Social media provides needed kick in rump to insurers


Perhaps social media does have a bit more value than my curmudgeonly self would care to admit.

Last week I wrote about a friend who is battling leukemia. Beyond the difficulties associated with fighting a life-threatening condition, she had also been clashing with her insurers, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida (Florida Blue) and Prime Therapeutics, both of which had denied her coverage for needed cancer-treatment medication.

As a result, she’d gone more than a month without medicine.

It’s not as if my friend was attempting to secure reimbursement for experimental medicine or didn’t have sufficient coverage. Florida Blue was simply giving her the runaround, even though my friend’s prescription was on its list of approved medications.

Even with her medical team working to help her, the companies denied coverage, claiming, among other things, that they had not received the information.

Doctors, nurses and health care providers worked diligently to get the correct papers into the hands of my friend’s insurers for several weeks. Yet, a month later she was still without needed medicine and still without answers.

Taking a break from such earth-shattering revelations as smoking birds and personal issues with LinkedIn, I detailed the above in a Sept. 30 post.

Around the same time, another friend started a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money to buy a fax machine for Florida Blue. That was because the insurer had told my friend with leukemia that one of the reasons they hadn’t received her doctors’ requests for authorization because their “fax machine was busy.”

As was stated on the GoFundMe site: “I want to raise enough money to buy a cheap-ass fax machine for Florida Blue so they can help dying people get their treatments. I would also like to buy them a time machine so they could move boldly into the 1990s, but that’s another issue.”

Within a short while Twitter was aflutter with tweets about Florida Blue’s (and Prime Therapeutics’) shenanigans, as was Facebook, and before long a representative from Florida Blue, having noticed the publicity, decided to step in to handle the case.

Around the same time, an individual with Prime Therapeutics posted a comment on my blog expressing her desire to assist my friend.

By last Saturday, my friend had her medicine in hand.

This happened because people got the attention of Florida Blue and Prime Therapeutics through social media, and because there were individuals at both companies who were willing to make a special effort to help my friend cut through unnecessary red tape and get her medication.

My friend is not out of the woods, but she is fortunate to have many friends who are or were journalists. They understand how to use social media and publicity to get things done. However, it should never have required scores and scores of people, if not more, using social media to get Florida Blue to do the right thing.

All of which raises other questions:

  • What happens to the vast majority of the population that doesn’t have a slew of publicity savvy friends at their disposal?
  • Where do those who are older and may not have the strength to keep fighting turn when they’ve been denied needed medicine that they’re entitled to under the terms of their insurance?
  • How many have died because insurers essentially waited them out, understanding full well that some of the ailing wouldn’t have the strength, willpower or ability to fight for what they’re entitled to?

I’ll not get into the injustice of a young mother being stricken with leukemia. There are some situations in life that one simply cannot wrap one’s mind around.

But I will say that those who work in the health field, including health insurers, should do all within their power to make the lives of those they serve easier – rather than more difficult – when their customers find themselves facing life or death scenarios.

Nothing like having four months of rain fall in a single day

washed out tracks

You know you’ve gotten a lot of rain when folks stop measuring the amount in numbers and begin using adjectives to describe how much precipitation has fallen, such as “immense,” “ginormous” and “a whole helluva lot.”

With Hurricane Joaquin staying offshore as it moves up the East Coast, South Carolina was deluged with as much as 20 inches of rain over 24 hours, an amount that left weather forecasters calling the event a “1,000-year storm.”

Area rivers quickly breached their banks, rising, in some cases, 10 feet or more above flood stage.

I got an indication of just how much water had fallen when I visited a local creek about 10 miles north of my home. Normally at this time of year Rocky Creek is about three feet across and six to eight inches deep.

At 10 a.m. Sunday morning it was 700 feet across and 15 feet deep in some places, with water moving briskly as it surged toward the Broad River.

Adding to area woes is the fact that South Carolina has been receiving rain for a couple of days prior to the deluge that began late Saturday, and more rain is anticipated Monday.

As Slate magazine noted, parts of the state received four months of rain in a single day. I don’t care how strong your infrastructure system is, it’s going to have trouble standing up to that kind of a deluge.

(Top: Washed-out railroad tracks in Columbia, SC, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015.)

This color-coded weather map tops out at 18 inches of rain; it wasn't enough to register all the rain parts of South Carolina received this weekend.

This color-coded weather map tops out at 18 inches of rain; it wasn’t enough to register all the rain parts of South Carolina received this weekend.

The mystery behind fledglings lighting up on the down low

birds smoking

While there’s no doubt that the US government has been known to squander money that would seem better used elsewhere – see the $856,000 National Science Foundation grant allotted to the University of California at Santa Cruz to, among other things, teach mountain lions how to use a treadmill, for example – there are some pie-in-the-sky projects that I would love to see funded.

Take the above image. If government officials needed money to create a device that could translate bird-speak so that it was intelligible to humans, then required additional cash to develop a way-back machine in order to go to the above point in the past, so that they could interpret what our two feathered juvenile delinquents were saying to one another, that is a project with which I would have absolutely no issue.

Are they discussing where to steal birdseed? What’s the best place to perch their rear ends and “roost?” Where the “easy” chickadees hang out? We just don’t know, and that, at least in my opinion, is one of modern science’s great failings.

Just think, if this pair were a little bigger and had opposable thumbs, they’d probably be ruling the planet by now.

And don’t tell me this image was photoshopped. I for one am prepared to hail our new avian overlords.

(Required disclaimer: I in no way condone underage smoking among fish, fowl or other beasts of the wild, and hope these two fledglings got a sound thrashing when they returned to their nest.)

Reports of Nazi train buried in southern Poland appear true

gold train map

It now appears that, unlike many other accounts of Nazi-era loot uncovered inside mountains or deep in alpine lakes, last month’s report about the discovery of a World War II German military train, possibly buried with gold, gems and guns, may be true.

A Polish official said recently that ground-penetrating radar images have left him “99 percent convinced” that a World War II German military train is buried near the southwestern city of Walbrzych.

According to local legend, a Nazi train filled with gold, gems and guns went missing near the city in 1945, the BBC reports.

Poland’s Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski said radar images appeared to show a train equipped with gun turrets.

In addition, specialists at the Ksiaz castle, the nearby Polish fortress that Hitler intended to become his base of operations in Eastern Europe, believe at least two further undiscovered Nazi trains were in the area carrying unknown treasures.

Zuchowski did not reveal the location of the find but reiterated warnings to treasure hunters that the site may be booby-trapped.

Last month, a Pole and a German told authorities in Walbrzych that they knew the location of the armored train.

Continue reading

Geneticists say they’re closer to solving mystery of the Basques

freedom to choose the basque language

To say that the Basque are enigmatic is a bit of an understatement.

Theirs is the only Western European tongue that does not belong to the Indo-European family of languages. Written Basque features an extraordinary number of x’s and relatively few vowels.

There is a legend that says the Devil tried to learn Basque by listening behind the door of a Basque farmhouse. After seven years, he mastered but two words: “Yes, Ma’am.”

In addition to the language, the genetic makeup of the Basque has also puzzled researchers.

Now, it appears a team of geneticists have made progress in solving the mystery behind the Basques, who reside in northern Spain and southern France.

A study in PNAS journal suggests they descended from early farmers who mixed with local hunters before becoming isolated for as much as five millennia, according to the BBC.

Continue reading

Researchers close in on solving American chestnut blight


The American chestnut once dominated Eastern North America, with the total number of trees estimated at 4 billion a little more than a century ago.

They were the prevailing species in many areas, particularly in the Appalachia region, where 25 percent of trees were chestnuts.

“Entire communities in Appalachia depended on the chestnut for everything,” said Marshal Case, former president of the Asheville, NC-based American Chestnut Foundation. The nonprofit has been leading the effort to re-establish the trees.

Chestnut trees were integral to everyday life in Appalachia and were known as “cradle to grave trees,” Case told National Geographic.

“Craftsmen made baby cradles and coffins from the rot-resistant hardwood. The trees were also used to build houses, telephone poles, and railroad ties,” he said. “Wildlife thrived on the trees, which each year produced bumper crops of nuts.”

The American chestnut was dealt a near-death blow with the introduction of Chinese chestnuts into the New York Botanical Gardens, now known as the Bronx Zoo. The Chinese chestnut brought with it a blight that, while it didn’t affect its carrier, was devastating to the American chestnut.

First identified in 1904, the blight, a fungus, infected and killed about 99.9 percent of the American chestnuts from Georgia to Maine and west to the Ohio Valley within 50 years.

New shoots often sprout from the roots when the main stem dies, so the species has not yet become extinct. However, the stump sprouts rarely reach more than 20 feet in height before blight returns.

Continue reading

Ancient Pictish fort found off the coast of Eastern Scotland


An essential aspect of older forts was their inaccessibility to enemies. The harder it was for foes to get at those inside, the easier it was for defenders to hold out.

It appears that this need was recognized quite early on. A recently discovered fort off the coast of Scotland sits atop a sea stack and can only be accessed using ropes at low tide, according to the BBC.

The Pictish fort was uncovered during an archaeological dig on the Aberdeenshire coast and is believed to be Scotland’s oldest, dating back to as early as the third century AD.

Archaeologists from the University of Aberdeen needed help from experienced mountaineers to scale the rugged cliffs in order reach the site, which is perched precariously on the top of a sea stack called Dunnicaer, with sheer drops on all sides, according to the Edinburgh Evening News.

“The team found evidence of ramparts, floors and a hearth on the small outcrop,” the publication added. “It is believed the fort would have comprised a timber house or hall, surrounded by an outer defensive rampart built from stone.”

The fort was especially impressive given the materials used in its construction.

“The stone is not from the local area so it must have been quite a feat to get it, and the heavy oak timbers, up to such an inaccessible site,” said lead researcher Gordon Noble, a senior lecturer at the University of Aberdeen.

Results of carbon dating suggest that use of the fort was relatively short-lived, and it is assumed the Pictish communities who inhabited it moved on to the larger site of Dunnottar Castle to the south.

The Picts were descendants of indigenous Iron Age people of northern Scotland.

“Pict” was a blanket term applied to an agglomeration of different people in the northern Scotland, probably with different cultures and languages, according to the website Orkneyjar, which details the heritage of the Orkney Islands.

The word “Pict” means “painted people,” likely referring to the Pictish custom of either tattooing their bodies or embellishing themselves with war paint.

Prior the arrival of the Romans in Britain the Picts were probably fragmented tribes who spent much of their time fighting among themselves.

The Roman threat appears to have forced them together. This allowed the tribes to resist the continental invaders, forcing cooperation in the face of invaders. By the time the Romans departed from Britain in the fifth century AD, the northern tribes had begun to form into what would later become the Pictish Kingdom.

By the 11th century the Pictish identity had been incorporated into the amalgamation of peoples known as “Scots.”

(Top: Researchers seen working atop Dunnicaer sea stacks off coast of Scotland, where an ancient Pictish fort was recently discovered.)