April 25, 2008

"US Health Care - Do We Need a Revolution?"

April 22nd, 2008: Dr. Nancy Nielson, micro-biologist and President-elect of the American Medical Association (AMA), gave a dynamic yet personal presentation at the Rotary Club of Charleston today. Starting with the problem she noted only 60% of U.S. employers offer health insurance; the decline to this level is due to the current cost of health insurance. Why then is American health care based upon an employer based system? Basically, there were two factors: first, the shift of women into the work force during WWII. The health care incentive was needed to get them to leave their homes. In addition, wages were frozen during that war so the employers devised the notion of adding health benefits in lieu of wages to further entice the labor force. Secondly, a ruling by the IRS that health benefits could be excluded from taxable income.

Currently 1 out of every 7 persons in America is uninsured and these workers are from all levels of the economy. Currently, each of the presidential candidates has "an answer" to this problem. The AMA, however, takes a very different position. They are not in favor of a single-payer system currently in place in Canada and Great Britain, though there are things to be learned from both systems. The AMA supports individually owned, affordable health insurance, not tied to ones current employer, though the employer could make the payments on behalf of the insured as a payroll deduction. There are thousands of cases of persons transferring from one job to another who, despite the assurance of a right to transfer, find themselves without insurance for periods of time. Many are then caught with so called "pre-existing conditions" when they do get accepted into a new plan and in every case they are totally at the mercy of the particular specifics of coverage or non-coverage that the employer has elected to buy for them in a group manner. 88% of those employers who do offer health insurance offer just one system. The answer is to get away from employer-systems and into one in which YOU own your own plan, and can build it to fit your needs. A typical husband and wife today are paying at least $765 per month for one person, and over $1300 for two; they could easily spend an additional $18,000 over six months.

In a call to action, Dr. Nielson noted things which must take place: 1. In terms of a revolution: we must stop finger-pointing at the current health insurers and meet together to solve the problem. No more hand-wringing; we need solutions. 2. We must invest more in preventative health care which will save more in the long run. 3. We must do studies of the comparative value of various medicines and processes. Such comparative research is regularly done in Europe, but not here. 4. We are spending 15% of our GNP on health care and this is way too high. 5. Each and every individual must invest in the plan together for only if all are involved will the cost become affordable; everyone must be in the risk pool. 6. Change the tax law from eliminating tax on health insurance to one in which a tax credit is given. The current plan, from a tax standpoint, helps the more affluent citizen, but does little to help the lower income person. In questioning from the floor she responded:

Why is the cost so high?
Costs are out of control. A couple turning 65 today and participating in Medicare will still pay out an additional $225,000 for health care in their lifetimes. While some years ago many people could pay the bills, today the costs are being driven by the health providers. We have many, many more medicines available to day that are very expensive [the U.S pharmaceutical companies fund almost 100% of the world-wide research costs]. We have many, many more diagnostic tools today that are regularly used.

How do you get persons, particularly those young and healthy, to buy into an insurance plan?
We must make everyone realize while they can perhaps fund the little things it is virtually impossible to fund a major illness, let alone the cost of a single emergency room visit.

How do we get a divided Congress to create a solution even with all candidates making medical proposals?
We elect the Congress and each of us must make it clear to those for whom we vote that we expect them to act, and we need to find out before we vote that it is the intent of the person in Congress to fix the problem; the problem is far too big to be handled by business alone. "More people are in bankruptcy today due to medical costs than for any other reason."

Reported by Fred Sales, Keyway Committee

April 18, 2008

"Rediscovering the Fundamentals of Business"

April 15, 2008: Many businesses find themselves sharpening their pencils and trying to figure out how to keep things going. Al Katz visited our club to offer us advice and to remind us all of the basics of business. Katz, a native of Greenville, SC, graduated with honors from The Citadel and earned his MBA from Georgia Tech. He began his career at a publicly held retail specialty organization eventually becoming President and COO. Since then, he has been serving as a "Personal and Business Coach" working with organizations as founder and Managing Partner of The Next Level, LLC.

Katz began his presentation talking about Tiger Woods. Woods is the best golf player in the world. Yet, he always talks about working on his golf fundamentals. He's achieved massive success, but continues to work on the basics. It's a great metaphor for business, no matter how much success you achieve, in order to continue being successful, you must always work on the fundamentals. Katz introduced "The Process" which can be easily implemented into any business.

First, "The Life Cycle". There is nothing that doesn't have a life cycle. What's most important about staying in business for the long term is recognizing this and incorporating innovation and change when needed. Second, "Issues". More than half the issues that companies deal with are not business issues, they are people issues. Ninety percent of people issues are attributed to communication issues. Make sure your message is being communicated effectively. Third, "Putting Out the Fires". Most businesses spend the majority of their time being reactive rather than proactive. More communication and future planning equals less fires. Fourth, "The Process". Know your employees and what their goals are. If someone is professionally challenged and feels valued, they will work hard. Fifth, "The Heart of the Matter". Spend time to create an overall plan and specifically define expectations and make people accountable. Finally, "Managing, Measuring and Monitoring". Meet often. Daily huddles, weekly tactical meetings, monthly strategic meetings and yearly off-site strategic meetings. Keep the lines of communication open. For more information, go to Katz's website, www.yournextlevel.net.

Submitted by Darby Hand, Key Way Committee

April 11, 2008

"Inspiring Community Voices"

April 8, 2008: For Nigel Redden, managing director of Piccolo Spoleto, the closing last year of the Garden Theater on King St. was a wake-up call for those who arrange concerts and community activities: the city was running out of performance space. A solution came in a major capital improvement and development program to upgrade Dock Street Theater and the Memminger Auditorium.

Dock Street was found to have deteriorated severely, some damage due to past remodeling that did not properly consider the safety of the building. Walls were ready to cave in at the time of any earthquake or hurricane, the HVAC system was worn out, plumbing gone and many problems with respect to handicapped people.

Memminger has been empty since Hugo; the school board, who owned it, could not themselves justify the cost for an auditorium serving a small school. It, too, needed virtually everything. Thus was born the Inspiring Community Voices campaign, co chaired by John and Norma Palms. The project requires a 25 million dollar investment. The city pledged over 8 million, FEMA has helped as the spaces can be used in emergency. 6 million in repairs and 3 million in endowment to run the auditorium's programs in the future will go to Memminger. Upgrades will include a garden, storage building, totally flexible new theater unlike anything currently in greater Charleston and an elevator. The reworked building is scheduled to reopen the end of May.

The work at Dock Street is even more extensive given its size and age. John Palms was recruited to find the way to raise the needed money for the combined project. Many people from current students to those who used and performed in both locations in the past have been inspired to work on the project. Donors are being sought to name chairs, boxes, gardens, dressing rooms and more for both facilities. Dock Street is scheduled to reopen in 2010. To learn how to help contact www.spoletousa.org/inspiringvoices.

Reported by Fred Sales, Keyway Committee

April 4, 2008

"A New Meaning to Retirement ... S.C. Grown & Made!"

April 1st, 2008: In 2000, Jim and Ann Irvin married and settled into what they thought would be "retired" life out on John's Island. Jim, a builder, and Ann, a retired teacher, thought fishing, gardening and other activities would keep them happily entertained for the rest of their life. Fortunately, for Charleston locals and the thriving tourist industry, that wasn't the case. After a few months, they discussed ideas of things they could do together and came up with several before deciding to open Irvin-House Vineyards, located on Wadmalaw Island. They now own and operate Charleston's only vineyard, thus giving locals something fun to do and adding one more thing to an already long list of reasons why people like to visit the Lowcountry.

Once they made their decision to open a winery, their work was more than cut out for them. First, and most importantly, how do you make wine? They did their homework and went to Clemson, UGA and other places on the east coast and learned about grapes and wine making. What kind of grapes should they use? That was an easy one, use grapes that grow here. The only grape that can be grown in South Carolina is the muscadine grape. It is sweet and juicy and usually associated with a very sweet wine. The Irvin's set about taking a locally grown product and tweaking it to appeal to the masses. They purchased farm land, converted existing farmhouses into the winery and planted their first grapevine in 2001. After a much shorter growth period than originally anticipated, Irvin-House Vineyards began distributing their wine in 2003.

The winery is now fully operational and produces 5 brands of wine. In the beginning, they were producing 2,000 cases of wine and this year expect to produce 5-6,000 cases of wine. The Irvin's, never ones to settle on just one thing, have now started producing Firefly Vodka (a mixture of Irvin Wine and Vodka) and continue to move into other arenas. The winery is open Thursday- Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and there are free wine tours conducted by John every Saturday. Visit their website at www.charlestonwine.com; they what everyone to learn about SC "grown & made."

Submitted by Darby Hand, Keyway Committee