Why High Gas Prices and High Medical Costs Are Related
1/30/2006 07:32:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
Reviewing the latest released topics on the President's State of the Union Address, I see that Bush is going to focus on both the topic of high energy costs and the high cost of healthcare. From Fox:
During his Tuesday address, the president also will talk about health care, energy, education and the economy, with particular attention on the costs of energy and medical care for Americans.
This got me thinking: why do the costs of health care and energy continue to spiral out of control? Are the reasons behind the increase related? Many of the causes are not. The price of gasoline is driven by demand - which has continued to grow despite increases in cost. Health care costs on the other hand are driven by technological and pharmaceutical advances which cost tremendous amounts of investment to develop, and this cost is passed on to the user.

The way that I believe that these pressing issues are related is in the solution, rather than the causes. Both require a reduction in use to reduce the growth in price. How can we expect health care costs to decline, when we will continue to demand the latest advances in technology and the latest pharmaceutical agents in order to address our ailments? How can we expect the cost of gasoline to moderate, when we continue to drive the amount that we do, and continue to expand the exurbs and new non-walkable community developments?

Discretion in the use of expensive CT or MRI scans would save millions of dollars a year. At a cost of $500 to $2000 per scan, this is an expensive but very helpful tool in a physician's arsenal in fighting many diseases and determining appropriate courses of treatment. Many times however, a MRI is used to confirm diagnoses that doctors have made, and have no bearing on treatment or outcomes. Patients readily accept CT scans and MRIs, because it can provide a detailed view inside the body and provide the physician with a tremendous amount of information. Another reason that patients ask for these scans is that insurance in most cases will pick up most if not all of the cost. For example, a patient lucky enough to have the insurance I carry will be able to obtain a CT scan at no out of pocket cost, as long as they go to the designated radiology center. At no out of pocket cost, one thinks, "I have paid so much into my insurance plan through work, I deserve to have this test." And rightly so, this is the basis of insurance, one pays a monthly fee in order to defend against future or unexpected medical expenses. Very few patients would pose this question to their physician, "will having this test change the outcome of my condition, or be used in determining the course of my treatment?" Therefore, the test is ordered, the results come in, and both parties feel that they have made the correct decision.

However, from a 2004 report from
Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council:
Studies have found overuse of diagnostic imaging and duplication of other types of scans that add little or no value. One NIA audit concluded that 30 to 40% of diagnostic imaging is inappropriate or, at best, noncontributory - i.e. its use did not help to make a diagnosis or treatment decision. In particular, CT and MRI are frequently used in an inappropriate or noncontributory manner, the NIA found.
(emphasis mine)

The cost of diagnostic imaging is growing at a rate more than twice the cost of general medical costs (same report):
While a significant technological advance, diagnostic imaging is also the fastest growing medical expenditure in the United States, with an annual 9% growth rate - more than twice that of general medical expenditures (4.1%) according to the American College of Radiology Web site (May 2004). The cost of diagnostic imaging is projected to increase 28% between 2000 and 2005 to nearly $100 billion annually, according to a Booz Allen Hamilton analysis.
According to CMS the total health care cost for 2004 was $1.9 trillion. This means that diagnostic imaging represents 5% of the total health care cost in this country. If even as few as 1/5 of MRI, CT and PET scans were non-contributory, this would still provide a reduction of total medical expenses by $20 billion dollars, and would reduce the total health care cost by 1%. Remember, according to the NIA audit, the number may be as high as 30-40% of tests.

Now, the rub. Ask yourself, would I forgo a medical test that would provide me piece of mind and rule out disease, or to confirm a medical diagnosis? Even if the test would have no bearing on my treatment, and provide no out of pocket cost? Doctors should be asking themselves whether particular testing is appropriate, or contribute to their patient's well being - rather than thinking that another CT scan would bring in more money to the group or hospital's coffers.

We need smart medicine going forward as part of the solution to the health care crisis.

Now back to my original thought, how does this relate to the rising cost of energy? Once again, the solution requires a reduction in use to reduce the overall cost to our nation. Do you want to know a great way to reduce your family's monthly gasoline cost by nearly 15%?

Don't drive one day a week. Carpool to work, take the bus, drive smartly and consolidate errands. Eliminate non-necessary trips in the car. Do it for just 1 day a week, and your gasoline bills will be cut by 1/7th. If up to 30-40% of all MRI's are not appropriate or non-contributory, how many trips in the car do you think are non-contributory or unnecessary?

Instead of focusing on ethanol, hydrogen, and other alternative fuels, the government should be providing leadership and direction in the conservation of fuel which would reduce the need for oil imports many times over the reduction caused by alternative fuel use.

Conservation of energy also has another valuable effect, decreased demand reduces the cost of the energy on the open market.

Eliminating both unnecessary medical procedures and excess usage of vehicles as a way to reduce the rising price of energy and health care is a "bitter pill" to swallow. Public attitude is difficult to change, especially when asked to "sacrifice" something that people are used to having. I don't expect the President to come out and say that we drive too much and that we over utilize medicine. I just wish that he would come out and say that we need to utilize both more efficiently - to work towards the outcome that we would all like to see: more money in our pockets, and less money given to big pharma, big insurance and big oil.

Footnotes: great smiling japanese MRI cartoon borrowed from HERE
edited by Mrs. baloghblog

go check out Groovy Green
1/28/2006 08:17:00 AM | Author: baloghblog
I have been spending a little more time over there lately, and hatching some big plans... more to come soon.

Aesthetics of wind power
1/24/2006 07:26:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
(warning- long picture driven post)

I keep hearing in the news and on blogs how Tom Golisano is opposed to wind power because it ruins the aesthetic beauty of the upstate area. It's funny how we allow so many tall structures to be built near the city's population, and in the rural areas, and rarely give a thought to it:

Radio Towers and billboards along Rte 81 South

Large radio tower on the outskirts of the city.

Rural radio and microwave communications tower and powerlines.

More powerlines bringing nuclear energy down from Constellation Energy in Oswego.

"ruining" the aesthetic beauty of the farm lands

Large watertower in Phoenix, NY

Another microwave and cellular tower disrupting the beauty of Oneida Lake

Humungous Cracker Barrel sign in Cicero

Somehow, this is supposed to be more vile looking and repugnant than the above structures:

(fair use from Maple Ridge Wind Farm)

(fair use from Maple Ridge Wind Farm)

(fair use from Fenner Wind)

(fair use from Fenner Wind)

I just don't get it. We put up cell towers on the shores of our lakes, and think nothing of hulking powerline towers dissecting the landscape. Our minds are bombarded with billboard ads every 10 seconds while traveling. Blight exists everywhere, and our minds have become accostumed to it. I believe that windmill towers look futuristic and positive. They have smooth architechtural lines, and I enjoy the rhythmic motion. Not everyone agrees. Golisano is one of them. Until I start hearing him pledge to get rid of blight throughout the state, ban billboards and cellular tower expansion, and vow to take down every radio tower that ruins my view of the country side - his attack on wind power just sounds like a lot of hot air to me.
Now what? Peak metal?
1/24/2006 05:24:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
First it was Peak Oil

Then it was Peak Wood Pellet

Now what? Peak Metal?
Managing Metal: New Study Raises Questions About Sustainability Of Metal Resources

Researchers studying supplies of copper, zinc and other metals have determined that these finite resources, even if recycled, may not meet the needs of the global population forever. According to the study, if all nations were to use the same services enjoyed in developed nations, even the full extraction of metals from the Earth's crust and extensive recycling programs may not meet future demand.

The researchers suggest the environmental and social consequences of metals depletion become clearer from studies of metal stocks--those in the Earth, in use serving people and lost in landfills--instead of tracking the flow of metal through the economy in a given time and region.


Using copper stocks in North America as a starting point, the researchers tracked the evolution of copper mining, use and loss during the 20th century. Then the researchers applied their findings, and additional data, to an estimate of global demand for copper and other metals if all nations were fully developed and used modern technologies.

According to the study, all of the copper in ore, plus all of the copper currently in use, would be required to bring the world to the level of the developed nations for power transmission, construction and other services and products that depend on copper.


Onondaga Lake Park today
1/22/2006 09:07:00 PM | Author: baloghblog

Beautiful day for a walk and some pictures.

Forecast: buried with snow soon.
Please watch this show!
1/19/2006 07:50:00 AM | Author: baloghblog
UPDATE: from Dustin -
AD is not on mondays from 8-9 anymore just so you know. The last time it is airing is Feb 10th from 8-10, for the last 4 episodes on Fox.
I love Arrested Development and think that it has some of the most cutting edge comedy on TV today. It is apparently "hanging by a thread" as far as being renewed for next year. It is on Mondays from 8-9pm.

Link: Showbiz data: Not Yet Executed

I feel like Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber:
Lloyd Christmas: What are the chances of a guy like you and a girl like me...ending up together?
Mary Swanson: Not good.
Lloyd Christmas: You mean not good like one out of a hundred?
Mary Swanson: I'd say more like one in a million.
[a long sad pause]
Lloyd Christmas: So you're telling me there's a chance? Yeah! I read ya.
Super (Ethanol-Powered) Pataki to the Rescue Again!
1/17/2006 08:56:00 AM | Author: baloghblog

Groovy Green:

More details out today on Pataki's NYS budget. Included are:

  • Additional $10 million to add 20,000 sq ft of research space to Syracuse's Center of Excellence, for renewable energy research and environmental systems.

  • $20 million for a new ethanol plant in the central New York area, produced from wood and plant sources.

  • Eliminating state taxes on gasoline from renewable sources (ethanol?)

  • $5 million for renewable fuel stations across the state and on the Thruway.

  • $2000 state tax credit for hybrid vehicles, and Thruway discounts for hybrid vehicles.

  • $50 million for private construction of "clean" coal power plants, most likely in Western New York.

  • $10 million to research energy-saving, lightweight car components, including high capacity hybrid vehicle batteries.

  • $24 million for a new "state-of-the-art" alternative fuel vehicle research lab in Malta, north of Albany.

  • $8 million in competitive grants for companies developing hybrid cars that can plug into home electric outlets, and $2 million for businesses developing "flex-fuel" hybrids. (About time!)

  • $5 million to develop hydrogen vehicles.

  • Tax-free state Empire Zone benefits for all "clean energy" companies.

Some good reporting includes this exchange:

ESF spokesman Michael Brower said wood-based ethanol can produce up to 16 times the amount of energy required in its own production.

But Cornell University Professor David Pimentel disputes that; he completed a study last year maintaining it takes more energy to produce ethanol than ethanol creates and that wood-derived ethanol is even less efficient than corn.

Pataki appears to be positioning himself as the renewable energy candidate. I hope that most of his proposals make it through the NY legislature, and we can see a Upstate NY become the renewable energy capital of the US.

The Admin put it best: "Dear Aliens: Please keep the old George. We’re enjoying the new one immensely."

Link: Syracuse.com

A blogger after my own heart (so far)
1/14/2006 09:52:00 AM | Author: baloghblog
The Walsh Watch

Looks like someone else will be keeping an eye on Jim Walsh as well.
Teaching Children to Compost Saves Money and Reduces Waste
1/12/2006 08:36:00 AM | Author: baloghblog

Groovy Green:

A Washington state school district began a composting program aimed at reducing waste and cutting costs for the school district's trash pickup. Children were educated in how to separate their food and paper items from their trays prior when finished with lunch - and according to the article picked up on it quickly. The district saw initial reductions in waste generated by the cafeteria of nearly 50%. Kids are learning a valuable lesson in composting and perhaps will continue that practice over a lifetime.

Link: ENN.com

Looking for local organic, free-range meats?
1/11/2006 07:42:00 AM | Author: baloghblog
Groovy Green:

For all of you non-veggies out there, here is a great resource to find locally raised farm fresh pasture-raised meat, poultry and eggs. For example, I was pleasantly surprised to find 5 local farms within a 20 mile range of Syracuse that sell meat, poultry and eggs directly to consumers. Delving in deeper, individual farms will tell you if they are cageless, vegetarian fed, etc. One farm also sells certified organic vegetables and fruits, and has a country store on-site: Elderberry Pond Country Foods.

Link: Eat Well Guide (via Sustainable Table Blog)

Fuel Economy estimates to fall 5-30% in 2008 model year
1/11/2006 07:39:00 AM | Author: baloghblog

Groovy Green:

The EPA announced that it would be overhauling its methodology for determining fuel economy ratings for vehicles in the 2008 model year (late 2007 calendar year). Expected to be hit most? Hybrid city fuel economy estimates, which could drop 20-30%.

Link: SF Chronicle

For all vehicles, the EPA said its new testing methods would result in a 10 to 20 percent drop in fuel economy estimates in city driving, and a 5 to 15 percent decline in highway performance.

But for hybrids, which run off both a gasoline engine and an electric battery, city driving estimates could drop by 20 to 30 percent. The decline in their highway ratings would be 5 to 15 percent, the same as for regular cars.

Buyers are willingly paying thousands of dollars above the price of conventional vehicles, and waiting up to a year in the case of Toyota's most popular hybrid, the Prius, all in the belief that they yield much better gas mileage.

Although hybrids are almost always more fuel efficient than conventional vehicles, EPA officials said their estimates for city driving would shrink more because their engines are more sensitive to changes in road conditions, as well as the use of fuel-draining features, such as air conditioning systems and electronic controls.

I believe that this is a good thing. EPA economy listed should reflect "real-world" conditions, such as playing the radio, or driving your car in the heat or cold. The kicker though, buried in the bottom of this article:

The new, lower ratings, however, will not be used to gauge compliance with government regulations requiring automakers to produce fleets averaging at least 27.5 mpg for cars and 21 mpg for light trucks.

Shorter federal government: Although we know the values do not reflect real-world driving conditions, that is the way we've always done it, so we will continue to use the misleading numbers to calculate fleet average.

I am now a contributing poster at Groovy Green
1/09/2006 09:40:00 PM | Author: baloghblog

So far I have just posted a couple of repeat posts, but expect big things from Groovy Green in the next few months.

Stop over and have a look.
Via GroovyGreen:
Jon Bosak, a peak oil authority at TCRP, has written a brief on whether or not the agriculture industry of 1900 could support the 20 million people of today living in NY. This study is based upon the assumption that when peak oil hits, and an eventual decline occurs, transportation of food stuffs from around the nation–and world–will become too expensive and prohibitive. Bosak’s study finds that while it would be tight, NYS would in fact be able to ’survive’ off of the agriculture output of the early 20th Century.
From his essay:

If the independent analysts are right in predicting the peak of production to occur around the end of this decade, then it’s not going to be long before we see the first impact of oil depletion on our food supply: the end of long-distance food imports. If you think it’s sweet to get drinking water shipped to you from Fiji because you like the shape of the bottle, enjoy it while you can; some day this will be the kind of thing you’ll tell your unbelieving grandchildren.

Proponents of “relocalization,” anxious to resurrect our local sources of food production and distribution, don’t need to worry about the future of their movement; a large invisible hand is going to take care of relocalization simply through the agency of rising fuel prices. But when everything is local, what will there be? When we can no longer afford to hype agriculture with inputs of cheap fuel, will we all starve? What’s the worst case? Could a completely sustainable New York State feed itself?

Providing a detailed answer to this question would require a team of experts and some pretty sophisticated computer modeling, but we can get an interesting ballpark estimate if we first consider what the state actually did produce a century ago, before it came to rely on oil- and gas-based factory agriculture, and then ask whether the level of production that we know was sustainable without large inputs of cheap fossil fuel could support the state’s current population.

Jon does a great job breaking down per capita what each resident could expect to receive from food grown within the state. (It would be interesting, however, links to see his references for the amount of food production in 1900.) I am curious to see if this included or excluded food that residents grew in backyard gardens and plucked from home grown fruit trees. All in all, it seems that we would enjoy plenty of potatoes and apples, but not much in the way of other veggies and meat products. I am curious too, why the amount of chicken and eggs produced in the state was so low. It would seem to me a few chickens per family or in the neighborhood would produce enough eggs (and male chickens for meat) to go around. Perhaps chicken wasn't such a staple of the American diet at the time.

All in all, it is a very interesting thought and a great short read. I hope that more thought and energy is put into this dilemma that is approaching us.

A couple of other quick thoughts:

And there wouldn’t be many cups of cheer to lighten the mood either; the pound of hops, seven pounds of barley, and seven pounds of rye due each person would produce a spartan portion of beer and a small amount of whiskey, with a little under two gallons of wine per year to round out a ration of alcohol bordering on the abstemious.

That's why people like my Grampa were making batches of homemade fruit wine (peaches, pears, apples, etc), and using the old basement still to distill quality hooch from those batches. Where there's a demand, people will come through, I believe!

And I love his final thought:
Still and all, it’s not an end game that looks that terrible if we start planning for it. For those of us living close to the food sources upstate, it’s possible to face a postcarbon future with the hope that a massive effort to reclaim former farmland can yield enough to feed everyone in New York, even people living in cities.

What our city dwellers might have to trade us for it is their interesting question.

(emphasis mine)
Prices Creep up again with little notice
1/09/2006 08:33:00 AM | Author: baloghblog
Back up above $2.50/gallon again. I don't remember any recent hurricanes, what gives?

Did you know that we're (Syracuse) is near the high price of gas for the country?

At $2.59 a gallon, Honolulu had the highest average price for self-serve, regular unleaded gas, while the lowest price was $2.03 a gallon in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Local prices:
ESF gets $700,000 ethanol grant
1/08/2006 06:41:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
Ethanol co-generated from trees prior to turning them into pulp for paper production. Sounds good if their work pans out for local paper mills, who could produce energy products as well and keep (or add) needed jobs in the north country.

A $700,000 grant this year begins our two-year surge to deliver commercial tree-based ethanol. We are now installing the required equipment and adding more research talent to move our extraction and production of ethanol from mixed northern hardwood from the research stage to the commercial stage."

Murphy continued, "As we first announced in January, researchers at SUNY-ESF have invented a method of removing energy-rich sugars from wood. We are working in conjunction with Northeast Biofuels in Fulton, N.Y. to turn our forests into a viable feedstock for ethanol to help meet America's need for renewable energy."

Walsh said, "SUNY ESF is at the forefront of developing new environmentally friendly, renewable energy sources, and this funding will assist in transferring its research to market. In addition to its value to New York companies, production of this commercial tree-based ethanol product will offer new economic opportunities for those currently in the timber industry and for farmers looking to develop new crop options for unproductive land," said Walsh.


Amidon said, "Our process extracts the sugar xylan from hardwoods before the paper-making process, leaving the cellulose, which becomes pulp, for use in making paper and the lignin for energy recovery to power the process. Also extracted in our process is the wood's relatively valuable acetic acid that is used in manufacturing. So, both new products add substantial value to our forest products and provide an opportunity for additional manufacturing operations."

"This means New York companies, like International Paper or Lyonsdale Biomass, can significantly increase their profitability. That should open up new development opportunities," said Amidon.

New Project Started
1/08/2006 06:29:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
Not a sustainability project, a basement remodel.

Step 1? Demolition!

The walls were covered with pine board that had been painted yellow. Unfortunately, there is no insulation, and in most walls, no framing either, so that will have to be built.

This is a view from the above window looking in towards the long wall. This was covered with tar paper (old school moisture barrier), strips of wood and the pine board - all have been removed in this picture.

The walls came down quickly, and we made good progress. My bw wiped down the big wall and started painting the DryLok sealant today.

We plan on adding (an updated) moisture barrier, framing and insulation on the walls. Thick padding and carpet will insulate the floors. Eventually, a wood stove will heat the cozy room, and the house as well. We are very excited to get the ball rolling and this room will provide a cool and comfortable place to relax on hot summer days (without AC), and a cozy fire and insulation will make this a great room to hang out on long winter days.

I will post updates as we go along.
Storing summer solar heat for the winter
1/05/2006 08:31:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
I had the reverse (converse?) idea of this earlier - capturing the winter cold, in the form of pykrete, to cool buildings in the summer. This planned community is doing the opposite, capturing heat from the sun and storing it for winter.

Via Treehugger, Drake's Landing:

How it Works

  • 52-house subdivision to have space and water heating supplied by solar energy
  • Solar energy captured year round by 800-panel garage mounted array
  • Combination of seasonal and short-term thermal storage (STTS) facilitate collection and storage of solar energy in the summer for use in space heating in winter
  • Borehole thermal energy storage (BTES) is an in-ground heat sink for seasonal energy storage
  • Short-term thermal storage (STTS) tanks are central hub for heat movement between collectors, district loop (DL)/houses, and (BTES)
  • DL moves heat from the STTS to the houses

Location: Okotoks, Alberta. 51.1 deg N, 114 deg W, 1084 m elevation
Weather: Winter -33 C; Summer 28.3 C DB/15.6 C WB

Huunh? Alberta, Canada???

that's a tad north of Central New York even!

Pretty ambitious plan. Here is the link for how they plan to do it. Outside the box thinking to provide heating to residents - that is what CNY will need as the winters stay cold and the cost of gas and oil continues to climb.

(Yes I know that natural gas fell to $9 and change today, but I bet on the first cold snap she'll be right back up there to $12-14)
Quick thought on being sick from work.
1/04/2006 03:21:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
I have been laid up for 3 days with a fever and stomach flu. Is it just me, or don't you get embarrassed or feel guilty when calling out from work? I am legitimately ill, but somehow couldn't help feeling like I was letting everyone down by not going in and tended to obsess on that. ("what is my boss going to say?", "how should I tell him?", etc.)

I would have done a disservice by going to work, sickening my clients and co-workers, and I am just starting to feel better after doing no eating and tons of sleeping for 3 days and nights. Somehow I still feel a little guilty for not going in.

Damn American work ethic!

(you know I'm sick when I am stuck at home and haven't even posted to my blog until today!)
State of the State Address Today:

We don't have to look far for evidence that the time to transition away from foreign oil is now - it is right there on the gas pumps and in our home heating bills.

Not just here in New York, but across the nation, our reliance on foreign oil is hampering the financial freedom of our working families and their employers; it is hurting our economy, damaging our environment and enriching regimes that support, harbor and encourage the terrorists who threaten our national security.


Let's continue to build on that record of accomplishment by making New York State the leader in reducing dependence on imported energy.

The entire world is now grappling with the question "where will we get the energy to power the global economy of the 21st century without causing irreparable damage to our natural environment?"

Let's make New York the place where that defining question is answered.

Let's make New York the worldwide center for clean, renewable energy research, product development and job creation.

Let's attract companies from around the world that are developing the clean, renewable energy sources of the future - let's make the entire state a tax free zone for this growing industry.

We cannot address the issue of oil dependency without talking about transportation.

Because of the investments we have made in mass transit, we already have the most efficient transportation system in America, but we can do more - much more.

Our transportation system is still over 90 percent dependent on petroleum products. The huge price increases we have seen at the pump are likely to get worse as developing countries like China and India consume an increasing amount of oil.

Later this session, I will propose a plan to jumpstart a new era of statewide availability and use of renewable fuels - ensuring that more of our energy dollars stay right here in New York.

It begins with an initiative to make renewable fuels available at service stations all across the state, starting with the New York State Thruway.

And then, it goes a step further, by making that renewable fuel tax-free throughout the entire State of New York.

(emphasis mine)

I have never really liked Pataki, but I have to admit, I like what he has to say here. Now lets see if any of it can get done in the last year of him leading NY. And, will Spitzer pick up on these issues and run on these goals as well?