Surprise! Medical bills

Robin’s Book Report #58
A reading list by Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein

-new articles
-what you’ve been reading
-what i’ve been reading

Please email me with what you have been reading or watching.

What You’ve Been Reading


“Thanks Rob – diggin the KS report as always. Been meaning to chime in and say so for about a year now. I attribute my lack of input to ‘millennial burnout’, seriously. Anyway, keep ’em coming!

Books I recommend:

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Afterglow: A Dog Memoir by Eileen Myles

There There by Tommy Orange

Books I don’t recommend:

10:04 by Ben Lerner

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon”


“Funny you should mention sociopaths in the boardroom, because I’ve just

read two books about sociopaths, one okay and one quite good.  The “okay”

one is Jon Ronson’s “The Psychopath Test”, which is almost light enough to

float, though it has its good pages.  It’s not a dishonest book, but it’s

(correctly) billed as humor.

The *good* one is Martha Stout’s “The Sociopath Next Door”, which

originates in her psychotherapy practice and teaching.  It’s smart,

insightful and thoughtful, and along with some anonymized true histories,

has concrete advice for what to do in the face of sociopathic behavior.”

Reading List
Private Equity Tries to Protect Another Profit Center

Congress must step in to protect insured patients from unfair and unexpected medical charges.

By Eileen Appelbaum & Rosemary Batt (CEPR blog)

Surprise medical billing is a national problem that appears to be fueled by private-equity firms. These firms encourage the fracturing of the medical profession and the mind-boggling inefficiencies that drive profits, for them. An example of surprise medical bill is one you get for thousands of dollars because you went to an in-network hospital and (surprise!) were treated by an out-of-network specialist. Of course, no one mentioned this doctor wouldn’t be covered. Private equity thrives on the confusing, complicated systems of medical billing. More evidence for a singularly managed healthcare system.

Worse, private-equity is muddying the waters by surreptitiously promoting the idea that it is doctors versus insurance companies:

The debate over surprise medical bills has been framed as doctors who only want to be paid for their lifesaving services and insurance companies that don’t want to pay them fairly. Viewed that way, it’s a debate that insurance companies are sure to lose. But these are not the true protagonists. Private equity firms are buying up specialty doctors’ practices at an alarming rate because surprise medical bills allow them to extract high payments for medical care from patients and/or insurance companies. It’s private equity whose interests are opposed to those of insurance companies. And insurance companies which, in defending themselves against exorbitant payments to these doctors, are also acting to hold down health care costs and health insurance premiums for consumers

Read this excellent twitter thread for a pared down version of the article:

Advocates who support Medicare for All must not only take on insurance companies, but also private equity and their surprise billing — and support changes now that will make reform easier in the future
The Big Business of Scavenging in Postindustrial America

The U.S. produces more garbage than any other nation in the world per capita. Here’s how scrappers are turning that waste into a $32 billion business.

By Jake Halpern

A thrifty guy with a kid named Peanut Butter. How could you not love this story?
Flacks and Figures

Pundits and journalists should reveal their wealth

by Corey Atad (The Baffler)

Unlike like other aspects that might be obvious to viewers and readers, a journalist’s wealth is discreet. Their hostility to certain political projects (like Anderson Cooper’s skepticism of wealth taxes) might be more questionable if they were forced to make the unseen visible. Excellent essay.
Money Is the Oxygen on Which the Fire of Global Warming Burns

What if the banking, asset-management, and insurance industries moved away from fossil fuels?

By Bill McKibben

Banks are funding carbon extraction industries at an alarming rate. If they did the opposite, they could change the world:

“In the three years since the end of the Paris climate talks, Chase has reportedly committed a hundred and ninety-six billion dollars in financing for the fossil-fuel industry, much of it to fund extreme new ventures: ultra-deep-sea drilling, Arctic oil extraction, and so on. In each of those years, ExxonMobil, by contrast, spent less than three billion dollars on exploration, research, and development. A hundred and ninety-six billion dollars is larger than the market value of BP; it dwarfs that of the coal companies or the frackers. By this measure, Jamie Dimon, the C.E.O. of JPMorgan Chase, is an oil, coal, and gas baron almost without peer.
Progressive Boomers Are Making It Impossible For Cities To Fix The Housing Crisis

Residents of wealthy neighborhoods are taking extreme measures to block much-needed housing and transportation projects.

By Michael Hobbes (Huffpost)

This article is mainly about the contentious town hall style meetings that often erupt into chaos over proposed development. The alternatives to these meetings at the end are interesting.

I have to admit I believe now that opposing development is a losing strategy. Really just an example of wealth inequality playing out on a local level: neighborhoods with more wealth are able to successfully resist development and keep their home prices high, while poor neighborhoods get upzoned and developed. In New York, it is very obvious. Many years ago, residents of the wealthy neighborhood of Cobble Hill resisted the upzoning of an old hospital site and their Councilperson Brad Lander supported their opposition, saying something like “The people don’t want it.” Now he wants to upzone Gowanus, another part of his district, rejecting that neighborhood’s opposition as being the enemy of progress. Poor neighborhoods like East New York opposed their upzoning a few years ago and lost the battle.

In my experience, every neighborhood resists development. The difference is that some are able to muster up the resources to make successful legal challenges. What we need is development across cities, not just centered on poor or transitioning neighborhoods. This is the egalitarian response to what cities demonstrably need: more housing.



Will Meditation Destroy Business?

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Robin’s Book Report #37
A culture and economics reading list by Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein

Happy July, everyone. I wrote two articles last week for other publications, one about a Jamaican restaurant in Park Slope and one about painter Patrick Brennan. Follow me on Twitter to stay up with what I am doing. Also, please let me know what you have been reading or watching on TV by responding to this email!

In this issue:

  • Is it okay to eat roadkill?
  • Why don’t executives get prosecuted for financial crimes?
  • Is meditation bad for business?
  • Is the “gig economy” not interesting?
Book report

-“Travels in Georgia” by John McPhee

1973 Profile of biologist/ecologist Carol Ruckdeschel. McPhee travels around Georgia with his subject and joins her in eating fresh roadkill. They eat muskrat, snake, raccoon, opossum etc. Another thing I learned: opossums are one of the oldest animals because they are adaptable and will eat anything, just like humans.

-“Who was Milton Friedman?” By Paul Krugman (The New York Review of Books)

A brilliant, measured economist; a deranged public intellectual.

-“Hills of Zion” by H.L. Mencken

H.L. Mencken rarely left his hometown of Baltimore. But, on the occasion of the Scopes Monkey trial, he ventured out in the “Bible Belt” (a term he coined), a region he spent much of his life loathing but never visiting. This narrative has little to do with the trial. It reads like a Southern fever-dream.

The Chickenshit Club: Why The Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives by Jesse Eisinger

Eisinger claims that settlement culture ruins our justice system. Strangely, settlements validate their critics on both sides: corporations can say they’re attacked, and the public sees big business paying off the government.

-”The Hardest Job in the World” by John Dickerson (The Atlantic)

Is the presidency just a clustefuck of a job?

-”The Death Of A Once Great City: The Fall of New York and the Urban Crisis of Affluence” by Kevin Baker (Harper)

Stupid article. The author has a problem with a couple of things about New York: the empty storefronts in his neighborhood, chain banks, the tax breaks for the wealthy, the loss of mom-and-pop stores. He’s right that this stuff exists but the problem is that the affordability issue was better addressed in  Michael Greenberg’s article in the New York Review of Books (Baker refers to this piece multiple times).

What seems to be at odds is that the New York City that Baker moved in to, in the 1970s, doesn’t exist anymore. Well, that’s true. But it is categorically true (i.e. things always change). It’s not worth Harper’s paper and ink. What I feel most annoyed by is that I love living in New York and don’t want to be told by some old guy that it is a city in decline, when I know it isn’t.

The other problem is that housing isn’t affordable anywhere, according to a report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. New York may be having a crisis of affluence, but it isn’t just New York City’s crisis of affluence, but all American cities. Any city that has rampant luxury condominiums is likely suffering.

-”Staying the Invisible Hand” by Jeff Madrick (New York Review of Books)

Is free trade really that necessary for developing countries? The author says: “There is nothing in the historical record to suggest developing countries need low or zero barriers to advanced economies in order to benefit greatly from globalization.” I think free trade is a myth

Hey Boss, You Don’t Want Your Employees to Meditate” by Kathleen D. Vohs and Andrew C. Hafenbrack (New York Times)

A bunch of joy-killing researchers at the University of Minnesota Carson School of Management have found that employees that meditate at work are less motivated. The danger in meditation is that it causes you to be happy with your life and work as it is, instead of pushing for an unknown future. This makes you wonder, if meditation makes your job seem pointless, maybe your job is bullshit?

In this same section of the newspaper was a profile of the CEO of Salesforce who has his employees meditate. A little bit of information dissonance?

Maybe the Gig Economy Isn’t Reshaping Work After All” By Ben Casselman (New York Times

The so-called “gig economy” accounts for under 10% of the economy; most employees still on W2. I am starting to think the gig economy is a bright shiny object that had captured our imagination, but isn’t an economically significant trend/issue.