The Virus Kabuki

A big hat-tip (H/T in blogger parlance) to Mogadishu Matt for reblogging this New York Times piece about masks and The Virus.  I tend to view mask mandates as a form of petty tyranny—a way of signalling virtue on the cheap while inconveniencing otherwise law-abiding citizens who don’t want to muzzle themselves every time they want to buy cereal.

As such, I was surprised to see the dubious wisdom of mask mandates questioned in the pages of the progressive Left’s favorite “mainstream” rag, The New York Times.

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More Medical Updates

My apologies to regular readers for the lack of real content this week.  There are race wars and Antifa street gangs to discuss, but I’m so weary with fever, I can only slam out these short medical updates.

I had enough symptoms—chills, fever, and headaches—to get test for The Virus.  I should find out those results in a day or two.  Fortunately, my breathing is unimpaired.  I spoke with a physician’s assistant from the neurologists office regarding my migraines, which increasingly seem linked to my fever (although I would still like to shell out for a scan to rule anything else out).  Everything is in a bit of a stasis, however, until I get the COVID results.

My appetite is doing well, though I have taken this bout of ill health (and the stomach-related issues I was experiencing last week) to begin correcting and improving my diet.  Primarily, I’ve been cutting down on salt consumption, and calories in general.  My blood pressure is elevated, and needs to come down substantially.

I am teaching my first session of History of Conservative Thought for 2020 on Wednesday afternoon—online, of course.  If necessary, I will take acetaminophen in the morning to help get through the discussion.  Here’s hoping I can meet with the three young men enrolled in person next week.

That’s it for now.  I just awoke after dozing on the small twin bed in my study (one of the darker, cooler rooms in the house) for over an hour.  My fever is coming down without medication—I last took acetaminophen around 6 AM—which is promising.

Thank you for your continues support and prayers.

—TPP

Phone it in Friday IX: Coronavirus Conundrum, Part II: Attack of the Virus

If last week was crazy busy, this one is moving at ludicrous speed (and yet also dragging by—last Friday seems like a distant eternity ago).  Since last week, panic over the coronavirus is spreading alongside the dreaded virus.  There have been a series of major cancellations, all of which have been well-advertised:  Disneyland, professional sports, etc.  The South Carolina Philharmonic, of which I used to be a season ticket holder, is closing its concert to the public, but will instead livestream the proceedings.  Our senior US Senator Lindsey Graham has self-quarantined.

My assessment up until this week has been that we should be prudent in preparing for the impact of the coronavirus, but that it’s a tad overblown—it’s just a nasty flu.  I still caution prudent prepping—and against panic—but after the events of the past week, I’m adjusting my assessment.  There is definitely something different about this pandemic.

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SubscribeStar Saturday: Coronavirus Prepping

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.

Yesterday’s Phone it in Friday discussed the coronavirus.  I mentioned some of the steps I’ve been taking to prepare (God forbid) a lengthy quarantine.

To be clear, I don’t think it will come to that.  The virus is dangerous, to be sure, but it seems like a deadlier version of the flu.  The United States enjoys the best medical system in the world, and I suspect the fallout won’t be nearly as devastating.

Nevertheless, it’s prudent to stock up, especially given our over-reliance on China for supplies.  If anything, that’s my biggest concern:  a shortage of medical supplies.  So here are some small steps I’m taking to prepare for the worst, even though I think the worst is unlikely.

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Phone it in Friday VIII: Coronavirus Conundrum

It’s been another crazy week here in the world of yours portly.  The quarter is coming to a close, and I’ve got a mountain of ungraded quizzes and tests to slog through to appease the gods of higher education admittance.

Ergo, it’s time for a very special coronavirus (or “COVID19,” for your cool kids) edition of Phone it in Friday!

  • Tomorrow’s SubscribeStar Saturday will be a detailed rundown of what I’ve been doing to prepare for the extremely remote possibility that we all get quarantined in our homes and have to practice social distancing to avoid spreading the bug any further.  Here’s the short preview:  I bought a bunch of rice, beans, and spaghetti.
    • On that note, I’m yet again flummoxed by fears of everyday hunger in America.  Ten pounds of rice came to about $7; same with the spaghetti.  Twenty cans of beans cost around $12.  You can eat—maybe not well, but enough to survive and function—for a month for extremely cheaply.  Whining about “hunger” in the United States is a farcical outlier.
    • I am thankful to live in the United States, a country with the best medical system in the world, and the means to treat most diseases.  I’m optimistic that the virus will pass through quickly
  • Was it bat soup, or a Wuhan biological weapon?  Either way, I think we’ve seen the wisdom of the trade war with China, even though we weren’t anticipating something like a Chinese-created pandemic.  The coronavirus exposes the weaknesses and contradictions at the heart of China, and puts lie to the notion that this is a “Chinese century.”  I’ll be glad to be done with such rubbish.  The Chinese have come far, yes, but it turns out a totalitarian regime built on a culture of death and lying (“saving face”) can only snooker people for so long.
    • That doesn’t mean that China will no longer pose a threat.  Indeed, I believe China to be our biggest geopolitical competitor.  All the more reason to relocate industries back to the United States, or at least to friendlier countries like Vietnam, rather than deal with the Chinese.
    • For the best treatment of this subject, read blogger Didact’s essay “Corona-chan Comes for You.”  He spells out the economic threat of the coronavirus, and how the whole thing is likely the result of Chinese incompetence and the insane cultural concept of “face,” in which it’s better to lie (in the Chinese mind) than to risk bringing shame to your family.  Concepts like that make me glad to live in the United States.

My hope is that after all is done, China will be a pariah, no longer vaunted as a power on the rise, but maligned as a malicious, mendacious regime.

That’s it for this brief Phone it in Friday.  Wash your hands, stock up on dry goods, and stay healthy!

—TPP

HSAs are A-Okay

My Congressman, Tom Rice, sends out little e-mail updates on a regular basis.  In his latest newsletter, the South Carolina US-7 representative included a link to a video (below) of his statements before Congress about expanding Health Savings Accounts, or HSAs.

The gist of the proposal is to expand health-savings accounts to allow account holders to contribute more to them.  The current legal annual contribution (in FY2018) for a single individual is $3450, up from $3400 last year and $3350 the year before.  That comes out to $287.50 a month, which can be contributed pre-tax directly from an account holder’s paycheck.

The way the law is currently written, HSAs are excellent both to cover medical expenses before reaching your deductible (and, naturally, most HSA-compliant plans are high deductible ones) and to save and invest for retirement.  You can accrue a qualified medical expense today—say, a visit to the emergency room—and you can submit that receipt in a decade (or longer—there’s no apparent time-limit) to take out that amount.

To give a hypothetical:  let’s say you have a medical bill for $3000.  Yes, your annual contribution to your HSA could cover that.  But, let’s say you’ve built up a good emergency fund, and elect to pay the bill out-of-pocket through that fund.  In, say, five years, you need to tap your HSA funds for some reason.  If you’ve kept the receipt (and credit card statements help, too), you can file that with your HSA and withdraw the $3000.

Why go through the trouble?  Because many HSA administrators—including my own, HealthSavings Administrators—allow you to invest in mutual funds with your HSA contributions.  If you’re making an 8% annual return on those contributions, that $3000 today will be worth around $4100 in five years (investment math folks, please check my numbers; regardless, you get the point—money grows).

Alternatively, if you don’t tap that money for decades—and keep contributing—you’ll have a very nice retirement account growing tax-free for all those years.

My current health insurance carries a $6550 deductible—which I didn’t even come close to hitting in 2017 when I broke my left wrist, although it was still expensive—but I’ve accrued enough of an emergency fund that I could meet that expense should the need arise (I pray it doesn’t).  If my emergency fund were sunk into something else—say, a new car, or a less flood-prone house—then I could tap into my HSA contributions from the past few years.

And here is the other benefit of HSAs, the one that I’m sure Congressman Rice as in mind:  they help you reach your deductible, and bring some market forces to bear on healthcare costs.

I suspect that one of the culprits of high healthcare costs is the lack of transparency—no one knows how much anything costs, and everything is fungible.  When I broke my wrist, I received a hefty ER bill (about $3000) about four months after the fall (I don’t understand the delay on that; it seems like they could just tally it all up and print it out at the time of the accident).  I called the hospital, and they told they were “running a special”—if I paid in full that day, they’d knock HALF of the cost off the bill.  Because I’m an extreme budgeter and have an emergency fund, I could do it, and leaped at the “special.”

Most people don’t have enough money saved up to even meet a $500 emergency, but an HSA makes it more doable.  Even without an emergency fund, if an account holder were making monthly contributions, he’d be able to take advantage of such price reductions.

HSAs aren’t a magic bullet to bringing down healthcare costs, but they would go a long way to addressing the problem.  If we lived in a pre-Obamacare age, you’d be able to get a high-deductible, HSA-compliant plan for probably $50-100 a month, depending on age and health.  Even if you didn’t want to manage the money in various investments, the incentives to save—namely, the pre-tax benefit—are enough that many Americans would likely take contribute to their HSA.

When Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson was running for president in 2015-2016, he proposed transferable, minimally-funded ($5000 at birth, I believe) HSAs be issued for all Americans.  The ability to transfer funds between family members and to grow that wealth over time would be huge.

Similarly, President George W. Bush proposed giving Americans the option to contribute their Social Security contributions into personally-managed investment accounts.  That would reduce the astronomical costs of that federal boondoggle and give Americans much greater returns on their investments.  Naturally, Democrats rejected that plan out of hand, and accused Bush of hating old people.  Yeesh.

The takeaway is this:  whether it’s in healthcare or retirement savings, the American people know best.  Yes, we’d need some additional financial education—which we desperately need anyway—but, c’mon, are you going to continue running the same inefficient, wasteful systems just because a small percentage of people won’t adequately manage their money?

Liberty works in nearly every arena, and it would work in healthcare and health insurance, too.  HSAs are the wave of the future, and I’m glad to see Tom Rice is championing them.