UNO Economics RA Talks Personal Finance

McGrathMollyPersonalFinance.jpg   Molly McGrath.  Soure of photo:  online version of the Omaha World-Herald article cited below.


Molly was one of our Research Assistants last year in the UNO economics department: 


(p. 1D)  Miss Nebraska Molly McGrath has driven more than 25,000 miles since being crowned in June, mostly to schools as she talks about personal finance issues like avoiding debt and using money as a tool to realize dreams.

"There is a drastic need for economic and financial education with all people, but especially in low-income communities and especially among our youth," McGrath told about a dozen people at a recent meeting of the Rotary Club of Omaha-North.

McGrath knows about making ends meet. Her parents could not help her pay for college, so she has used more than $20,000 in scholarships won through the Miss America program. She also cleaned toilets, dorm rooms and apartments as she earned her undergraduate degree at New York University in New York.

"I was known right away at NYU as the girl from Nebraska," McGrath said. "And after I started this cleaning business I was known as the girl from Nebraska who cleans toilets."


For the full story, see: 

JOE RUFF.  "Miss Nebraska teaches dollars and sense."  Omaha World-Herald  (Monday, February 26, 2007):  1D & 2D.


For New Orleans “a Dwindling Chance at Redemption”

   Dylan Langlois (facing camera) and his fiancé Kasandra Larsen telling a friend goodbye before they leave New Orleans.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.


NEW ORLEANS, Feb. 15 — After nearly a decade in the city of their dreams, Kasandra Larsen and her fiancé, Dylan Langlois, climbed into a rented moving truck on Marais Street last Sunday, pointed it toward New Hampshire, and said goodbye.

Not because of some great betrayal — they had, after all, come back after losing everything in Hurricane Katrina — but a series of escalating indignities: the attempted carjacking of a pregnant friend; the announced move to Nashville by Ms. Larsen’s employer; the human feces deposited on their roof by, they suspect, the contractors next door; the two burglaries in the space of a week; and, not least, the overnight wait for the police to respond.

A year ago, Ms. Larsen, 36, and Mr. Langlois, 37, were hopeful New Orleanians eager to rebuild and improve the city they adored. But now they have joined hundreds of the city’s best and brightest who, as if finally acknowledging a lover’s destructive impulses, have made the wrenching decision to leave at a time when the population is supposed to be rebounding.

Their reasons include high crime, high rents, soaring insurance premiums and what many call a lack of leadership, competence, money and progress. In other words: yes, it is still bad down here. But more damning is what many of them describe as a dissipating sense of possibility, a dwindling chance at redemption for a great city that, even before the storm, cried out for great improvement.


For the full story, see: 

SHAILA DEWAN.  "Fed-Up New Orleans Residents Are Giving Up."  The New York Times (Fri., February 16, 2007):  A1 & A17.

      Kasandra Larsen cleans up before she and Dylan Langlois depart New Orleans.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.


Medical Insurance Battle Wastes $20 Billion a Year

AthenahealthRevenueGraph.gif   Source of graph:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.


(p. A1)  Four years ago, Paluxy Valley Physicians of Glen Rose, Texas, was struggling to recoup more than $500,000 in denied or unpaid claims from insurers. Two of its eight doctors left the practice, while three others had to borrow $100,000 to keep it afloat.

To turn things around, the medical practice turned to Boston-based athenahealth Inc., one of the biggest of hundreds of companies in a lucrative niche: helping doctors wring payments from health plans. Athenahealth’s software flagged and corrected the complex coding for thousands of claims, preventing them from getting hung up in insurers’ Byzantine rules. Today, Paluxy Valley has whittled its claims outstanding to $179,000 and repaid the bank loan. No longer in a revenue crunch, its doctors have stopped moonlighting in the emergency room to make money.

"The insurers outcode us, they outsmart us and they have more manpower," says Shari Reynolds, the administrator at Paluxy Valley, which pays athenahealth a little over 3% of the $2.5 million it collects annually from insurers. "Now at least we have a fighting chance." 

Doctors increasingly complain that the insurance industry uses complex, opaque claims systems to confound their efforts to get paid fairly for their work. Insurers say their systems are designed to counter unnecessary charges and help keep down soaring health-care costs. Like many tug-of-wars over the health-care money pot, the tension has spawned a booming industry of intermediaries.

It’s called "denial management." Doctors, clinics and hospitals are investing in software systems costing them each hundreds of thousands of dollars to help them navigate insurers’ systems and head off denials. They’re also hiring legions of firms that dig through past claims in search of shortchanged payments and tussle with insurers over rejected charges. "Turn denials into dollars," promises one consultant’s online advertisement.

The imbroglio is costing medical providers and insurers around $20 billion — about $10 billion for each side — in unnecessary administrative expenses, according to a 2004 report by the Center for Information Technology Leader-(p. A18)ship, a nonprofit health-technology research group based in Boston.


For the full story, see: 

VANESSA FUHRMANS.  "BILLING BATTLE; Fights Over Health Claims Spawn a New Arms Race; Insurers and Doctors Try for Upper Hand; Firms Help Both Sides."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., February 14, 2007):  A1 & A18.

(Note:  I noticed some minor differences between the titles and texts of the print and online versions.  My excerpt gives the online version.) 


“Work Hard at Work Worth Doing”

We went to see "The Bridge to Tarabithia" this afternoon (2/25/07), which I thought was a sad, but good, movie aimed at older children, but with enough plot and enough characters to care about, to be of interest to adults too.

I heard a quote in the movie that I liked and I don’t remember having heard before.  It’s source was given as Teddy Roosevelt, who is not one of my favorite presidents, because of his efforts to increase the size and power of government.  But he wasn’t all bad, and he sometimes spoke well:


Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.


Theodore Roosevelt, Speech in New York, September 7, 1903 [26th president of US (1858 – 1919)]


Source of quote, and information about quote:


Beaver Returns to Bronx: More Evidence of Environmental Improvement

          A beaver whose discoverers call "José" is the first beaver to make a home in the Bronx in 200 years.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 


(p. A12) A crudely fashioned lodge perched along the snow-covered banks of the Bronx River — no more than a mound of twigs and mud strewn together in the shadow of the Bronx Zoo — sits steps away from an empty parking lot and a busy intersection.

Scientists say that the discovery of this cone-shaped dwelling signifies something remarkable: For the first time in two centuries, the North American beaver, forced out of town by agricultural development and overeager fur traders, has returned to New York City.

The discovery of a beaver setting up camp in the Bronx is a testament to both the animal’s versatility and to an increasingly healthy Bronx River.


For the full story, see:

O’CONNOR, ANAHAD. "After 200 Years, a Beaver Is Back in New York City."   The New York Times  (Fri., February 23, 2007):  A21.


Bush Should Take Lab Coat Off

Decisions about which new technologies to develop should be left to the market, not the government.  One reason is that markets generally make the more efficient choice.  Another reason is that when technological risks are taken in the market, they are taken with voluntary private money; when risks are taken by the government, they are taken with your money that has been coerced from you through taxation.

With all due respect, President Bush should take the lab coat off. 


(p. A16) FRANKLINTON, N.C., Feb. 22 — President Bush put on a white coat and visited a laboratory here Thursday to promote his goals for making alternative fuels from switch grass, woodchips and other plant waste.

After touring the laboratory, which is developing enzymes to make cellulosic ethanol, fuel distilled from plant byproducts, Mr. Bush spoke buoyantly about new technologies that may reduce the nation’s thirst for foreign oil.


For the full story, see: 

EDMUND L. ANDREWS.  "Bush Makes a Pitch for Amber Waves of Homegrown Fuel."  The New York Times  (Fri., February 23, 2007):  A16. 


Instead of Shrugging, Atlas Sometimes Moves to the United States


VenezuelaProfessionalsExitGraph.gif   Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A10)  CARACAS, Venezuela — Oil-rich Venezuela has experienced the kind of economic boom in recent years that should be flush with job opportunities. But an increasing number of professionals, many of them from the oil industry, are looking abroad for work, driven away by President Hugo Chávez’s effort to extend state control over the economy, and by inflation verging on 20%.

Since his re-election in December, Mr. Chávez has pursued an agenda of "21st Century Socialism," painting a future of "communal cities" and state-run cooperatives dedicated to production, not profit.

. . .

Still, at the U.S. Embassy call center for visas in Caracas, the lines have been jammed since Mr. Chávez announced in early January the nationalization of the electricity industry and Venezuela’s largest telecommunications firm. "It doubled practically overnight," said a U.S. diplomat.

The number of Venezuelans receiving U.S. legal permanent residence more than doubled from 2000 to 2005, when 10,870 got their green cards. In that period the overall number of green cards increased by a third. During that period the number of Venezuelan-born U.S. residents increased 42%, to 151,743, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

. . .

Any opposition-minded oil workers still left at PdVSA face a difficult environment. During the presidential campaign last year, PdVSA President Rafael Ramirez told company executives to join Mr. Chávez’s political movement or hit the road. In 2003, Mr. Chávez sacked around 20,000 PdVSA staffers — about half the company’s work force — for walking off the job, calling them "terrorists." A majority of them were the managers, accountants and field engineers who turned the state oil venture into a world-class oil company during a period of robust expansion in the 1990s.

Many found work elsewhere, including in Mexico, Canada and Saudi Arabia, at a time of high demand for experienced oil workers.

The lost expertise has taken a toll on PdVSA, the country’s largest single employer. Its share of the global market for crude oil supply is shrinking, and accidents and outages are on the rise. Analysts say the cost to PdVSA of producing a barrel of oil has nearly doubled in the past five years to more than $4.50.


For the full story, see: 

PETER MILLARD.  "Professionals Exit Venezuela; Chávez’s Grip on Power Drives Out Oil Experts; Support Hugo or You Go."  The Wall Street Journal  (Thurs., February 15, 2007):  A10.

(Note:  ellipses added.)