In his weekly “Stories I’d like to see” column, journalist and entrepreneur Steven Brill spotlights topics that, in his opinion, have received insufficient media attention. This article was originally published on Reuters.com.
1. Looking in on the old money:
This[$] and other articles last week reporting that the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers are joining together to expand their wealth advisory and asset management enterprises reminds me of a story I’ve wanted to see for a long time: In an age when we’re entranced by the wealth of twentysomething dot-commers, someone should look at some of the old-name American fortunes and see how much wealth remains today for the dozens, or hundreds, of their descendants.
We know from this story and others that the Rockefellers still maintain an office that manages the family’s wealth (and, in fact, has expanded to manage other families’ fortunes). But how are they doing? What’s a teenage or twentysomething Rockefeller worth today? What about the Morgans, the Goulds, the Vanderbilts, the Astors, the Flaglers? Or the Kennedys? Who’s still doing well? Who’s down and out, and why?
2. Why no bunts?
Unless you’re a baseball fan, or maybe unless you’re a Yankee fan, you may not care about this, though you should, because it could be a story about ego overwhelming pragmatism. With baseball teams overshifting their defenses this year more than ever to snag hard grounders and line drives from lefty pull hitters, why aren’t any of the power lefties simply bunting down the third-base line for an almost sure single or maybe even a double? After all, the best hitters only succeed 3 times out of 10, while this is probably a 9-out-of-10 proposition.
In the case of the Yankees, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson are now routinely coming to bat with three infielders on the right side of second base and the third baseman playing shortstop. Yet they’re not bunting, even when, as I’ve seen recently, they come up in a close game with runners on first and second with no outs or one out. A bunt would almost definitely load the bases (plus lessen the chances of an overshift the next time they come to bat).
Sure, they’ve both got powerful bats, especially with Teixeira emerging from a two-month slump. But the next time they ground out or line out with one or two men on base, would some reporter please summon the gumption to stick a microphone in front of them or Joe Girardi, the manager of the lagging Yanks, and ask why they didn’t go for the sure hit? Is it ego? Is it that they can’t do something that most good high school ballplayers can do - lay down a bunt?
3. Veterans’ health insurance sweepstakes:
I’ve recently been seeing a banner ad on Politico headlined: “Congress Needs to Act Now to Protect Military Health Care Management.”
“Get the facts” at “SaveMyMilitaryHealthcare.com,” the ad continues, taking me to a collection of headlines and links to newspaper articles about how a company called TriWest Healthcare Alliance had just lost a renewal of a five-year, $20.5 billion Pentagon contract to administer health insurance benefits to 2 million veterans and service members and their families. The website (which, when you click “About Us,” makes no secret of the fact that it is produced and paid for by TriWest) also linked to several articles reporting on complaints and lawsuits having been filed against United Healthcare, which had won the contract away from TriWest. Among the “fast facts” highlighted on the website was this one:
UnitedHealth Group paid $350 million to settle a class action lawsuit brought by the American Medical Association and union health plans alleging that inaccurate data in its Ingenix database resulted in failure to properly reimburse doctors and health plan members.
On the other hand, I’ve also been seeing text ads inserted in Politico’s “Playbook,” the popular daily electronic newsletter written by Mike Allen, from United Healthcare, declaring:
UnitedHealthcare wants the families of TRICARE West to know more about us. UnitedHealthcare is the trusted health care partner of more than 75 million Americans. And we are proud of our track record of quality service, including being ranked #1 in claims processing accuracy according to the American Medical Association’s ranking of the seven leading commercial health insurers in its 2011 Report Card. Our 115,000 people will work every day to put our unmatched provider network, industry leading innovations, and passion for service to work for you. Because helping military families isn’t just a job for us. It’s an honor.
So there’s obviously a big battle shaping up in Washington (Politico’s readership base) over what is now a pending appeal of the contract award, which one of the news articles on the TriWest Healthcare Alliance website says is “hotly contested” because it is “so lucrative.” Which side is right about United Healthcare’s record? How did it win the contract away after TriWest had it for 16 years?
More generally, what are the rules and strategies behind these big-money contract fights? Who’s the go-to lawyer, or lobbyist? Is this more about procurement law or political lobbying, or is it a combination of both? The rules for such contract awards seem to require that appeals go to the U.S. Government Accountability Office or the Pentagon, and that the appeal can only be about the process followed in evaluating the competing contract proposals. Indeed, there are squadrons of lawyers in Washington who specialize in the contract bid process and write reams of articles about the arcana surrounding it. But if both sides are advertising to Politico’s readership of politicians, there must be more to it than that. Twenty billion dollars - or 4 billion dollars a year just to process health insurance claims, not pay them - is more than half of the FBI’s entire annual budget. It would be nice to know how the decision to spend it is made.
Which brings to mind the ultimate question raised by those dueling Politico ad campaigns: What are the economics of this contract? My math indicates that the winner is going to be paid about $175 a year per beneficiary - again, just to administer the claims, not provide any care. That seems pretty high. What do big private-sector companies pay for the same services? This is one of those classic inside-the-Beltway stories that need sunlight.