Thursday, July 31, 2008

Medical Hell, Part I: Sign Your Life Away

I'm planning on posting a short series of comments on the failings of our medical system, based on my experiences. In each case, my point is not to whine that I have been treated poorly. Quite the opposite, I believe that the treatment I received is typical or even "good" by our incredibly low standards. It is the medical system that I wish to criticize, not my particular health care providers. Here's the first installment:

A couple of months ago, I decided to undergo a relatively low risk heart procedure. The first available appointment was about six weeks in the future when I made the decision. During that six week period I visited the doctor once, received various papers in the mail with instructions on where to show up and when, as well as several phone calls asking to confirm the appointment and for information designed to make sure that the hospital can get paid for its services.

It was not until the just before the procedure, however, when the IV was already in my arm, that the hospital gave me detailed legal waivers to sign. Then, the nurse came in and told me she wanted to discuss the various risks of the procedure so that I could give my "informed consent." All this while I am already lying in a hospital gown with a rubber pipe sticking out of my arm. One other minor point: before all this happened, I had already passed out once when the nurse tried to get the IV into the back of my hand and, after several minutes of trying, failed and had to pull it out. My blood pressure dropped to 72/42: the perfect time to sign legal documents and make important decisions about one's health care.

I know I don't really need to say more, but I cannot resist. Just imagine me saying, "wait, nurse, I need to review the fine print in this release before I sign it." Or how about, "nurse, I'd like to negotiate here in paragraph 24.2(a)(2), where the arbitrator is JAMS. How about the AAA instead?" Or how about this one: "What? There is a risk of stroke in this procedure? Well, in that case, I changed my mind. Take this IV out of my arm, I'm going home!" Sadly, I was in no condition to be a smart-ass. What actually happened is that I signed the releases without reading them and told the nurse not to go over the risks with me, lest I pass out a second time. She beat a hasty retreat. (Yes, I knew the risks. I did my own research).

This "sneak attack" is standard operating procedure in our hospitals and doctors' offices. After the patient has bought the health insurance showing the doctor as a preferred provider, and after the patient has arrived for his appointment, the doctor presents forms waiving many important rights. Sign it or you get no treatment. Hospitals routinely wait until the patient is checked in before demanding that the patient sign their forms. Sign it or check back out.

I used to trust doctors and hospitals, but no more. This outrageous conduct is only one of the many reasons.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Not My Heroes

Our press and politicians are fond of referring to the men and women of our armed forces as "heroes," and saying that we owe them a great debt. In large part, I disagree. Most of our armed forces are not my heroes. At best, they are victims of their own ignorance who have damaged themselves and others. I might feel sorry for some of them, but they are hardly heroes.

Our armed forces are volunteers. Each and every member of the armed forces chose to join the military. Moreover, anyone who joined the military since approximately January 1, 2003, knew that they would likely serve in the invasion of Iraq: a fiasco of mind-boggling proportions that has cost this country hundreds of billions of dollars, thousands of lives and irreparably harmed the reputation of this country, not to mention what it has done to the people of Iraq.

I fail to see how volunteering to participate in the invasion of Iraq qualifies one as a hero. I agree that a person's motivation in agreeing to serve is morally relevant. Some members of the armed services thought the invasion was a good idea. They were wrong, and their mistake damaged both themselves and others: not heroes. They may be good people, but they made a bad mistake and we are all paying the costs.

Some soldiers may have not concerned themselves with the merits of the mission, and simply joined out of a sense of loyalty to the country. Given that the country made a decision to attack, they volunteered to be the ones to put their lives on the line. Those who served Hitler could make the same argument: "It is not my business whether my country should be at war, I should always support my country." Blind allegiance to any one or anything is dangerous, and anyone who is willing to risk their life because George Bush wants to start a war is anything but a hero.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Asset Protection

Many people fear that they will one day lose a lawsuit, and that all their hard earned assets will be taken away. A google search for "Asset Protection" will reveal numerous companies that play to that fear, and offer strategies to prevent creditors from taking your assets. Some of these strategies are legitimate, such placing funds into retirement accounts. Others, such as buying insurance, are actually beneficial to all concerned. For the most part, however, asset protection means committing fraud on your future creditors. It is relatively easy to see why.

Asset protection usually means placing assets into a "trust" which the owner still controls. The owner can do whatever he wants with the trust assets, including spending them or taking them out of the trust. These trusts have provisions that state that, when you are sued, or a judgment is entered against you, you "lose" control over the trust. The trust is then run by some third party in an off shore location, and it is supposedly impossible for creditors to get at the funds. I am not aware of any court in the United States upholding such a provision, nor stating that it is anything other than blatant conspiracy to defraud creditors.

An asset is either yours or it is not. If you really wish to give away your assets, you are free to do so (so long as you still have enough money to pay your debts). If not, then the assets are still yours and your creditors are entitled to get them if you do not pay your debts. One major way asset protection works is by trying to have it both ways -- the assets are yours when you want, but are not yours when creditors come knocking. No court is going to let you get away with that.

The other major way asset protection works is outright fraud. Just hide your assets from the creditor. And lie. Sadly, fraud works, but then again so does robbing a bank. On the other hand, getting caught committing fraud has consequences. The consequences of engaging in asset protection is that you will have a very hard time ever filing bankruptcy if you need to do so. Bankruptcy courts generally make debtors account for their assets before they discharge debts. If you tell the Judge, "I used to have money, but I sent it all to the Cayman Islands so my creditors couldn't get it," you are not likely to get a discharge any time soon.

Some of these "asset protection" companies pretend to legitimate businesses. For example, take a look at the following website: These people operate a scam. My client has a judgment against them for more than $3,000,000 as a result of their attempts to help a rapist avoid paying his victim, but that does not stop them from teaching "continuing education" courses to members of the California State Bar. Or consider this website: It is run by disbarred lawyer Robert Lambert, who says, "All asset protection techniques have one thing in common: they each make it more difficult for a creditor to either find or take assets." Ask him if he can tell you about a single plan he has devised that withstood an attack in court.

Many asset protection companies try to justify their actions by blaming the legal system. "Those evil lawyers are just predators, waiting to take your hard earned money away." I am no fan of our legal system, but asset protection does not offer reform: it offers chaos. A creditor can only take your money if, after a trial, a court determines that you owe the money. If you insulate yourself from that, you place yourself above the law. More importantly, no one can seriously hope to live in a society with things like bank accounts, long term leases, credit or home ownership if anyone can simply stick their assets into a trust and avoid paying their legitimate bills. Would you loan money to anyone, knowing that they could avoid repaying you by placing all their money in a trust?

Incredibly, no one seems to care about the asset protection industry. It would be easy enough to shut down. California has no obligation to honor corporations or trusts from countries such as the Cayman Islands or the Cook Islands, which are essentially safe harbors for white collar criminals. California could shut down most or all of Southpac's business by simply forcing the Cooks Islands to choose -- either enter into reciprocal agreements to enforce each other's judgments, or your corporations and trusts cannot do business in our State. California could shut down Robert Lambert by prosecuting him from practicing law without a license -- a felony, considering that he lost his license.

Asset protection is nothing more than a scam, designed to trap the greedy and the fearful.