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The Obamacare Free Morning Grumpy – 6/29/12

Filed under: Morning Grumpy

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy. Now with 100% less Obamacare discussion!

1. Looking for a local Buffalo success story? Look no further than Liazon, a local healthcare benefits company that is building the “Amazon of Healthcare Buying“.

From two offices on two floors of a renovated office building in downtown Buffalo, all but a few of Liazon’s 75-person team manages a new kind of health benefits system for 2,000 small and midsize firms.

What Liazon is trying to change is how companies offer and negotiate health insurance for new hires (the “onboarding process”) and existing employees (“annual enrollment”). Instead of an employer negotiating one or two health plans yearly and unceremoniously requesting sign-ups, Liazon’s Bright Choices plan-choosing portal lets employees pick out packages of health insurance, flex accounts, and life and disability insurance. Employees log into a customized web portal, see the relative costs and details of plans in reasonably plain language and star ratings, and pick a combination. Young people without kids, with glasses, and in need of life insurance pick different coverage than heads of households with clear vision and lots of deductibles. Whenever someone has a question, they can call an 800 number staffed by Liazon’s own employees.

This is a company that has made a significant investment in Buffalo and offers a unique product which is poised for enormous growth.  Liazon CEO Ashok Subramanian (who is a friend of mine) is an innovative and remarkable entrepreneur and I hope that his story helps seed another round of risk takers in the region.

2. The truth about the “Fast and Furious” scandal? An investigative report by Fortune Magazine reveals that the ATF never intentionally allowed guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. How the world came to believe just the opposite is a tale of rivalry, murder, and political bloodlust.

Irony abounds when it comes to the Fast and Furious scandal. But the ultimate irony is this: Republicans who support the National Rifle Association and its attempts to weaken gun laws are lambasting ATF agents for not seizing enough weapons—ones that, in this case, prosecutors deemed to be legal.

Issa’s claim that the ATF is using the Fast and Furious scandal to limit gun rights seems, to put it charitably, far-fetched. Meanwhile, Issa and other lawmakers say they want ATF to stanch the deadly tide of guns, widely implicated in the killing of 47,000 Mexicans in the drug-war violence of the past five years. But the public bludgeoning of the ATF has had the opposite effect. From 2010, when Congress began investigating, to 2011, gun seizures by Group VII and the ATF’s three other groups in Phoenix dropped by more than 90%.

After a six month investigation, this writer doesn’t simply debunk the story, she destroys it. From Andrew Sullivan:

A six-month Fortune investigation reveals that the public case alleging that Voth and his colleagues walked guns is replete with distortions, errors, partial truths, and even some outright lies. Fortune reviewed more than 2,000 pages of confidential ATF documents and interviewed 39 people, including seven law-enforcement agents with direct knowledge of the case.

Man, I love good journalism.

3. Suze Orman on how the financial industry turned a college education into a bad investment. Normally, I find this woman loathsome, but this is a great video.

Mark Cuban’s take on the value of a college education is fantastically interesting.

At some point potential students will realize that they can’t flip their student loans for a job in 4 years. In fact they will realize that college may be the option for fun and entertainment, but not for education. Prices for traditional higher education will skyrocket so high over the next several years that potential students will start to make their way to non accredited institutions.

IMHO, the biggest problem the economy has is the enormous student debt new college grads and those leaving college find themselves with. In the past leaving college meant getting a job and getting a used car and/or an apartment with some friends. Yes there was student debt, but it wasn’t any where near your car payment. You could still afford the car and the apartment. Now its the exact opposite. Today, the minute you graduate college you face the challenge of debt against a college education whose value is immediately “underwater”

As a result spending habits have changed dramatically. Now when you leave school you move back home. You take public transportation or borrow your parents car. The only thing new you buy is the cheap work outfit you need. Savings ? Forgettaboutit. It’s not happening. Your entire focus is on hitting your monthly nut for school debt , credit card and maybe a car or apartment. The crush of college debt has taken an entire generation of graduates, current and future out of the economy. Which is exactly why the economy hasn’t grown and won’t grow beyond microscopic growth rates we have seen so far.

The biggest limitations to financial mobility are student loan debt and health care. Can’t leave a job to chase a dream, start a business, change careers, or move? Odds are, it;s because of your enormous student loan debt and the need for employer sponsored health care coverage.

4. An interactive map of the dark money political universe by Mother Jones.

If Citizens United was the Big Bang of a new era of money in politics, here’s the universe it formed: rapidly expanding super-PACs and nebulous 501(c) groups exerting gravitational pull on the 2012 election. Mouse over a “planet” to peer into its funding and top donors. Sizes are based on latest reported revenues (if disclosed). This data is live—come back for weekly updates.

Great stuff.

5. Exhibit A on how establishment companies fight innovation, customer desires and market forces to preserve existing revenue models.

Time Warner Cable has won a U.S. patent for a method for disabling fast-forward and other trick mode functions on digital video recorders. The patent, which lists Time Warner Cable principal architect Charles Hasek as the inventor, details how the nation’s second largest cable MSO may be able prevent viewers from skipping TV commercials contained in programs stored on physical DVRs it deploys in subscriber homes, network-based DVRs and even recording devices subscribers purchase at retail outlets.

Why innovate when you can force customers to do what you want them to do?

Fact Of The Day: This weekend will be 1 second longer than normal, thanks to the slowing of the Earth’s rotation

Quote Of The Day: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” – George Orwell

Video Of The Day: Howard Stern and Corey Feldman on Howard’s Old Channel 9 Show. How Howard has maintained a career with shit like this in his past is beyond me.

Song Of The Day: “30th Century Man” – Scott Walker

Follow me on Twitter for the “incremental grumpy” @ChrisSmithAV

Email me links, tips, story ideas: chris@artvoice.com


  • Jesse Griffis

    Chris, can you get an interview with your friends at Liazon? Their business model is going to get kicked around pretty heavily as of 2014, I reckon. I LOVE their ideas, wish I had a company that could use their services, and I wonder how they think their lives will change once Obama’s health care law takes effect (barring endless lawsuits, but never mind that now).

    Also, on #2, there’s already takedowns of that online. Confirmation bias abounds!

    • I will send an email to Liazon and inquire about an interview RE: their business model and Obamacare.

      Also, I’m quite certain there are takedowns of the Fortune investigation in many corners of the Internet. When something so thoroughly destroys what appears to be a trumped up story, the “trumpers” will be invested in defending themselves. If a credible story from a credible reporter at a credible outlet emerges that clearly and factually disputes the facts of this story, I’ll be interested.

    • I wonder why their business model would get “kicked around”, seeing as how it involves offering people a menu of private health insurance options, and seeing as how 2014 involves the introduction of, among other things, a mandate that people buy private health insurance. 

      I wonder why there would be “endless lawsuits” over Obamacare, seeing as how the Supreme Court just ruled yesterday positively on its constitutionality. 

      With respect to Fast & Furious, I have also seen lengthy partisan online takedowns of the President’s long-form birth certificate. So, there’s that. 

  • MaxPlanck

    That MJ interactive map rules….thanks!

  • The fact that I can’t buy a DVD box set of the old Channel 9 show is a travesty of historic proportions. That show was awesome, and I’m pleased to still have some old VHS tapes of it.