Thursday, October 30, 2008

Price Discrimination in Health Insurance

According to the "New York Times," women pay higher health insurance premiums than men. The article, titled "Women Buying Health Policies Pay a Penalty," explains the reasons, but convolutes the issue for political reasons, shocking, I know.

In general, women pay more for health insurance because they tend to consume more health services. Seems pretty simple, right? Just like a life insurance is cheaper for somebody who doesn't skydive. Would you feel better if you had more energy? Try FRS® Healthy Energy™ Free*!

However, and this is where you should get nervous, "Women’s advocacy groups have raised concerns about the differences, and members of Congress have begun to question the justification for them."

I will save these groups and members of Congress the trouble by explaining this issue with data from the article itself.

"In general, insurers say, they charge women more than men of the same age because claims experience shows that women use more health care services. They are more likely to visit doctors, to get regular checkups, to take prescription medications and to have certain chronic illnesses." Pretty simple, right?

How about this:

Thomas T. Noland Jr., a senior vice president of Humana, said: “Premiums for our individual health insurance plans reflect claims experience — the use of medical services — which varies by gender and age. Females use more medical services than males, and this difference is most pronounced in young adults.” Again, women are consuming more health services. Cheap? No. 100% Free. Trade stocks for free on The Free Trading Community.

Again, for the advocacy groups who claim insurance should cost the same, in the name of equality, "Mr. Bykerk, a former executive vice president of Mutual of Omaha, said, “If maternity care is included as a benefit, it drives up rates for everybody, making the whole policy less affordable.”

So there you have it. Disparities in the cost of health insurance for women are based on usage. It seems like this is just another contrived issue for big government types to get there hooks into the best health care system in the world. These are same government types that brought you the TSA. Think about that!

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Friday, October 24, 2008

A Global Nuclear Renaissance

An article in the 24 October 2008 print edition of the Wall Street Journal (B2) reports that France's Areva SA and Northrop Grumman are forming a joint venture to build heavy equipment for the nuclear power industry, as well as an engineering center in Newport News, VA.

According to a joint press release on 23 October:

The 300,000 square-foot facility represents a significant investment of more than $360 million in the U.S. commercial nuclear and manufacturing industries and will bring more than 500 skilled hourly and salaried jobs to the Commonwealth of Virginia. AREVA Newport News will be the first full-scale manufacturing facility dedicated to supply heavy components, such as reactor vessels, steam generators and pressurizers to the U.S. nuclear energy industry.

What the casual reader should know is the that the Newport News facility is one of the world's largest shipyards, and only one capable of building a Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier. In short, it is a gigantic heavy industry site with highly-skilled labor.

This story is relevant to this blog not only because it follows the path of several previous articles:
"A Nuclear Renaissance in Germany?", "Nuclear, French Style", "Nuclear, India Style", "Nuclear, America Style", and "Build Wind, Drop Nuclear - Germany Loses its Mind" but also because nuclear power is one of the "greenest" and most reliable source of energy on the planet. This joint venture is also a shot in the arm of US heavy manufacturing, as the predicted market for its products is $100 billion.

Nuclear power is good for the US and those nations who are responsible. Let's hear it for Areva and Northrop Grumman for expanding the opportunity for clean and reliable power to the rest of the world.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Nuclear Renaissance, in Germany?

In two previous posts, "Build Wind, Drop Nuclear? Germany Loses its Mind!" and the follow up post "Germany Loses its Mind- Follow Up" I wrote about how the German government was looking to decommission nuclear plants in favor of building 17 wind farms. As you can tell from the above titles and posts, I think it was a pretty bad decision.

However, there has been a ray of hope! I found this article on Platts titled "Germany's RWE to build new nuclear plants at home, abroad." The CEO, Juergen Grossman stated the following to the German newspaper, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, (as reported by Platts):

"RWE will engage in projects in Germany as well as abroad. An exact number will depend on the financing options available and possible partners, but we reckon about three to five new builds."

Well, it seems like Herr Grossman has the inside track. Maybe Germany has figured out that there is a real need for clean, reliable, nuclear power and that it doesn't have to be a zero-sum game with wind power.

Interestingly, he also makes this statement, that on first blush, is counter intuitive, considering the enormous capital costs surrounding the construction of nuclear facilities:

"Grossman believes the credit crunch provides an opportunity for RWE to grow as people look to greater security in their energy supplies. The crisis may require affected governments to reduce the amount of imported natural gas and re-focus on national resources, such as nuclear or clean coal technology, he said."

Let's hope that Germany can get back on the nuclear track while it lives out its wind fantasy.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Financial Crisis Primer, Part II

In my previous article, "Financial Crisis Primer," I gave a very brief explanation of why there is a financial crisis in the first place.

What I failed to mention, was a solution. While I would love to take credit, I didn't come up with this, and sadly I don't remember the name of the guest on CNBC who mentioned it.

What the Treasury should do, and it appears as though they will, is ask the banks what they need in terms of recapitalization. For example, Neel Kashkari (Cash-Carry, right? Love it) pictured above, calls Citi and asks how much they need to cover existing losses on mortgages, as well as capital necessary for lending. Citi responds with a number like $15 billion (twice what they got from Abu Dhabi Investment Authority). The government in turn, gets $15 billion in prefered stock, warrants, and other financial instruments of value.

I think this is a good model. It is very similar to what Warren Buffett did with Goldman Sachs. Goldman needed some quick cash and Warren put down a cool $5 billion. In exchange, (from MSNBC):

"(Buffett got)...$5 billion worth of perpetual preferred stock getting a 10% dividend and warrants to buy $5 billion of common stock with a strike price of $115 a share. He'll be able to exercise the warrants at any time over five years."

Imagine if the Treasury could spend $120 billion, $15 billion over 8 banks, and voila, much of the financial crisis is solved. The banks get fresh capital and the US taxpayer gets a profitable investment. Unfortunately for the existing shareholder, the infusion will dillute existing shares. Oh well, caveat emptor.

In the end, I think Bernake and Paulson are trying to shorten the duration of this mess by offering US taxpayer money to purchase the worst of the worst assets as well as providing plenty of cash at the Federal Reserve Discount Window.

Many argue that the government shouldn't be spreading around taxpayer dollars. While I agree in principle, the overall market for money indicates that banks are hoarding cash and investors are fleeing for quality. For the global financial system to function smoothly, capital has to get moving again, and I think that is the plan.

Tata Motors Says "Tata" to Singur

Tata Motors, who is building the world's least expensive car, the Nano, has finally fled business unfriendly Singur, in West Bengal, for Sandand in Gujarat. I have written two other articles about this topic, "Indians are Bad for Indian Business" and "India, When it Can't Get Any Worse."

In a press release dated October 7, 2008, Tata states:

"The integrated project, ... will come up on an area of about 1100 acres. The plant, ... will produce 250,000 cars per annum. The capacity is expandable up to 500,000 cars per annum. The project, including Tata Motors’ plant, vendor facilities and service providers, will together generate over 10,000 direct and indirect jobs."

I guess poverty is what local politicians had in mind for the populace, and poverty they will continue to enjoy. When will Indians learn that the way to move a country forward is through a positive business climate, and not one ruled by tin-pot, local politicians?? Gujarat seems to have learned that simple lesson, while West Bengal hasn't. It is a shame for the poor who are left to suffer.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Forget HHO, Go HCCI

In previous posts, ("HHO or HHype" and "HHO Sounds More Like HHype") I have provided a 10,000 foot overview of the HHO topic for increased fuel efficiency. In general, I have found it impractical at best and highly dangerous at worst.

However, there is a newer topic being researched at Berkeley, GM, and Sandia National Laboratory called Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition. Here is a video about GM's research. Shop DriveTime First! Bad credit, no credit, no problem. Apply on-line.

The long and short of it is trying to get a gasoline engine to perform more like a diesel in efficiency. Berkeley explains it best: "Unlike a traditional S.I. or Diesel engine, HCCI combustion takes place spontaneously and homogeneously without flame propagation. This eliminates heterogeneous air/fuel mixture regions. In addition, HCCI is a lean combustion process. These conditions translate to a lower local flame temperature which lower the amount of Nitric Oxide (NOx) produced in the process. NOx is a gas that is believed to be responsible for the creation of ozone (O3)." 3-Bureau Credit Monitoring alerts you to changes on all 3 of your credit reports! Get a free 7-day trial plus credit report & score!

Increased fuel efficiency, lower emissions, using standard platforms, now that is what I call economically efficient. Let's hope that the technology around the lifters is improved to make this viable soon.

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