December 26, 2012

548 lives, $11,659,349

The fact that yesterday was Christmas didn't inspire the Syracuse Post-Standard to take a break from publishing  judgments, satisfied judgments, and bankruptcies in bizX, the weekly business supplement.

Not only was yesterday Christmas, but it was also the last Tuesday of the year, so we won't have any more of these listings in 2012. That being the case,  I thought it a good time to reflect on what became a weekly series on the financial filings that stem from people receiving medical care, either from a physician, group practice, hospital or other facility.

My first post on this topic just sort of happened. I was skimming the judgments and noticed that there were quite a few listings for folks who owed money to medical providers.  The first week, it was 12 people totaling $260,918. 

The first post was in mid-July, only a short time after the US Supreme Court had affirmed the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as the ACA, health care reform, PPACA, Obamacare, and my favorite, the Job Killing Health Care Law, so named by the Republicans in the House.  I decided to keep an eye on it for a while and see what happened. One month turned into two, then three, and now, after 24 weeks, we've reached the end of the year. 

The highest week, in terms of the number of people? Week 11, with 40.  In terms of dollars, it was week 6, with just short of $1.2 million.  On the low end, week 21 had the fewest people (six) and lowest total (slightly over $50,000).

Add up all of the weekly numbers, and the accounting stands at 548 lives and $11,659,349, or an average of $21,276 for each judgment, satisfied judgment, and bankruptcy. Just here in Syracuse and the Central New York area.  In just twenty four weeks.

I admit the accounting is not statistically valid. For example, it's possible a judgment could have been filed early on during the time I was tracking the weekly stats, and then satisfied at some point down the road; it's also possible that someone could have moved straight from judgment filed to bankruptcy filed, or been the recipient of multiple judgments - which means that it's not necessarily 548 unique people or $11,000,000 unique dollars. To do that type of accounting would have required that I pay attention to the names of the people, which is something I really didn't want to do.

I don't know the circumstances that landed these folks in this section of the paper. I don't have the faintest idea whether they had jobs, if they had health insurance through their employers,if their insurance company denied the claims,  if they were hanging by a thread in any of the safety net programs that are available to folks in New York, or if they made a conscientious choice not to pay their bills, in which case their landing in this particular section of the paper could have been avoided.

I do know that the vast majority of the filings were from our three local hospitals, and that according to their websites, all of the facilities - St Joseph's Hospital Health Center, Crouse Hospital, and SUNY Upstate Medical University - offer some kind of financial assistance, ranging from helping get patients into insurance programs to reduced payments or payment plans.

In  addition to efforts by the facilities themselves, those of us who have insurance, and our insurance companies, and many of our health care providers, contribute to indigent care programs through surcharges tacked on to certain medical bills; and all of us support safety net programs through the taxes we pay.  So basically, everyone's trying, here - whether by choice or by default - to help get medical bills paid.  The hope is that between private health insurance, government safety net programs, and other funding arrangements, we'll continue to have access to quality care when we need it.

But if we have over $11,650,000 in unpaid medical bills that have gotten to the point where papers have been filed, just here in the Syracuse area, in just under half a year, can you even imagine what the total must be statewide, or nationwide?

It can only be a staggering number.

December 25, 2012

Twenty-four lives, $379,195

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes bizX, the weekly business section.

In addition to special features, tips from stock experts, budgeting advice and the like, we get the judgment and bankruptcy listings.

This week, twenty-three people were listed with new judgments totaling $321,066 to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers.

This week, one person was listed as having satisfied a judgment totaling $58,129 to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers.

December 18, 2012

Fourteen lives, $390,492

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes bizX, the weekly business section.

In addition to special features, tips from stock experts, budgeting advice and the like, we get the judgment and bankruptcy listings.

This week, eleven people were listed with new judgments totaling $333,798 to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers.

This week, two people were listed as having satisfied judgments totaling $47,650 to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers.

This week, one person was listed in the bankruptcy section with a hospital, doctor, or other medical provider as the major uninsured creditor, totaling $9,044.

December 16, 2012

Will We Even Have the Chance?

Famous people from all corners of the political spectrum will be talking on the Sunday news shows today about Sandy Hook Elementary and what happened there, and they'll almost certainly bat around all of the options we have to deal with this 'situation', I guess you call it, of guns being used by the wrong people to do really bad things.

Among them, I'm sure, will be these, all of which have been batted around in various ways on social media since the horrific events unfolded on Friday morning:
  • tighter gun control, of varying degrees, including doing something about multi-round clips;
  • greater availability of mental health services, so that people who could do this would be identified and get the help they need;
  • more guns (not fewer), because people could stop this kind of thing if only they were armed;
  • tighter security at schools, so people who would do harm can't get in;
  • more God in schools and in society in general.

Let me say that I've never fired a gun of any kind, and don't really have the desire to.  I have friends who hunt, who own guns, who are completely responsible with them. An old flame of mine took me to Las Vegas once to go to a Jimmy Buffett concert, but I think the real reason was because there's a place there where you can pay to shoot a machine gun, which he and his buddy did and loved even more than the concert. Go figure.

I believe that reliable people should be able to own guns, but I do not want them sitting in my living room, nor do I want them in the grocery store or church or at a basketball game 'packing iron', or whatever you call it, because it makes me feel less safe, not more safe. I have to trust that in their own homes, they store their guns in such a way that when I'm there, I'm not at risk from say, their children putting two and two together, if you know what I mean.

I'm not a fan of being able to shoot lots of bullets really fast, the way you can with a camera that has continuous shooting mode. Just as I don't want that many pictures of me floating around, I don't want that many bullets floating around. If I had continuous shooting mode on my camera, I'm sure I'd get lucky with at least some of the shots. But if you have to take the time to compose your picture, adjust your focus, think about the picture before you take it (which I do), to me it makes sense to have to do that with a gun. 

Like I said, I don't know the answer. I only know it's not going to be easy having this discussion, in part because of what we Americans believe about things. When you compare our thoughts and actions on guns with thoughts and actions on other things, do we even make sense?
  • We want to have each state's concealed carry gun law honored in every other state. But we don't want to allow a marriage performed in one state to be honored in every other state?
  • We are pretty sure the issue isn't guns, it's a mental health problem. But we don't support tax dollars being used for health insurance programs (mental health or otherwise)?
  • We don't want the government's hands all over our guns with burdensome regulations, but we don't have a problem with government hands all over a woman's uterus?

I don't get it.

And one more thing: We want our legislators to be accountable to us, to work for us, to do what we want, but we cede that accountability to businesses and interest groups and unions to basically write the legislation for the people that work for us. And yes, this means the NRA but it also certainly means big agriculture and big business and big banks and big pharma and big oil and big unions and big media conglomerates and big everything else.

Assuming we can ever figure out what we want, will we even have the chance to get it?

December 14, 2012

Sidebar: Feeding the Hungry

Just a few thoughts to add, relative to my post earlier this week on the situation at the Assumption Food Pantry on Syracuse's North Side.

First, a note about the car dealer:  Billy Fucillo Sr, a larger than life local guy known for using the word 'huge' as his mantra -- huge financing, huge sales, huge leases, huge contests, huge inflatable gorillas, huge everything -- has dealerships not only across New York but also in Florida. It seems this is not his first time with this type of donation; according to reports, he matched Salvation Army Red Kettle donations in Cape Coral, and he also made a $50,000 donation to a food bank there.  I get that it fits in with the whole 'huge' thing - make some noise, make a splash - but it also makes a huge difference in people's lives in a way that winning a car in a contest doesn't.  Kudos to Fucillo and his son Billy Jr. for their generosity.

I mentioned Food Bank of CNY, the critical gatekeeper for food donation and hunger relief programs throughout an 11-county area.  Local individuals, businesses and organizations regularly help FBCNY; here are some examples.
  • They partnered with the new Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant  at Destiny USA; the restaurant donated about 95 cents of every dollar taken in during their grand opening events.
  • The Perishable Partnership Program, where businesses such as Walmart and Sam's Clubs donate thousands of pounds of fresh food that would otherwise have been discarded. 
  • Rome's Wagner Farms recently donated almost 28,000 pounds of fresh winter produce, which can be scarce for families served by local pantries.  We reach for cans and jars, but fresh foods are at least as important.
An article in yesterday's Post-Standard mentioned the consolidation of some of the North Side food pantries.  Back in October, three pantries (St John's, Holy Trinity, and Wesminster Presbyterian) merged into one, becoming the All Faiths food pantry. The folks involved point out that consolidation is not for everyone -- and we see that all the time when agencies from neighboring towns or villages attempt to consolidate services.  Sometimes the deals are appoved, by many times they're not.  In this case, the combined pantry seems to be working for the organizations, the volunteers, and the clients they serve.

Finally, yesterday I received the winter edition of Hunger & Hope, FBCNY's newsletter, which you can view on their website. Executive Director Thomas Slater's message regarding whether goals were met is both sobering and uplifting.
This year, with the help of our new facility and the distribution of 12,273,003 pounds of food, the answer is a resounding YES!  The average of one million pounds of nutritious foods distributed monthy ensures families are fed.  The fact is, despite new families coming into the emergency food network for the first time, we saw a significant number of familes leaving the network and finding jobs and indepdendence.
Food for thought for all of us.

December 12, 2012

Feeding the Hungry

Those of you reading in the Syracuse area are probably aware of the current challenging situation being faced by one of the food pantries in our area.  The Assumption Food Pantry, which regularly serves around 400 families on the north side of the city, is facing a very difficult financial situation, and without $108,000, might have to close at the end of the year.

In a remarkable display of charity, a 'huge' car dealer has offered a $50,000 matching pledge, to encourage others to jump in and help out. One of the local media companies is flooding the airways with publicity, and dozens of other local businesses are helping out.  Just today, a local grocer delivered $12,000 worth of food, paid for with money raised from his customers and family.

I'm constantly impressed by the generosity of folks here.  Benefits for people facing overwhelming medical conditions regularly pull in thousands of dollars; golf events can raise in the six figures; and major local charities are incredibly fortunate to have signature events that bring in a half million dollars or more.  Rarely does a request for help fall on deaf ears.

But did you know that there are at least 70 food pantries in Onondaga County? That's how many pantries the Inter-religious Food Consortium (IFC) works with.  The IFC was formed in the early 1980's and serves as a network for the local pantries, as well as offering other services. 

In addition to the IFC, Food Bank of CNY is a critical player in the local fight against hunger. With a service area stretching from the St Lawrence to Chenango County, FBCNY supplies local food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters, partnering with over 270 emergency food programs.  I encourage you to read more about their services, and the issue of hunger in Central New York.

It looks like the chances are very good that the Assumption pantry will stay open.  And I hope that, in the process of saving Assumption's pantry, we don't end up putting extra financial strain on the other programs who are fighting every day donations. 

Would the $50K matching grant serve everyone better if it had been spread out over 5 or 10 or 20 pantries, instead of  being dedicated to just one? Will we be able to sustain this level of support throughout the year, not just during the holidays?  After all, the need will still be there after the cameras have been turned off, after our hearts have been tugged in a different direction.  And more importantly, will we ever turn the corner on hunger in CNY? 

Only time will tell.  For now, though, let's be grateful for what we have, and for what we can do to help others.

December 11, 2012

Twenty-eight lives, $595,290

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes bizX, the weekly business section.

In addition to special features, tips from stock experts, budgeting advice and the like, we get the judgment and bankruptcy listings.

This week, twenty-six people were listed with new judgments totaling $554,417 to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers.

This week, two people were listed in the bankruptcy section with a hospital, doctor, or other medical provider as the major uninsured creditor, totaling $40,873.

December 9, 2012

Homeless man not wearing his new boots

Now, about a month after one of New York's Finest gave a homeless man a pair of boots and socks, there is more to the story.

To recap:  Larry DePrimo, a NYPD officer, saw a homeless man on a frigid November night, and went into a nearby shoe store and spent his own money buying insulated boots and warm socks which he then helped put on the homeless man.  A tourist from Arizona captured a picture of the officer's kindness and the rest, as they say, is history.

I wrote about this heartwarming story, not from the point of view of the officer who helped, or the tourist who got the picture, but more from a 'what would I have done' perspective (and admit that I might not have been as charitable as Officer DePrimo.).  I also found a number of other stories of police officers doing good deed, because I really think this happens more often than we realize.

Today, scrolling through one of my news services, I saw this headline:
Man given boots by NYPD officer: Street life ‘my choice’
Seems that, according to the one of the Yahoo blogs, the 'homeless' man who got the assist from DePrimo is not homeless after all. Jeffrey Hillman, 54 and a veteran, actually has an apartment where he sleeps sometimes, and he's not wearing the $75 boots but instead has them hidden so they won't get stolen.

The Yahoo story linked to one in the New York Times, which told of the again-barefoot Hillman, his military service (five years and an honorable discharge), and that a woman had previously bought him a pair of shoes.

Another story, in the NY Daily News, tells of the Bronx apartment, which is paid for by a combination of safety net programs and Hillman's veteran's benefits. It also includes more background information, including comments from an old high-school friend who has set up a fund to help get Hillman off the street.

As this saga continues to unfold, it's clear that there are no easy solutions to solving the homeless problem that cities large and small face.  For many of us, it's hard to imagine wandering the streets barefoot in the northeast in November, when you have a pair of insulated boots you could be wearing. And we don't understand why folks 'choose' the homeless life when there are options, including loving families and friends, and a variety of shelters, places for a hot meal and a warm bed, and yes, even the kindness and generosity of strangers. Why would anyone pass up these opportunities these options, and instead stay on the street? 

Sometimes none of these alternatives are viable for the homeless. For whatever reason, people make the same choice as Hillman every day, and sometimes, it ends badly.

Back in September, here in Syracuse, a homeless woman named Michelle Noce was found unconscious under a bridge, and later died; she likely had been involved in a fight over territory, a prime panhandling location. A memorial service was held; friends who knew her back in high school in a small town east of here remembered her as a completely different person than the one she had become, as did Jeffrey Hillman's high school friend.

In Syracuse, according to reports, there are an average of 423 homeless people receiving services from local organizations each night.  In New York City, the numbers are mind-boggling: over 46,000 each night in the municipal shelter system, another 5,000 in private shelters.  And there are countless others who can't or won't get into shelters.

Those that try and make a difference, whether officially (social service agencies or NGOs) or unofficially (like Larry DePrimo) have to face the possibility that their efforts will be rebuffed by the likes of Hillman and Noce.  But it doesn't mean that we should stop trying.

December 4, 2012

Six Lives, $50,312

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes bizX, the weekly business section.

In addition to special features, tips from stock experts, budgeting advice and the like, we get the judgment and bankruptcy listings.

This week, five people were listed with new judgments totaling $32,897 to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers. 

This week, one person was listed as having satisfied judgments to hospitals, doctors or other medical providers, totaling $17,415.

These are the lowest totals, both in number of lives and dollar impact, in the 20 weeks I've been tracking the health care-related judgments and bankruptcies. 

December 2, 2012

Sidebar: Police Doing Good Deeds

The story of Larry DePrimo, the NYPD officer who purchased socks and insulated boots for a homeless person in Manhattan touched a lot of hearts.  But there are countless stories of police officers making a difference, particularly at this time of the year.  Here are just a few:
In Cicero NY, kids were asked to submit an essay telling what Christmas means to them.  Five of the kids were selected to 'Shop with a Cop' at a local Target; each child was given $100 to spend.
In Winnipeg, kids and cops head out to the mall for the sixth annual Cop Shop; the kids who participate were chosen based on academics and volunteer efforts.
Another Target, another group of cops and kids, this time in Las Vegas. 
And it not only during the late-year holiday season that police officers lend a hand. 
This past September, a bicycle thief in Phoenix AZ got caught red-handed with one bike, but not the second one that was missing.  Local police officers opened their wallets and purchased a replacement for the second bike.   
And here's a story from Turlock, CA, where apparently it's a fairly common occurrence for local officers to help homeless or transient folks using their own money.  This article has a couple examples (and also some interesting comments at the end from the Deputy Chief).
How about this one, a police officer in Norwood OH who responded to a call at a school where the class field trip money had been stolen.  The officer went to the ATM, took out enough to cover the trip, and had it delivered anonymously to the school.  
The point? Officer DePrimo is but one of many men and women in uniform who have made a difference, who have done the unexpected and dug deep into their own pockets to make things better for people they've encountered on the job.

Kudos to them, and to all of the folks out of uniform who do the same.