The stimulus fight, and my $28,500 surprise
Not Pretty, Not Rich is a newsletter about money, finance, and the economy written by me, Sam Becker.
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It’s Friday, October 9, 2020.
What’s shaping the world this week
Hell comes home. The president was diagnosed and hospitalized after contracting COVID-19, and many other White House officials were as well. It’s a stark reminder that we’re not even close to being in the clear when it comes to the pandemic.
A shaky economy. We got September’s jobs report last week, and it was...not great. The short story is that the recovery is stalling. Economic forecasts are being reformulated. And this week’s jobless claims were higher than anticipated.
Stimulus confusion. The economy needs more stimulus in order to keep recovering at a steady clip, but it doesn’t look like it’s happening. Or does it? Read on.
What’s going on with additional stimulus?
The economic recovery is stalling, and more stimulus is likely needed to keep it going. But we’re getting...mixed signals from government officials.
The pandemic wrecked the economy — there’s really no way to sugarcoat it. But some of the measures taken early on blunted the impact. The PPP program, for example, helped keep people on payrolls, and the extra $600 per-week unemployment benefit, along with those $1,200 stimulus checks, helped people pay rent and buy groceries.
But since the CARES Act was passed in March, Congressional leaders haven’t taken much action. There have been additional stimulus bills passed in houses of Congress — the House passed one way back in May, and another just recently. The Senate tried but failed to pass another bill in September. In the end, we’re at a standstill, and people still need help.
The main concern is that the economy, which has relied on government help over the past seven months, is going to falter without additional stimulus measures. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell recently said as much, saying that if more stimulus isn’t enacted, the recession could be prolonged.
But alas, here we are. And as House and Senate leaders work with the White House to get something passed, President Trump threw everyone a curveball by saying he was shutting down talks, effectively ending any hope of another stimulus package.
And then, he reversed course, urging leaders to figure it out.
In short, nobody knows what the hell is going on. Republicans have, over the past few years, taken their cues from the White House — if Trump wants them to get something done, they tend to figure it out. But the president’s health is imperiled, and he’s currently undergoing treatment and acting erratically. So, it’s hard to get a sense of where the White House is on this.
But the president is in a fight to be re-elected, and Republicans are in danger of losing the Senate. All that is to say that they both have an incentive to get a stimulus bill passed, in order to help their reelection chances. For that reason, there’s a chance that something could get passed — which may include more stimulus checks. It looks like they may aim to pass smaller, targeted stimulus bills (that help individual industries, like airlines, for example) in the meantime.
For those of you who were hoping for more help from the government, though, it’s hard to say just what to expect. But It’s likely too late now to keep your hopes up. It’s possible that another stimulus bill won’t get passed until after next January’s presidential inauguration — no matter who is standing in D.C. to take the oath.
“It’s ringing up at $28,500”
A recent trip to Walgreens serves as a reminder of how broken our health care system is.
Most people would agree that our health care system here in the U.S. has its issues. While I’ve been fortunate enough for most of my life to not need much care, I was recently prescribed a medication at the beginning of August, which meant that I’m now going to be interacting with the system more frequently.
Thankfully, I’m insured. And thankfully, it’s not a serious or life-threatening condition that I’m contending with, either.
But simply getting my medication has been something of a nightmare. First, my doctor sent my prescription to some pharmacy in Tennessee. After two months, numerous phone calls, and absolutely no help, I still haven’t been able to get it. So, this week, I went to my neighborhood Walgreens — where the prescription was supposed to be filled — to see if they had it, or could at least tell me what was going on.
They didn’t have it. But they did know who I was and what I needed. The man at the pharmacy, seemingly scared, said I could pick it up from them. This is how the conversation went:
Pharmacist: “We have the medication, and I can give it to you. But...it’s ringing up at $28,500 for a two-weeks supply.”
Me: “It’s what now?”
Pharmacist: “It’s a specialty medication, and, uh, yeah, it says your insurance won’t cover it without talking to your doctor first, so it’s ringing up at $28,500.”
Me: “I could buy a Ford Explorer for that amount of money.”
Me: “I can tell you that I’d sooner rob this store than pay you that much money for this medication.”
Pharmacist: “....I’m sorry sir.”
And so here I am, two months later, with no medication, and no help from the pharmacy or my doctor. And for some reason, my medicine costs $60,000 per month — at that price, it may as well cost $1 million per dose, because no one would or could pay that much.
But this has given me a first-hand look at the absolute insanity of our system. It’s not efficient, the market isn’t working out the kinks, and even for people who have insurance (like me), it’s apparently inaccessible. I’m not sure what the solution is, or if there is one, but what’s becoming increasingly clear to me is that we’re overdue for a big overhaul.
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This week’s numbers and links
617,000: The number of women who dropped out of the workforce during September.
$25 per hour: The new minimum wage in Geneva, Switzerland — the world’s highest.
7.46 billion: The cumulative number of hours people watched on streaming platforms during Q3.
$400 million: The fine levied against Citigroup for failing to keep its operations under control (read last week’s newsletter!).
24: The number of “superhabitable” planets discovered by scientists that could be better than Earth — whatever that means.
Vermont just became the 11th state to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
A plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan and overthrow the state government was thwarted by the Feds. You have to wonder, though: What were these loons going to do if they actually pulled it off?
Always think ahead, kids!