The Penultimate Weekender: a note, Medicaid expansion’s personal finance impacts + life insurance gets fascinating

Spotlighting original BirdDog reporting and why a few headlines from elsewhere matter for Tennessee.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash



The BirdDog experiment is embarking upon its final phase: a limited-run publishing pilot with LinkedIn. Look for more details in next Sunday’s email on how to follow along.

Aside from the pilot, this is the penultimate Weekender. Next week you’ll get two pieces I’m excited to write and a wrap-up on what I’ve learned from the six months of BirdDog, including results from the reader survey in July.

It’s been a thrilling journey — though I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention, exhausting — and I’ve loved discovering how and when you read, what piques your interest and what’s priority when you’re looking for journalism.

Thank you for welcoming the BirdDog experiment into your life.



1. By the numbers: Americans are clueless about the stock market’s growth

Felix Salmon, Axios

Take a quick glance. It’s a bar chart that shows nearly half of the U.S. doesn’t know the stock market is up since 2008.

The stock market is not the economy, absolutely, but it’s often equated with prosperity and it seems most people don’t have a clue about its performance since the Great Recession.

2. On The Sidelines Of Democracy: Exploring Why So Many Americans Don’t Vote

Asma Khalid, Don Gonyea and Leila Fadel, NPR

Tennessee has the distinction of being at the very bottom of voter turnout rankings. The NPR article is a thoughtful read that touches on age, education and class divides.

In Tennessee, primaries tend to draw more “chronic voters” who are often older, wealthier and whiter — and more likely to skew conservative. That shapes the tone and rhetoric of primaries.

Meanwhile, health care is an important issue for many Tennesseans but in rural areas there’s a feeling of despondency about whether the access situation will ever change for them. In the end many don’t feel like their vote counts.

The candidates for Tennessee governor are divided on expanding Medicaid. Democrat Karl Dean says it would be a priority while Republican Bill Lee opposes expansion.

Enough time passed since some of the early expansions that research is beginning to trickle out. Impacts on health status and access to care take time but early results are pointing to some benefits from expansion, such as…

3. Medicaid expansion boosted the financial health of low-income Michigan residents, U-M study finds

Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation at the University of Michigan

A team studied information from more than 322,000 people in Michigan’s Medicaid expansion, and found the amount of medical bills in collections fell by 57 percent; a “16 percent drop in public records for financial events such as evictions, bankruptcies and wage garnishments” and a rise in individual credit scores.

Economist Sarah Miller with University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business published the paper in tandem with researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, University of Illinois, Chicago and Northwestern University.

4. Life insurance offering more incentive to live longer

Paul Sullivan, The New York Times

To be honest, I read a lot of articles on John Hancock Life Insurance’s new program because I’m fascinated by the concept, rollout, behavior-driven incentives — and the fact that many insurers are more data giants than traditional policy issuers. (This is an interesting read from ProPublica on data-hungry insurers).

Most of the people who have life insurance get it through an employer. Cost is a deterrent to individual life insurance plans so a discount based on behavior could a) increase business and b) mean people are paying premiums for a longer time. And perhaps living longer.

Policyholders have to sign-up for the activity and lifestyle tracking program but participation is optional. No data sharing, no discount.

Excerpt: “What John Hancock is trying to do is not easy. The pilot program, started in 2015, has not been a roaring success: Only about 20 percent of customers signed up that year. Three years later, the company said it had doubled that figure, which experts said was below expectations.”

If you really want to nerd out on this, then read these three. You’ll come away with a pretty well-rounded collection of ideas and perspectives. If you just want the high-level ‘huh, that’s interesting,’ then stick with the NYT piece.

A terrific read from James Purtill for ABC’s Hack in Australia that lists other U.S. insurers’ incentive programs, how data could be a part of diagnosing illness, and points out “what’s unprecedented is the potential for mass surveillance.”

Vox’s broader view on wearables and questions that arise with sharing data

5. Millions of EV Charging Points Planned for U.S., Europe by 2025

Mark Chediak, Bloomberg

Two companies are planning to install 3.5 million charging stations in the U.S. and Europe over the next seven years, serving up to 37 million electric vehicles.

Demand for electric cars is on the upswing but charging stations can be a challenge to find if you’re not in an urban area.

The existing Chattanooga factory is a contender for Volkswagen’s North America electric car production, according to a Volkswagen board member speaking in Dresden, Germany.

(Also if you don’t follow ‘Tesla Twitter’ to read the charged dialogue between Elon Musk devotees and people who are down on the company’s prospects then, really, you’re missing one of the internet’s guiltiest pleasures. Find the conversation by searching $tsla on Twitter.)

Other reads:

The Economist, book review: “Moneyland” is an urgent expose of the world of mega-wealth

Bloomberg: Walmart Considers Offering Perks to Attract New Hires

%d bloggers like this: