Affordable Care Act: The Problems Keep Mounting… (Part 2)

The problems with the Affordable Care Act are becoming increasingly ubiquitous to the point that it has become a hot topic this holiday weekend. Case in fact, the November 29th Hardball documentary with Chris Matthews (2013): The Right’s Fight to Take Down Obamacare, which highlights attempts to not only derail the Affordable Care Act, but to distort and exaggerate the views of non-biased stakeholders. The Hardball documentary chronicles “the three oddest moments in the right’s attempt to turn the country against Obamacare” (Matthews, 2013). The three individuals whose diatribes contorted the Affordable Care Act were Ted Cruz, Michele Bachmann, and Steve Stockman. Cruz was asked by Chris Cuomo what alternative plans he had to the Affordable Care Act; Cruz replied by stating that he just wanted to eliminate Obamacare without any alternative suggestions. Bachmann said that Obamacare was going to literally kill women, children, and the elderly. Steve Stockman misquoted a Tweet from the head of the  EPA, who stated that she was “fortunate to have very good healthcare provided by the Federal Government [her employer]” (as cited in Matthews, 2013). He was insinuating that she was glad not to apply for the Affordable Care Act coverage. This raises several questions, beginning with what motives are driving these individuals to come up with such bitter diatribes? Yes, there are many glitches in the Affordable Care Act, however, the majority of Americans want a change and are willing to wait to see if these obstacles can be ironed out. So, does that give the right of others to attack and defame something that could possibly be beneficial? By the same token, one can not help but wonder whose palms are being greased “under the table” by big businesses who have a lot to lose if this law not only works, but becomes a reality.

In a recent FoxNews.com article entitled Administration Announces New Delay in Online Enrollment for Small Businesses, another layer is added to the unsettling dilemma of the new healthcare.gov site. Small businesses are given a one-year grace period to enroll, which allows the Affordable Care Act the necessary time needed to iron out the glitches that has small business turning their backs to the new law. The article stated that the “Obama administration announced a day before the Thanksgiving holiday that it would push off online enrollment for small businesses by another year” (“Administration Announces New Delay,” 2013). Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) extended the deadline to December 23rd for small business to enroll their employees “if they want coverage by the first of the year” and that tax credit applications do not need to be submitted until tax time (“Administration Announces New Delay,” 2013). As I was speaking with some small business owners and inquired about their thoughts on the Affordable Care Act, the consensus was to pay the fine as opposed to paying exorbitant insurance prices that would inevitably put them out of business. As I stated in my last blog, the Mom and Pop stores that made middle-class America prosperous are slowly becoming extinct and with this added expense, it will only expedite the process. So, what does this application delay mean for small business owners? And, what does this delay mean for right-wing extremists who want to derail the Affordable Care Act?

With all these delays, one can not help but wonder why a lengthier extension for individual applicants has not been initiated? How many other stumbling blocks will we encounter from the mounting problems of the Affordable Care Act? Or, is it possible that  individuals on Capital Hill are looking to exacerbate the situation for their own personal gain? After all, even Ted Cruz could not come up with a positive alternative solution, even though back in August he offered an alternative. Did he change his mind and decide that it was not a good solution? . So, is the American healthcare system as we know it supposed to fail and force citizens to seek healthcare solutions outside its borders?

What are your thoughts?

Affordable Care Act: The Problems Keep Mounting… (Part 1)

As an eleven-year cancer survivor, I have developed a network of healthcare providers who I not only trust, but also assist me with my financial situation and insurance carriers. Back in 2002, when I was first diagnosed, I was working as a temporary employee with an income that was barely above the poverty level and was receiving Charity Care from my local healthcare facility. So, when my professor opened up a class discussion about a Wall Street Journal article that was written by a cancer survivor, I took immediate notice and decided to address it in this week’s blog. The article, entitled: You Also Can’t Keep Your Doctor by Edie Littlefield Sundby (2013) is about the insurmountable red tape encountered by the author, a seven year stage-4 gallbladder cancer survivor, as a result of the Affordable Care Act law. The arduous effort to maintain her healthcare providers has made life unbearable for this cancer patient, who was recently informed that her health insurance coverage will be canceled Dec.31. To make matters worse, the White House Administrative Advisor, Dan Pfeiffer, responded to the article with the following:DanPfeifferTwitter

Given the fact that Mr. Obama had an unprecedented social media public relations campaign during his Presidential candidacy, one can not help but question what happened to that brilliant team of tacticians who engaged and wooed the support of thousands of constituents. Dan Pfieffer could have better addressed this in a thoughtful, empathetic editorial response instead of the 140 character blurb he sent from Twitter. In fact, he could have linked his editorial response to other social media platforms to promote trust, transparency and engagement in a more positive light. The article Dan Pfeiffer links his Twitter response to is entitled The Real Reason That The Cancer Patient Writing In Today’s Wall Street Journal Lost Her Insurance (Vokski, 2013), which was written as a response to E. Sundby’s article. The article states the following:

And then there is the company’s own justification for leaving. “The company’s plans reflect its concern that the first wave of newly insured customers under the law may be the costliest,” UHC Chief Executive Officer Stephen Helmsley told investors last October. “UnitedHealth will watch and see how the exchanges evolve and expects the first enrollees will have ‘a pent-up appetite’ for medical care. We are approaching them with some degree of caution because of that.” (Volsky, 2013)

Below is Edie Sundby’s response to the above from her interview with Fox News:

Insurance is “big business,” and insurance companies are scouring for loopholes to protect their profits. Since my The Drama Continues with Obamacare… post I have received numerous emails from readers regarding the issue. One of my academic colleagues, a Princeton Doctoral Candidate wrote: “In my own opinion (since the law was passed), and as many people in the US have realized recently, it’s a bad business…” So, why didn’t the Administration recruit business experts to assist when the idea was merely a schematic on paper? With a $17 trillion deficit looming overhead, why were basic business practices overlooked, such as cutting expenses and building revenue? According to D. Morgan (2013) on his article about the financial impact of the Affordable Care Act, he states the following:

Obamacare’s contribution to spending is expected to diminish after 2015 as retiring baby boomers shift the momentum toward the Medicare program for the elderly and disabled.

Annual healthcare spending growth is expected to average 5.8 percent for the decade, or about 1 percent above GDP, and below historic growth rates that reached nearly 12 percent in the 1990s.

If Affordable Care Act spending is expected to diminish after 2015, does this mean that eventually individual States will take over the Medicare program? By the same token, does this mean that the increased premiums insurance companies are posing on their clients will go away? Not only insurance companies have upped their premiums, they are forcing consumers to subscribe to coverage’s that they would normally not need. As an example, why would a couple in their late 50’s, early 60’s need birth control coverage or even maternity care? Or, why would someone in their 20’s need the same healthcare as a geriatric patient? The article states that younger insurers would only need prescription and physician services as opposed to hospital care. Many consumers and even small business owners would rather pay a penalty than dole out money that is needed for other expenses. As such, paying school loans, getting married, buying a home, or even a car, are now memories of an American Dream gone awry. Will middle-class America become extinct? How can Obamacare assure positive, ethical business practices back from an era where “Mom and Pop” stores were the main source of economic prosperity?

What are your thoughts?

Synthetic Biology and Material Science Technologies Bridging into the Next Generation

I have decided to take a brief moratorium from the Obama Care saga and  direct my attention to some interesting avant-garde technologies that are looming on the horizon. In an exercise of opening our minds to new possibilities, an article entitled, Forget Devices; the Future of Technology is Seeded in Biology (Rigg, 2013) became the focus of a recent class discussion. Back in the late 1980’s when microchip tagging of livestock and pets began, European nightclubs also joined the bandwagon by “tagging” their clients with embedded microchips, thereby attracting elite jetsetters into their establishments. Hence, this was the beginning of “human tagging”, a convenience that allows users to enter a facility or pay their tab with a swipe of a “microchipped” body part and continue their business without much inconvenience. As such, this technological development of embedding or seeding users has evolved to a new level where a person can a) telepathically communicate with others, b) “exchange memories instead of telling a story” (Rigg, 2013), and c) use of one’s body to be “plugged into a global network,” thus allowing users to operate interfaces subconsciously and eventually allowing individuals to interact on a new plane far beyond the well known “Vulcan Mind Meld.” Smartphones, computers, and other gadgets (including Google Glass) will become obsolete through this new technology. Interestingly, this technology may enhance or even change how human beings engage with one another. The possibilities are endless. In fact, the Mayo Clinic posted a recent article on their “Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation” Facebook page entitled “The Disruptive Potential of Electronics” (McDowell, 2013), which showcases how seeded microchips are used and revolutionizing the healthcare industry.

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High performance electronics that move with bodies and natural world developed by MC10 which “range from stick-on devices that monitor hydration to wearables and body implants” (McDowell, 2013)

However, my October 12, 2013 blog, Avant-Garde Mind Control—Miracle or Unethical Infiltration of Personal Privacy? discusses the implications of others having access and the control of the body movements of others. There is the potential for the technologies of mind reading microchips (Rigg, 2013), microchip self-controlled and enhanced body function (McDowell, 2013), and “human-to-human brain interface”(Zolfagharifard, 2013) to be combined in the not-so-distant future. If this happens, it would open a plethora of ethical and privacy concerns. Back in August when E. Zolfagharifard reported the findings of Rajesh Rao and Andrea Stocco as cited in my blog, these two researchers discovered this experimental “mind control” technology and indicated that we were far from being able to read the thoughts of others. Can it be that Rao and Stucco were mistaken in light of these new developments? The premise of living in a society of ‘super-beings’ opens the door to endless possibilities and could potentially eliminate the need for extensive medical or intermediary hospice care since many ailments can be remedied through “re-circuiting” neurological impulses through a seeded microchip. This raises the question if society is capable of handling such advances. If so, how can we deter others from hacking into these technological devices? As of today, the available technology allows us to go into an establishment with our smartphones, be tracked and influenced on our buying habits by those same establishments. This occurrence transpires without ever sending a message to anyone or informing our intent of where we are going or what we are doing. So, if we are so easily tracked now through our Smartphones, what is to stop anyone from tracking and influencing our actions, let alone our purchasing habits with seeded devices? Does this mean that someone with diabolical intentions can control our minds by infiltrating our thoughts, persuading us to purchase a weapon, or even kill? Is this technology a godsend or is “Big Brother” overstepping boundaries with yet another tool to monitor and control our actions?

What are your thoughts?

The Drama Continues with ObamaCare…

President Obama apologized to the thousands of consumers who lost their health insurance because their insurance coverage did not meet the criteria outlined by the Affordable Healthcare Act. Because of recent developments, I have decided to post a follow-up to my November 2, 2013 blog Can the “Big Leaguers” Help Obama Care Overcome the Technological Glitches? Or, Has Mercury Retrograde Become More Than a Wives Tale?. Revelations have begun to trickle in regarding the designing firm of the Healthcare.gov website, CGI Federal. Senior vice president at CGI Federal, Toni Townes-Whitley, “is also a Princeton University classmate of first lady Michelle Obama — and a political donor” (FoxNews.com, 2013). According to the article “Exec at HealthCare.gov Contractor Went to School with First Lady, Donated to Obama Campaign” (“Exec at Healthcare.gov,” 2013):

“According to Federal Election Commission Records, Townes-Whitley gave $500 in 2011 and 2012 to Obama’s reelection campaign, and another $1,000 to the Obama Victory Fund.

Election records also show that Townes-Whitley’s boss, George Schindler, the president for U.S. and Canada for CGI Federal’s parent company CGI Group, became an Obama 2012 campaign donor after his company won the ObamaCare contract.

But according to OpenSecrets.org, which tracks campaign donations, CGI Group was fairly even-handed when doling out political contributions.”

While the article does not specifically implicate the President of any unethical practices, other websites, such as the Daily Mail, Teaparty.org, Republican Right Wing, have been accusing the President of unethical practices such as not allowing other competitors to bid on the $93 million contract and accepting campaign donations from CGI Federal. Interestingly, these articles have since been removed. Thus, I began to question the authenticity of these allegations. This reminded me of Mr. Obama’s presidential campaigns where his birth certificate became an issue in meeting the American citizenship criteria. Is it possible that both of these allegations were distortions created by Tea Party conservatives and Right Wing Republicans because Mr. Obama’s policies do not meet their agenda?  Thus raising the question, if the republicans had authentic documentation corroborating these allegations of unethical practices, why was this not exposed during the government shutdown? Instead, this created a division between the parties where the Republicans tried to “strong-arm” the President by discrediting the health care reform act and its initial intent of assisting Americans who can not afford suitable health insurance.

If these allegations are indeed true, what are the ethical implications? Or did Michelle Obama exert her influence to grant CGI Federal’s Senior Vice President, Toni Townes-Whitley the contract while fracturing ethical practices? Who can we trust? After all, for sixteen days, the government was at a stalemate during the shutdown because of House Republicans attempting to repeal Obamacare (Francis, 2013). Or, have those who are most at need for healthcare become the scapegoats to the political minutia that shows no end in sight?

What are your thoughts?

Can the “Big Leaguers” Help Obama Care Overcome the Technological Glitches? Or, Has Mercury Retrograde Become More Than a Wives Tale?

The October 31, 2013 CNET article, Healthcare.gov Said to be Turning to Tech Giants for Help by Rachel King, addresses how the US government recruited the help of “big league” technology organizations such as Google, Oracle, and Red Hat to fix the constant problems that have been plaguing the Healthcare.gov website. So as a curious academic, I went to the website https://www.healthcare.gov/ to investigate. When I logged onto the website, I did not encounter any of the problems that were reported in the news. However, it was after 12 midnight, Eastern Standard Time, Saturday (November 2nd) when most people are readying themselves for the weekend.

The website seemed to be poorly organized with some key components that should have been in plain view on the landing page. This greatly puzzles me and I would like to use this platform to engage in an open discussion.

First of all, I could not understand why a general 24/7 phone number linking to local state information facilities is not prominently visible across the landing page. The first thing that appears is “Find health coverage that works for you” in bold print. Underneath are the words “Get quality coverage at a price you can afford. Open enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace continues until March 31, 2014.” The online/computer version of the landing page shows two buttons with the words “apply online” and “apply by phone.” Additionally, to the right of the buttons are the words “4 Ways to get Marketplace Coverage” with four picture-circles below. There are no instructions indicating to the user that these circles are links to other pages. Purely by accident, when I scrolled my mouse over these circles, did I discover that each one of these circles was a hyper-link to another page which are “apply by phone,” “apply online,” “find help applying,” and “apply by paper.” By comparison, when viewing the same landing page on a smartphone, these links are user friendly, stated clearly, and easier to navigate. For both the computer and smartphone applications, the user needs to scroll to the bottom the page for phone numbers and additional information. The phone number for assistance appears on the lower right tab with a link to another page that does not highlight key information. Without further investigating, why didn’t the public relations team that developed this site, a) attach apps to Facebook and/or other Social Media platforms in the beginning of the application process (note: when selecting the tabs in the lower part of the landing page, the new window(s) open with links to Twitter, Facebook, etc.),  b) utilize print media, c) utilize local/state government sites with links, d) enlist healthcare facilities to assist potential applicants in applying, e) use television, beyond news programs, to assist future applicants. The most important question, is why does the online chat pop-up window not appear on the landing page to assist/direct visitors to the proper domain?

The article notes that additional glitches with “performance and functionality” to the website include possible privacy infringement issues, erroneous data, as well as health insurers receiving bad data from healthcare.gov. All in all, these implications are quite disturbing. Is it possible that this problematic situation will subside? As a sidebar, it is interesting to note that communication glitches seemed to have peaked beginning October 21st, when Mercury Retrograde began, for example my computer broke, my home phone died and my internet connections have been sporadic. Is it possible that this phenomenon has a link to  these technological glitches that have been plaguing the healthcare.gov site? Coincidence? Maybe not. In order to close the gap in meeting the digital divide expectations, perhaps the healthcare.gov website should begin meeting users expectations. In the meantime, I will use this site to apply for my own healthcare coverage and document my experience, which I will share with you in a future blog. Do you think I will encounter the same problems or should I wait till after November 10th when Mercury Retrograde ends?

What are your thoughts?

Is There a Deontological Approach to Privacy Issues?

The word deontology derives from the Greek words for duty (deon) and science (or study) of (logos). Essentially, this post will be addressing how ethics (or one’s duty of embracing that which is right) are entwined with privacy issues and their implications with today’s technological advances. The October 24, 2013, article published by CNN entitled Germany’s Angela Merkel: Relations with U.S. ‘Severely Shaken’ Over Spying Claims by Laura Smith-Spark brings to light how the international community is taking a hard look at how the US is overstepping international technological boundaries.

One may say that in light of all the terroristic threats that have plagued the world and key US alliances, the United States has every right to protect its interests from unwarranted infiltration. However, does the right to “protect one’s self” involve “nosing” into the affairs of others? Does this alleged right to protect one’s personal (cyberspace) boundaries strong-arm the world into invading the private space(s) of others? Or has the United States turned into the very bully it has been trying to annihilate? Perhaps NSA whistleblower/leaker Edward Snowden knows something that has the US shaking in their boots. After all, why would Germany’s Angela Merkel even hint at the suggestion that her private conversations are being hacked by US infiltrators without undue cause? What “red flag” prompted the US to allegedly monitor her phone conversations? Why is France also joining the bandwagon? Are they conjuring up these allegations out of thin air without just cause?

In my blog User Privacy — Why the Delay With Compliancy? I address why a compliance policy that protects the privacy of users internationally is taking so long to implement. Could it be that the United States has a stake in infiltrating the privacy of others for the sake of its own security? Or has the US become so arrogant in its handling of proprietary information that it needs to control the domain(s) of others?

What are your thoughts?

Bionic Man Hollywood Hype? Or New Millenium Technology?

As I was about to post this blog, I received an email from one of my classmates announcing their newest post entitled Sci-fi is Here in a Living Robot. Could Robot Soldiers Be Next?.  As this is a “hot new topic”, I decided that my best course of action would be share this blog which offers another layer to this issue.

With the recent slew of articles on new scientific-technological breakthroughs, I could not help but consider that these findings have a common thread linking them together.  As an example, last week’s blog Avante Guard Mind Control—Miracle or Unethical Infiltration of Personal Privacy?  focuses on the break-through technology of  human-to-human brain interface, which demonstrates how one’s mind can control the motor skills of another. Of course, we can not overlook my blog on 3D Bioprinting which examines the technology of recreating organs using healthy human donor cells. So, what’s linking these technologies together, you might ask?  I found the answer while reading an article about the creation of an artificial “man” entitled ‘Bionic man’ walks, breathes with artificial organs, limbs  by Barbara Ortutay. The Smithsonian Institute approached Richard Walker, the managing director of Shadow Robot Co. located in London, England, to assemble functioning body parts from mechanical/organic organs, a circulation system, to cochlear and retina implants. These parts were procured from 17 various manufacturers from around the world. Hence, creating the six-foot tall artificial bionic man. Alas, this version of the bionic “man” does not have the capacity to assimilate any thought processes. Therefore, the lack of artificial intelligence changes the dynamics of this mechanically operated humanoid being.

Imagine the possibilities of a true “bionic being” whose mechanics exist through artificial intelligence. Is the Hollywood fantasy of Star Wars C-3PO  droid about to become a reality?  Is this possible? And more importantly, does the technology exist?

The answer to these questions and what today’s technology is capable of is an unequivocal “Yes”! It has come to fruition through combined technological effort of Google and NASA. Together, these two organizations have created a quantum computer, which is by far, the most advanced form of artificial intelligence available to date. This innovative form of artificial intelligence has the capacity to survey unknown platforms and assimilate its findings. Its creators can only project the types of questions it can answer. However, the one question that everyone is  wondering about is: “Are we alone”?

On Sunday, October 20, 2013, 9 p.m. the Smithsonian Channel will be airing a documentary on the creation of an artificial “man”. The documentary entitled “The Incredible Bionic Man,” chronicles “engineers’ attempt to assemble a functioning body using artificial parts” (Ortutay, 2013).

So, let’s imagine that we can connect our bodies to the “cyber-realm” (which is a theoretical concept). This “cyber-realm” would consist of a triggering of neurological impulses that interact within the nervous system, in a similar manner in which electrical currents are configured through an electrical grid. Now, let’s suppose we have the ability to create a bionic super-soldier, made entirely of bionic and organic parts. This super-soldier, would have the power of a fighter plane, the stealth of a mouse, and a cyber-brain, composed of the type of quantum processing intelligence, as mentioned above. Suppose this super-soldier has the capacity to neutralize key threatening points and people that pose a threat, as well as the ability to act in covert operations that can be executed discreetly, with minimal backlash or consequence. Even if the creations of super-soldiers was to become a known reality, it would be difficult to prove their actions since evidence can be easily destroyed. However, what preventative course of action would deter the infiltration of a hacker getting control of this super-soldier? The consequences would be devastating. I shudder at the thought of this type of cyber-espionage and the power it would provide individuals or organizations. With this technology, a need to develop a “fail-safe” switch, to a) maintain orderly behavior and b) to self-destruct in case of spyware infiltration is essential if not, then perhaps the technology should be abandoned all together.

The current generation of prosthetics involves the use of computers and software to operate prosthetic body parts. The creation of advanced prosthetics opens the possibilities of cyber-threats to the human body where a person’s body-parts are directly susceptible to hacking. The most important question is what are the ethical implications? And how can we secure the privacy and more importantly, the well-being of individuals? All in all, a free-thinking weapon is a terrifying concept and in the wrong hands could cause potential devastation.

What are your thoughts?