course).

Now he’s let his state in for endless lawsuits by issuing an executive order stating no agency of state government can take action against clergy or religious organizations which deny services to LGBTQ couples as long as they say they are denying those services because of their religious beliefs.

Meh. This is a paper tiger, right? Well, no.

The order explicitly protects religious organizations that provide “social services or charitable services,” meaning that it extends beyond the wedding ceremony.

The order means “a homeless shelter that received a state contract or grant could refuse family housing to a gay couple with a child, or a foster care agency could refuse to place a child in their custody with the child’s family member just because the family member was in a same-sex relationship – and the state could not require them to treat all families equally,” said Micah Kubic, executive director of the Kansas chapter of the ACLU.

Or gay couples trying to adopt could be refused. Or some Catholic hospital could refuse a dying AIDS patient’s partner the right to be at his bedside.

Brownback might be the nastiest dumbest governor in the country right now. That’s saying something since he’s a governor at the same time as Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Phil Bryant of Mississippi, Chris Christie of New Jersey, and Greg Abbott of Texas.