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A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

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February 28, 2014

Another Phony Obamacare Horror Story

The Wife allows the Hearst Times Union to attack affordable healthcare and make a fool out of her

I’ll start with the facts. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, The Wife and I are enjoying more health insurance coverage this year than we did last year. And this year we are paying less money for that expanded coverage, a lower monthly premium.

Those are the facts. But if you happened to have read the news story about The Wife (Lynne Jackson) that appeared on the front page of the paper edition of the Hearst Times Union on February 2nd, an article featured prominently online, then you would think that she is a victim whining about a heartless government that is destroying this nation by offering affordable healthcare. To put it plainly, the Times Union managers and the content provider who wrote the article misreported the facts to suit the corporate ideology dictated by their owners at Hearst.

The dead tree front page edition of the Times Union sported the headline, “A Solo Journey Through Network, one woman’s experience shows setbacks, frustration with online market.” That was yellow enough. But online the headline was, “Albany Woman’s Misadventures With Obamacare.” That online headline reveals the intent of the deceptive article.

The Wife In Her Home Office Showing Paperwork To The Content Providers
The Wife In Her Home Office Showing Paperwork
To The Content Providers

This is why I refer to the Albany Times Union as “The Hearst Rag.” The ideological deceptions begin with these two headlines, which have absolutely nothing to do with the original story that The Wife told to the Hearst content provider. The content of the article demonstrates convincingly that the Hearst Times Union is not interested in reporting news, its main purpose is to disguise corporatist propaganda as information and feed it to an all too trusting public.

As if that wasn’t bad enough. The Hearst article immediately popped up on some rad righty websites devoted to “proving” that affordable health care is bad and that Obamacare “doesn’t work.” It sure looks to me like the ultimate purpose of manipulating my wife like that was to provide politically correct content for the rad righty echo chamber.

I really, really don’t like to see my wife manipulated and taken advantage of like that. Call me a macho jerk if it pleases you, but as her husband I have an obligation to defend her honor. If some snotty self-important buttheads urinate on my wife for laughs and for obnoxious ideological reasons, then you can be sure that I am not going to smile and let it pass.

Rex Smith, Longtime Manager (Editor) Of The Hearst times Union
Rex Smith, Longtime Manager (Editor) Of The Hearst times Union

The biggest falsehoods in the Hearst article were placed in the fifth paragraph, which is the part of a news article that the reader is most likely to focus upon and retain in the memory. Indeed, over the next few days when various people asked me about the article, they mostly referred to the false “facts” in that fifth paragraph:

A sole proprietor — she [Lynne Jackson, The Wife] runs her own computer consulting business and has no employees — she was not allowed to keep her previous insurance plan because it was a group contract. Language in the federal Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, prohibited her from continuing to get group rates for insurance through a business group, such as a chamber of commerce. She had to find a new plan, at pricier individual rates.

That last sentence is the opposite of the truth. She would never have said that. I will repeat what I said so there is no ambiguity. We are receiving more health coverage for a lower price than we paid last year. This is the first year ever that we have seen our healthcare costs go down. Apparently this is because of Obamacare. Many of the options open to us offered lower costs, we chose the one with the greatest savings.

And another false “fact” got repeated twice in the fifth paragraph, that we were “not allowed” and “prohibited” from keeping our previous health insurance corporation. Well, that’s Hearst for you. Our previous health carrier was one of the options that were open to us, but at a slightly lower price. If we wanted to we could have kept almost the exact same plan, but we figured we could do better.

Hearst Content Provider Claire Hughes' Twitter Photo
Hearst Content Provider Claire Hughes' Twitter Photo

Unfortunately, The Wife did not record her conversation with the Hearst content provider, a woman named Claire Hughes. I warned her to be careful talking to these people about a subject that is central to their ideology, but she rarely listens to anything I tell her. She’s had a lot of luck lately talking to the corporate media about other subjects, so she chatted away with Ms. Hughes trustingly and with little sense of danger.

That lack of recorded evidence is why I have no choice but to say that the Times Union managers (“editors”) and the content provider (”reporter”) who wrote the article were simply exercising “journalistic” license. It’s not enough for me to say that The Wife would not have said something to the content provider that is the exact opposite of the truth. It’s not enough to point out that the Hearst Corporation has been manufacturing "news" ever since their original owner was alive and stroking Rosebud. I can’t prove anything.

Claire Hughes and her managers at Hearst have plausible deniability. Perhaps they simply got confused about the facts in a typically unprofessional manner and characteristically misstated the basic information, misstatements which just happen to align with the dictates of their corporate ideology. Besides, Claire Hughes and her managers were no doubt simply following orders from their owners, so they can’t be held personally responsible for inaccurate information printed in their unreliable rag.

Rally For Single Payer Health, Albany NY Capital January 2013
Rally For Single Payer Health, Albany NY Capital January 2013

One thing missing from the article, not a small thing, is that The Wife prefaced her remarks to the content provider with her standard line about Obamacare and Single Payer Health. The problem with Obamacare, she tells me that she pointed out to Ms. Hughes, is that it accommodates all these useless unnecessary Big Health corporations and their bureaucracies. A national Single Payer system would lower costs tremendously and would be a breeze to navigate, simply by eliminating the redundant corporate bureaucracies.

Not at all surprising that this sensible politically incorrect view did not make it into the article. These days the term “Single Payer” is banned from Hearst publications, we are not supposed to think about a better way to manage health insurance without corporations. This is typical behavior for outfits like Hearst, for example the term “global warming” was banned from the entire corporate media for about ten years, and Hearst upheld that ban religiously as long as they could.

The Now Famous Obamacare Website
The Now Famous Obamacare Website

So what was the real story here that got twisted out of shape and turned into corporate propaganda? The trouble was not with the Obamacare system, we had the usual problems signing up last autumn because of the unavailability of the Affordable Care websites. I personally suspect there was sabotage of the sign-up sites, but no matter. Here in New York State those problems were solved and by December it turned out to be surprisingly easy to sign up for a plan.

The Wife, who put herself in charge of finding a health carrier, decided that we had to choose between a grand total of three providers. One was MVP, which is based in Schenectady, and another was CDPHP (Capital District Physician’s Health Plan) which has headquarters in Albany. CDPHP is the plan we’ve had for years, if we were lazy we could have simply signed up with them again.

She told me she chose these two because, and I quote her, “They were not-for-profit and they were not connected to a religious institution” and because they were the two she is most familiar with. Also a big consideration is that MVP and CDPHP are widely accepted by most doctors and health establishments in the Capital District. This last point, which we quickly glossed over, turned out to be the most vital consideration of all.

Promotional Photo For Health Republic Co-op
Promotional Photo For Health Republic Co-op

But she kept looking at a third plan which was much different, offered by an intriguing carrier called Health Republic. The Hearst article falsely stated that Health Republic is brand new, actually they’ve been around in some form since 1995. They are based in and around New York City, what’s new is that they are expanding the areas that they cover, and that they are entering the Capital District health market for the first time.

We were impressed by Health Republic’s affordable plans which beat MVP and CDPHP by a mile, and we quickly discovered that they were not some fly-by-night scam financed by the Koch brothers designed to discredit healthcare. We were concerned about that. Instead, the more we learned about Health Republic the more interested we became in what they had to offer.

Health Republic is a cooperative, it is not a Big Health corporation. It is a project of something called the Freelancer’s Union, a NYC based organization created to serve and assist freelance workers, which includes contract workers and self employed persons currently estimated to be a third of the national work force. The Freelancer’s Union offers member benefits such as retirement plans and shopping discounts, but of course the biggest demand by freelance workers is for health insurance.

Michigan Congressman John Conyers At Westminster Presbyterian Church, Albany NY, March 2009
Michigan Congressman John Conyers At Westminster Presbyterian Church, Albany NY, March 2009

We very much liked the idea of giving our money to a cooperative rather than a corporation. Of course this doesn’t mean that big corporations don’t get our money, for instance one of our providers through Health Republic is Blue Shield. But having a cooperative means that they are doing the work shopping for and arranging the best deals, having a cooperative to serve as our bureaucracy means we are feeding one less layer of corporations that have to make a profit for themselves.

And most intriguing is that last year Health Republic was given a $23 million federal startup loan, and is approved for some $150 million over the next five years. Early on President Obama declared that a Single Payer health plan was “off the table,” and instead pushed a national of version of Romneycare from Massachusetts which preserves intact the health corporations. But here we see the president encouraging the growth and creation of cooperatives, which perhaps could be described as localized Single Payer plans.

So we signed with Health Republic, but we were still a little nervous with our choice. After all, we had never heard of them, and they were new to this area. So when we ran into a little problem with them in late January, we both became very alarmed and, well, perhaps we over-reacted. Or rather, The Wife over-reacted and started making phone calls and emails.

The Wife (Lynne Jackson) With Assistant Hard At Work
The Wife (Lynne Jackson) With Assistant Hard At Work

Now, I have to mention that there are some points that the Hearst employees got wrong in their article that are not their fault because The Wife was not clear about those things. She did not tell them that we, a married couple, are actually buying two plans, one for each of us. That’s because she is a “sole proprietor” and so am I. We both have our own personal businesses.

Part of the reason for her not being clear about that is that she has a tendency to write me out of her life, that’s the way she is. But there is another thing that concerns how we’ve been able to finagle somewhat affordable health insurance in the past, despite both of us being self-employed. For reasons that are completely obscure to me, The Wife is convinced that somehow we’ve been breaking The Law and if anyone finds out we are going to be sent to Guantanamo.

Many years ago she had her computer consulting business join the Albany-Colonie Chamber of Commerce for exactly one reason, so that we could take advantage of certain loopholes in their policies that allowed us to have health plans. This was quite odious to us because the Chamber is a radical revolutionary political organization devoted to advancing corporate dictatorship and overthrowing the Bill of Rights. As such their focus is on destroying small businesses so as to eliminate the main competitors to corporate profit taking.

Albany-Colonie Chamber CEO Mark Eagan (At Mic) Attacks The Affordable Care Act, Hearst Times Union Manager Rex Smith Listens Approvingly At Right, June 2012

Albany-Colonie Chamber CEO Mark Eagan (At Mic) Attacks The Affordable Care Act, Hearst Times Union Manager Rex Smith Listens Approvingly At Right, June 2012

(By the way, I’ve discovered that suburban Colonie has it’s own Chamber of Commerce branch, separate from the Albany-Colonie Chamber. I’m hardly the first person to point out that an organization called Albany-Colonie is intent on transforming the City of Albany into an automobile slum like Colonie. This just reinforces that assessment.)

During that time I had the idea that she should start a small business advocacy group inside the Chamber, a group which, if it took off, could potentially transform or possibly destroy the Chamber. Either would be a fabulously wonderful thing. But despite my prodding she repeatedly declared that she had no time or inclination for such a project. Too bad, I sure hope somebody pursues that idea.

Eventually the Chamber closed the loopholes and we no longer could get health care through them, so we dropped the Chamber. This was like ten years ago, and we were stuck. So with no options available for us we were forced to get creative. This is the part she was afraid to tell the Hearst content provider.

Albany-Colonie Chamber CEO Mark Eagan (At Mic) Attacks The Affordable Care Act, Hearst Times Union Manager Rex Smith Listens Approvingly At Right, June 2012

Here’s what we did to get health insurance. The Wife’s computer business hired me as an employee so that we both could qualify for an employer health plan. She contracted a payroll service which issued a paycheck to me, which every two weeks I dutifully took to the bank to deposit. We paid payroll taxes and contributed to Social Security. All this trouble and expense simply to get health insurance.

And it’s a good thing we did that. In January of 2011 The Wife was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, the year’s worth of treatment came in around $150,000. Our out of pocket costs were around $8000, but while she was receiving treatment she brought in very little income and I had to support her with my business. (If anybody ever tells you that they held down a job and did productive work while getting chemo and radiation, don’t believe them. The Wife was mostly worthless for more than a year.) We are still recovering financially.

So one of the nice things about Obamacare for us two sole proprietors is that we no longer have to keep up this expensive flukey facade, although during that time I did do work for her business such as empty her wastebaskets and redesign her website. However, we no longer have to pay for a payroll service or pay payroll taxes. These are what I guess you would call hidden expenses, if you include all of these in the calculations then our savings under Obamacare are considerably larger.

NYOH, A Medical Contractor, Oversees Oncology At Albany Medical Center

NYOH, A Medical Contractor, Oversees Oncology At
Albany Medical Center

So we were delighted with Obamacare and Health Republic, but in late January we ran into a big problem. You see, The Wife continues to see a whole row of doctors on a regular basis, that’s what happens when you catch cancer. The problem, she discovered with a shock, is that some of her most important doctors were not covered by Health Republic.

Or rather, as we eventually discovered, the employer of one of her important doctors, her oncologist, refuses to accept money from Health Republic. This is a health contractor called NYOH, New York Oncology and Hematology. Either she would have to commute out of the area to find a new oncologist, or she would have to pay full cost for every visit. Or, she would have to convince NYOH to accept Health Republic.

So the problem that we ran into is not that Obamacare failed, quite the contrary. The problem is that one of the corporations embedded inside Obamacare is failing to provide. This wouldn’t have happened if we had a Single Payer system.

Now, in retrospect, she should have contacted Health Republic, yelled WTF in their ears, and demanded a solution. Instead she emailed our State politicians and she contacted the corporate media. Okay on the politicians, that’s what they are there for. But contacting the corporate media, which is ideologically hostile to affordable health care, makes me wonder, What was she thinking?

Oncologist Dr. Rufus Collea Cannot See The Wife Because NYOH Refuses To Take Money From Health Republic

Oncologist Dr. Rufus Collea Cannot See The Wife Because NYOH Refuses To Take Money From Health Republic

Whatever. If only we both understood what we know now about the healthcare business. You see, when a health carrier moves into a new territory, they can always find plenty of consumers to sign up with them, there is no lack. There’s always plenty of demand. The problem for insurance concerns, and as it turned out was The Wife’s problem also, is to convince the doctors in that new territory to accept them.

There are two reasons why doctors are reluctant to take on new health insurance carriers. One is that under the old rules, if a doctor accepted one patient under a new insurance carrier, that doctor had to accept all of that carrier’s patients. As far as I understand, and this is still in flux, that old rule has not been rescinded but under Obamacare there are ways around it, so that a doctor can accept one single patient from a new carrier.

But the second reason is the big one, that the doctors have to accommodate, often at their at their own expense, these redundant corporate bureaucracies. Each insurance carrier has its own massive set of procedures and financial forms that have to be filled out and filed in a proper manner. The doctors have to hire and manage and pay an office staff that is big enough to handle the paperwork for each and every health bureaucracy that they accept.

Oncologist Dr. Rufus Collea Cannot See The Wife Because NYOH Refuses To Take Money From Health Republic

This is the general problem with corporate ideology, every overtaxed American citizen is required to financially support an ever-growing collection of redundant bureaucracies whether they want to or not. That is why Single Payer would result in massive savings to us consumers. With one bureaucracy administering health care the doctors can go back to doctoring. And the consumers, freed of these corporate taxes, have more money in our pockets.

This is not rocket science. But you won’t read this in the Hearst Times Union because these corporate propaganda outfits aren’t interested in cutting expenses by eliminating waste. They are devoted to increasing waste by generating new corporate bureaucracies. They want to corporatize every aspect of our lives, to attach parasites to every bit of our wealth and suck our blood until we are all dirt poor and helpless.

Not all that long ago the Hearst Times Union of Albany was a powerful, arrogant monopolistic controller of local information. They were so powerful that they regularly shook down local elected officials and forced them to follow their political dictates, as was revealed in the 1999 Horsetrading Scandal. That fascinating court case, which took place in California, is of direct concern to us locals because the principal in that case was Timothy O. White, who for many years was Hearst political director for the Albany Times Union.

Former Albany Times Union "Publisher" Timothy O. White During The Horse Trading Scandal, San Francisco 2000

Former Albany Times Union "Publisher" Timothy O. White During The Horse Trading Scandal, San Francisco 2000

But that was then. Thanks to competition from the internet, the entire corporate media, including the Hearst Times Union, has lost much of its power to shape information and thus insert corporate propaganda into empty heads. But they haven’t lost all of that power, not by a long shot. It is precisely because they are “old media” and haven’t essentially changed their attitudes that they still have power to influence the minds of older people who are accustomed to “old media.”.

And the Hearst Times Union managers have not lost any of that sneering arrogance from those heady days when they controlled local information. The same elderly Baby Boomers from the last century are still in charge, such as Rex Smith, and instead of Timothy O. White we now have an actual member of the ruling family, George Hearst, who holds the political directorship job they call “publisher.”

Dilbert Comic Censored By The Hearst Times Union, February 2014

Dilbert Comic Censored By The Hearst Times Union,
February 2014

For example, they are still censoring comic strips. The other week the comic strip Dilbert, which the Hearst managers don’t like because the strip delivers such biting criticism of managers and CEOs, announced that one of the regular characters in the strip was gay. Seriously. In an era when the newspaper comics try to be “edgy” by offering bathroom jokes and oblique discussions of sex, the Hearst rag censored a couple of comic strips about a gay person coming out.

But here’s the funny thing. Many years ago, when the Hearst Corporation or the Times Union censored comic strips such as Doonesbury or, believe it or not, a week’s worth of that now defunct insipid strip Cathy, there was a major outcry every time. But that was back when the corporate media was the information monopoly. I told several people about Dilbert being censored over a gay person coming out and you know what? No one cared. Not even the LGBT people I showed it to.

Another Dilbert Comic Censored By The Hearst Times Union, February 2014

Another Dilbert Comic Censored By The Hearst Times Union, February 2014

For most people, what the Times Union thinks doesn’t matter any more. As far as most people are concerned, the copy that the editors and content providers produce is unreliable and full of misinformation. It’s not that the Hearst Times Union is “old media,” that’s not the problem. It’s that the newspaper is so badly tainted by corporate ideology that it can’t even report a straight story. The Wife finally found that out the hard way.

So why do we continue to put up with the shoddy biased corporate media? Partly this is because the media corporations still, very reluctantly, pay a few local content providers a daily wage to find and report on local incidents. On a local level no one else does that. As an alternative, all we really have is some grumpy bloggers like myself who post whatever news they want whenever they feel like it.

Another Dilbert Comic Censored By The Hearst Times Union, February 2014

A certain friend of mine has a job that more than occasionally puts her in places where she actually sees the news as it happens with her own eyes. As such, she is constantly amazed at how the Hearst Times Union and the local TV stations consistently get the basic facts dead wrong every single time. But she does not put the blame on the corporate media managers and content providers for not being able to tell the truth. She believes that they’re just giving us what we ask for:

The problem is that we've come to this point where we don't want to admit we like being lied to, but we love the drama. We don't care if it’s true, accurate, real. It's drama. That's why our 'news' is 80-90% celebrity bulls--t. Is that really news?

My friend has a good point. We choose to have the kind of world that we want, and if we want a screwed up world then by golly that’s what we get. If we like to be lied to, then we will look for and be fed lies. If we didn’t want to be lied to then we would demand the truth.

The plain fact is that we get the fake news that we deserve. As long as We The People passively let corporate propagandists choose our information and feed us corporate propaganda, then our minds will be controlled by these people. And if we want to be ignorant, then the corporate media is more than willing to accommodate our wishes.


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Posted by:Roger Green
Posted on:03/01/2014
I was WONDERING when you'd get around to this. This is a busy weekend - the Daughter's play is tomorrow, and dress rehearsal today.

Posted by:Paul Stewart
Posted on:03/04/2014
Thank you for your insightful and factual article and pointing out what was done. This is an outrage!

Posted by:Barbara
Posted on:03/04/2014
I wouldn't be too sure about the "grumpy bloggers" alternative. Look what's happening to that Saratoga blogger.

Posted by:Ken
Posted on:03/14/2014
Hey Dan, Great article. Thanks for doing it.
It left me with a couple of big questions though. After talking about New Republic, and the challenges in dealing with NYOH, you didn't get back to explaining what happened, and it left us hanging. Did the TU report on that part of the problem? Or, did they report on it in their distorted way? Also, what did Lynne (and you) finally do? Are you still with NR, or get a different doctor?

Posted by:Dan Van Riper
Posted on:03/16/2014
Thanks Ken. BTW that's "Health Republic." The Wife still hasn't resolved the issue of the oncologist, right now we're trying to get NYOH to accept our insurance money. It's hardly a fatal problem, unless her breast cancer comes back. Then NYOH had better start coming through and fast. As for the TU, they NEVER print retractions unless they are being sued.

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