Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Medi-Cal Redetermination, Changing to a New Job, and Appeals Hearing

In November of 2016 I received redetermination paperwork from Medi-Cal for my children's coverage. I had changed jobs in August 2015 and they had my old employer on there. I indicated the change and sent it in with a pay stub from my new job.

In January of 2017 I received a letter telling me that my children's coverage was ending because I made too much. They thought our family made $8,000 or so a month. I wish! I immediately filed an appeal so that the coverage would not lapse and so I could present the evidence. Additionally I reapplied for my children through Covered California which, no surprise, told me they were sending it to Medi-Cal.

Prior to the initial cut-off date I received a letter indicating that my request for an appeal had been received and the coverage would continue for now. In February after the cut-off date, I was no longer able to fill my children's prescriptions. I called the state social services who confirmed the coverage should be active. Then I called the insurance company who had not received any notification that the coverage was to be continued. They looked my children up and determined that they were still active, so they sent the information to a different department for manual reactivation of insurance coverage.

I was still unable to fill my children's prescriptions at that point. I called again to find out that while the coverage had been reinstated in the insurer's system, the prescription coverage was not. Fortunately the rep on the phone took care of it while I was on the phone.

Toward the end of February I received a call from Medi-Cal and they told me what the problem was. They were adding the income from my old job to my new job and they needed proof from my previous employer that I was no longer working there. I sent that in. I also received a notice from state social services confirming my telephone hearing date and time. I also provided them with the same information via fax.

In the middle of March I received a notice from Medi-Cal that my children were in fact eligible. I figured when the telephone hearing came up I would simply confirm with the person on the phone.

The date of the hearing came up and all of a sudden I got two voicemails from them about not being able to reach me. As it turns out, these people call from a hidden number. I have hidden numbers blocked because I get overwhelmed with scam calls and telemarketer calls. Fortunately my issue was already resolved or I would have been really upset.

The moral of the story: even though the redetermination paperwork does not say you need to provide it, if the redetermination paperwork lists a job that you no longer have, you need to send in a copy of a signed letter from your previous employer listing the dates you worked. Also if you have a telephone appeals hearing coming up, make sure you aren't blocking hidden numbers.

One more year from now and we won't qualify anymore. I am actually thankful for this. This isn't the first time I've tangled with Medi-Cal. Back when Gov. Brown folded the Healthy Families program into Medi-Cal, Healthy Families cut my kids instead of transitioning them. Then, of course, Healthy Families couldn't correct their mistake because they couldn't accept any enrollments because they were shutting down. I ultimately had to apply again through Covered California to get them on Medi-Cal.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Money, Money, Who's Got the Money?

Over 40 school districts in California, including San Diego and Los Angeles, are looking at the proposed 2017-18 state budget and realizing they are going to have to make significant cuts, including many layoffs.
What happened?
Overall, per pupil spending from all sources for 2017-18 is projected to be 2.5% higher than 2016-17. (see p.19)
Even CSEA, a California union for classified school employees, admits schools are getting more in 2017-18. (see p.2)
So why the cuts?
School districts will claim that they are hemorrhaging money because of charter school students taking money away from the districts.
The data doesn't paint the kind of picture that would put these districts in that kind of a squeeze:

(Not including private schools)
Enrollment 2011-12   2012-13    2013-14    2014-15    2015-16
All        6,220,993 6,226,989  6,236,672  6,235,520  6,226,737
Charter    438,474   471,501    514,275    544,980    572,752
Public     5,782,519 5,755,488  5,722,397  5,690,540  5,653,985
Pub. Loss%           0.47%      0.57%      0.56%      0.64%

We see public schools in CA losing about half a percentage point each year in enrollment to charters, even not factoring in the loss in overall enrollment in the last two school years listed. Now how is that to blame for budget deficits approaching 10%?

Now we come to the problem the unions don't want you to see: pensions. While most Californians were gearing up for Christmas 2016, CalPERS dropped its expected rate of return on investments from 7.5% to 7%. This has the immediate effect of ramping up required contributions from districts, except that the rate drop is being phased in over 3 years, so the contribution increase will be phased in over 3 years. Contribution rates will increase from 13.88% in 2016, to 15.8% in 2017, to 17.7% in 2018, and so on and so on, where by 2023 projected contribution rates will be at 28.2%!!!!! That's a doubling in 7 years! This is what California school districts face!
The only time contribution rates have been this high before is in the early 1980s, where they reached 13.12%. But that was the max. We aren't stopping at 13 percent this time. This isn't the 80s all over again.
Jerry Brown is not going to have the state cover the difference. As a matter of fact, Brown wanted CalPERS to drop the expected rate of return all the way to 6.5%!!!! Talk about a bloodbath if that had happened! Why would Brown urge that kind of action if he thought the state would make up the difference?!

Districts have the option, starting 2018, to start making employees contribute up to 50% of the district's cost for their pension. Most post-2013 employees right now contribute more along the lines of 25%, with those prior contributing none. The unions and the baby boomers running them aren't going to take such proposals lying down. How many more jobs are going to lost before the unions get that defined benefit plans are no longer feasible in our new normal low growth environment.
This cannot end well.

Creating a Custom Mac Boot Label and Image

Having created a bootable Clonezilla drive for Mac, I wanted to see if I could change the label and image that appears on boot up.
Now keep in mind that the drive has to use a GPT partition table and be an EFI boot device. It is important to note that the icon and label that appear on Mac startup are not part of any EFI spec. Both of these bits of information are an Apple proprietary thing and they must applied using a Mac. When they are applied, macOS (OS X) writes some hidden files to the root of the drive to make the magic happen, so it doesn't affect the function or compatibility of the drive, except to use a very tiny bit of space.

The easy part is the boot label (which is different than the drive label). To apply a Mac boot label, go to Terminal, and run the following command to confirm the existing name of the drive:
ls /Volumes

Then use the bless command to set the boot label:
sudo bless --folder "/Volumes/Your Drive" -label "New Boot Label"

If you want to change the volume label, you can of course do that from the desktop anytime.

The harder part is the icon, only because you have to design it and to convert it to the icns format. First, compose your icon using a 512x512 pixel size. Then convert to icns. I used this site to do the conversion.
If you do a Google image search for a generic 512x512 drive icon, you can use that as a base for your custom design, which is what I did. If you are making a Clonezilla boot drive and you really like my icon and want to skip all this, you can download it here.

To apply the icon, open the Get Info window for the drive, then drag the icns file over the existing icon on the top left of the window.

More info:

What's Up with the Economy?

I had made a prediction in the past about a recession coming in 2016. That didn't happen. The job now is to understand why.

Let's start by looking at the following chart. It gives quarterly US GDP growth, the same growth as a 12 quarter moving average, and the difference between the two. The moving average helps smooth out the volatility and noise to give us a trend.

Date         GDP      GDP SMA 12q  GDP-GDP SMA 12q
31-Dec-16    3.50%    3.62%        -0.12%
30-Sep-16    2.94%    3.68%        -0.74%
30-Jun-16    2.51%    3.71%        -1.20%
31-Mar-16    2.80%    3.71%        -0.91%
31-Dec-15    3.00%    3.74%        -0.74%
30-Sep-15    3.26%    3.76%        -0.50%
30-Jun-15    4.12%    3.83%        0.29%
31-Mar-15    4.45%    3.85%        0.60%
31-Dec-14    4.07%    3.88%        0.19%
30-Sep-14    4.90%    3.84%        1.06%
30-Jun-14    4.50%    3.73%        0.77%
31-Mar-14    3.34%    3.67%        -0.33%
31-Dec-13    4.31%    3.71%        0.60%
30-Sep-13    3.21%    3.73%        -0.52%
30-Jun-13    2.60%    3.85%        -1.25%
31-Mar-13    3.14%    3.96%        -0.82%
31-Dec-12    3.24%    3.87%        -0.63%
30-Sep-12    4.11%    3.61%        0.51%

One of the first things you will notice is that the moving average is rising until Dec 2014, after which it begins a decline. The actual GDP growth rate falls below the moving average in Sep 2015 and has stayed below that ever since. In times past, this kind of thing would kick off a recession by now. The start of the 2008 recession in Dec 2007 occurred with the 12q moving average falling for 5 quarters and the GDP growth rate falling under the moving average for 7 quarters. The 2001 recession occurred with only two quarters of each. The 1991 recession was similar to the 2001 recession in this regard. What is happening now? And why did the Fed just raise rates in a falling GDP growth environment? (Yellen claimed GDP is "noisy" - what the heck?!?)

The answer is employment. In the three previous recessions, the employment situation was deteriorating. Presently, the employment situation is still strong. Neither the unemployment rate, a 12mo moving average of the unemployment rate, the Labor Market Conditions Index, or a 12mo moving average of that, shows any major deterioriation. A little softness maybe, but that's it.

Here's unemployment (official UE rate, 12 mo moving average, and the difference):

Date          UE     UE12   UE12-UE
2016-01-01    4.9    5.2    0.3
2016-02-01    4.9    5.1    0.2
2016-03-01    5.0    5.1    0.1
2016-04-01    5.0    5.1    0.1
2016-05-01    4.7    5.0    0.3
2016-06-01    4.9    5.0    0.1
2016-07-01    4.9    5.0    0.0
2016-08-01    4.9    4.9    0.0
2016-09-01    4.9    4.9    0.0
2016-10-01    4.8    4.9    0.1
2016-11-01    4.6    4.9    0.3
2016-12-01    4.7    4.9    0.1
2017-01-01    4.8    4.8    0.0
2017-02-01    4.7    4.8    0.1

Here's LMCI (LMCI and 12 mo moving average):

Date          LMCI   LMCI12
2016-01-01    -2.2   1.7
2016-02-01    -1.9   1.4
2016-03-01    -1.8   1.2
2016-04-01    -2.1   0.9
2016-05-01    -2.3   0.3
2016-06-01    1.1    0.1
2016-07-01    2.2    0.1
2016-08-01    0.1    0.0
2016-09-01    -0.1   0.0
2016-10-01    0.8    -0.2
2016-11-01    1.0    -0.3
2016-12-01    0.0    -0.4
2017-01-01    1.3    -0.1
2017-02-01    1.3    0.1

There's just not a whole lot to see. Employment is steady amidst a backdrop of falling GDP growth. What gives? Or doesn't give...
Now I put my interpretive hat on. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, American organizations cut staffing hard. They cut to essentials, and they've been loathe to add positions since. There has been much employment growth, however, that has come in large part through people retiring or otherwise opting out of the workforce. While there is some spare capacity to cut, there isn't much. Continued low unemployment in the face of falling GDP growth, then, is a sign that American organizations are near-optimized as far as employment, with respect to the complexity of our economy. Since employment is staying steady it isn't forming a negative feedback loop with GDP, meaning GDP is not declining as fast as it would if companies were in a position to cut more. Specifically, GDP growth is generally not more than 1% below the moving average.
Well something has to give, does it not? Now I put my prediction hat on again. If the unemployment situation does not deteriorate, look for inflation. Then look for GDP to slowly rise eventually, not by virtue of economic output, but simply because of inflation. If this is what is going to happen, the Fed rate hike was exactly the right move.
If the unemployment situation does deteriorate, I would expect it to do so no later than the end of 2017.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Hosting Files

Both Dropbox and Google Drive make it difficult to directly host files.
Dropbox refuses to give you a direct link anymore, forcing you to their preview page, which will not preview many types of files. It wouldn't even preview HTML files.
Google Drive pushes you into "preview hell" as well, also forcing you to download the file if the previewer can't display it.
There is no way to make these services offer a direct link that would ask the browser to handle it. At best you can only get a download link, which will force a download instead of attempting to display in the browser.
Dropbox just made this change, destroying "dropboxusercontent" links, and it affected several of my links on this blog, as well as some automatic tasks I had set up with Zapier.
I was able to save my bacon by using Google Sites. You can use the "File Cabinet" page type for non-html or just create a new web page and paste in the html for your html stuff.
One of these days I'm just going to have to get my own web server. Except then you have to pay for bandwidth.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Microsoft W-9

Here is a copy of the W-9 for Microsoft which many purchasing departments will need if their company hasn't purchased directly from Microsoft before. In my case we needed to make purchases from the Windows Store for Business, and purchasing needs this form to set them up as a vendor.
All of the information on this form is public.
Valid as of 3/15/17.

Microsoft W-9