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TM Speech 13: The Joy of Giving: Story of Dokka Sitamma

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TM Speech 12 – Ah Belgium! The land of rules and receipt nazis

This is my first speech in the advanced speaker humorous speeches category. The objective is to “warm up the audience”. I also gave this speech in the area contest (Semi Finals of the Toastmasters humorous speech contest). I won it and advancing to the finals on Oct 26th. Looking forward to advancing further.


Whoever immigrated to Belgium here…Can I see a show of hands…?

Belgium, Belgium, Belgium…when I decided to move to Belgium from America, I was excited about the experience of living in Europe, the hidden little paradise of Belgium that is. When I told my friends and acquaintances, I faced all kinds of reactions. “Belgium? Where is that again? Is it in California or in another state?”

One educated but ignorant American…and no offense to ignorant people here…asked me where in Germany was Belgium…

What is the reaction I get here? “Where did you say you come from?…California?” and what they actually mean is, “What kind of a retard are you?” as if I am an alien dropped out of outer space and crashed into the Leuven city hall and morphed into an admin assistant. That brings me to my troubles at the city hall.

I swear to God…Every time I go to there, I end up bouncing like a ping-pong ball from zone A to D to F and finally when my turn comes it’s closed. The city hall that otherwise seems to be an organized, peaceful office, for some reason in my case always turns into a concentration camp where I always have to prove my innocence providing all documents to those prickly ladies in charge who seem to be permanently at the peak of their PMS cycle!

For instance, I go with all my documents for registration, they note down my details, I pay and then the lady tells me once I get the letter from Brussels, I just come over with the letter and they will give me my residence card. Fine. After a few days I get my letter, then go to the city hall and the receptionist asks me if I got the receipt of payment? I give her a blank face and say no. She thinks for a bit and tells me to go the zone D.

After waiting for an hour or so, I get my chance to turn in the letter. The lady there asks me, “So did you bring your receipt?”. “….err, no…but isn’t that’s why I was sent to this counter specifically as a special case?”. “No”. “I don’t have my receipt. I paid when I submitted my application and the fact that you sent it to Brussels implies I paid…and you should have it in your records…I was told only to bring the letter.”

Then I get this strange un-describable look of “too many questions, too much logic”….and…”No, you have to bring the receipt also. We can’t give your card if you don’t have it…”.

So, I looked straight into her eyes with a straight face and said “I lost it. So, now what?”

Now she gets upset a bit and gives me this look that only married men can understand.  It is all unspoken and you regret your birth for the rest of your life!  It is as if she starts to teach me something I don’t need to know anything about at that point of time. “Be a man now…how can you be so careless?” kind of look and says, “You just can’t lose documents like this. These are official documents. We expect you to keep them safe. Once we give you, you just can’t throw them away?” and the look continues -“Ok. I have a copy of your receipt here. I will give the card to you…”.

“Aah what a relief”…I could’ve been deported if not for that last minute upswing in the mood of that lady!

And the lesson learnt: I better make sure I never forget my receipts!

TM Speech 10 – Abolish Universal Health Care

The objective of this speech is to “Persuade with Power”

“Abolish universal health care if you want universal health care…”.  Almost 20% of America’s GDP is consumed by health care. To give you an idea, that is 2.4 Trillion dollars. What about in Belgium? It is about ~11% of GDP or 55 billion dollars. What does this number mean? It means that you and I pay approximately 5000 US dollars per year on health care whether we know it or not. Day in and day out we see reports of how the costs are rising and how policy makers struggle to manage this money guzzling maniacal ghost also known as “universal health care”. The bad news is that health care expenditures are only expected to rise. But the good news is that we can do something about it!

Toastmaster of the day, fellow toastmasters, dear guests…provision of universal health care is well-intentioned but is it well implemented? Remember the old saying?, “The road to hell is always paved with good intentions”.  Why are the health care costs always on the up?

As we examine this in some depth, there are two sides to this.

The cost side and the payment side.  The approach seems to be to make it affordable by giving money to those who can’t afford it. Affordability and lower costs are two different things. Somebody has to pay this right? Where does the govt get the money from? By taxing more and possibly reducing funds for other social programs. This doesn’t actually solve the cost issue and furthermore makes it more costly for everyone (specially the one’s who are actually paying for it in the form of taxes or increased insurance costs).

Human ingenuity has solved the cost issues of many commodities that we use today. The costs of a memory chip, a cell phone, personal computer, food, electricity, – everything has come down significantly. To put it in perspective, cost of a personal computer in 1970 was about 140000 dollars in today’s prices. On the contrary health care costs have always been on the up. And by this I don’t mean costs related to illnesses from cancer or diabetes.  Why is it that a simple health check for a poor man without insurance should cost a fortune? Does it have to be this way?

The basic issue with health care spending is that, the providers are not very clear what to charge for a certain service as they don’t charge the consumer market but the insurance companies or the government. The insurance companies and the government transfer those to the consumers in terms of taxes or increased insurance payments. In addition the consumer is not conscientious about the prices as he or she is under the illusion that insurance is paying for them.  In some countries the prices are capped. This whole set up skews the information signal that can motivate people to innovate methods for reducing costs. Neither the insurance companies nor the governments have any incentive to reduce the health care costs. Because there is no motivation, information, reference or competition, it is not clear how to price a certain treatment.

There is another aspect to this. Imagine what would the situation be if auto insurance was also modeled like health insurance. What if your auto insurance company has to pay for the regular maintenance of your car? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that the costs will sky-rocket immediately. The idea is that insurance is for accidents and not regular maintenance. Is the rising cost in health care any surprising then?

So, as long as someone else is paying, there is no incentive for reducing the costs. This is where the actual problem lies. Unfortunately the solution is being focused on subsidies and this leads to more costs than savings. The main purpose of universal health care is being lost in paying for affordability without reducing costs. So, in order to reduce costs why not we try replicating the free market and competitive model that has been successful elsewhere?

My questions to you:

Is the existing health care spending model sustainable in the long run? Are our assumptions correct? Should we call for a paradigm shift if we really want meaningful solutions? I want you to think about it. Should we abolish universal health care to actually have universal health care in its truest sense of the word? My answer would be yes. What would be yours?

Thank you.

The Obama care casualty

I have written the issue with this Obama care just a couple of days ago and this article above clearly indicates the first (that I know) casualty.

Making things affordable by redistribution is one thing and by generating wealth is another, usually the former leads to disastrous outcomes and we see the beginning of it already. If money has to be allocated to the ACA, then it can’t be allocated to something else or worse still – taken away from something else. Needless to explain the disastrous impact of mis-guided policies like this, in the name of greater good notwithstanding.

The American Health Care Crisis

I have been thinking about this recently and debating/discussing with friends. The common notion with this health care issue is that, it should be made affordable to all. Universal health care should be the motive, “Obama care” is the way to go, etc.

This is alright. So, now when addressing this issue, there are two sides to it. The cost side and the payment side. Looks like the focus is on payment side. What I mean by this is that the approach seems to be to make it affordable by giving money to those who can’t afford it. Somebody has to pay this right? Yeah, the “rich” taxpayers are there isn’t it? Let the “Obama care” pay for those who can’t pay for their health care.

The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t actually solve the cost issue and on top of it makes it costly for everyone (specially the one’s who are actually paying for it in the form of taxes or increased insurance costs). The information is so skewed is the whole health care transactions that no one actually knows what is the cost, how much they pay, or monitor the prices as conscientiously as in other products.

Human ingenuity has solved the cost issues of many commodities that we use today taking them for granted. A computer desktop cost has come down significantly, a memory chip, a cell phone, cost of food, electricity, – everything has come down significantly. Why not health care? The problem here is the fact that no one actually knows or cares about the cost. For eg, most of the people covered by insurance are under the illusion that they don’t pay a lot for health care. Here is the catch. Although the monthly insurance contribution to your pay check seems small (and the employer apparently contributes quite a bit), and the co-pays seems small amounts, the real costs are actually hidden. If the employer was not forced to contribute his bit for this “costly” health care, you probably could be paid a lot more. Ultimately, the salary that is offered already takes into account all of these.

The other problem is that most hospitals don’t exactly know how to price it. For the same procedure, different doctors could quote different prices. Anyone have a clue of the exact costs?  This can lead to very bad outcomes of artificial scarcities and high costs. The Obamacare nor insurance companies have an incentive to force a competition in the market as someone else is paying (taxes or employers). Because there is no competition or reference, it is not clear how to price a certain treatment. Many doctors at different places and times can price it differently to the insurance companies.

The basic idea here is that, as long as someone else is paying, there is no incentive for reducing the costs. This is where the actual problem lies. Unfortunately the solution is being focused in subsidies and making it more expensive. The main purpose of universal health care is being lost in this “care for all no matter what” non-sense without proper understanding of the problem.

Hope common sense will eventually prevail at some point.

PS:- I will provide the references to the skewed pricing. This was in an article I read sometime back in NYTimes.

A great photo essay (hat tip Guy Kawasaki on FB)

This is really an awesome photo essay folks. A great collection of photos coupled with beautiful quotes and poems.



Chad-Meng Tan’s talk

This is a very good talk to listen to. Very entertaining, insightful and informative. A very well organized talk in its quality. Chad-Meng is a very good speaker. I hope to meet him at some point.