Category Archives: Law

13th Amendment Ratified, 1865


Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, forever ending slavery in the United States.  On December 6, the reconstruction Georgia legislature ratified the amendment, marking the 27th, meaning that two thirds of the states had done so.  On December 18, 1865, Secretary of State William H. Seward proclaimed that the amendment had been adopted.

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1941 ASCAP Boycott


Seventy-five years ago, American broadcasters were gearing up for some big changes in 1941. The engineers were busy ordering crystals and getting ready to retune their transmitters on March 29, 1941, to the new frequencies mandated by NARBA.

But the program director had even bigger things to worry about, because of the ASCAP Boycott, which was to start on January 1, 1941, and would last until October 29, 1941.

The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) was formed in 1914 to enforce the 1897 copyright law. In the days of live performances, this had been easy, since the royalties were just based on a percentage of the box office sales. But the phonograph, and later radio, complicated things considerably. But after almost a decade of haggling, a tenuous truce was in place between ASCAP and the broadcasters. The stations grudgingly agreed to pay 5% of advertising revenue in exchange for a blanket license to perform all ASCAP music. But the truce didn’t last long, and in 1940, worried that radio performances were cutting in to phonograph sales, ASCAP announced that it was going to triple the broadcast fee. The broadcasters decided that enough was enough, and at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention, the broadcasters decided that they would boycott ASCAP. Therefore, as of January 1, 1941, most of the stations’ existing music libraries could not be used. This included both recorded music and the sheet music used in the still common live performances by orchestras and studio pianists and organists.

Virtually every part of a station’s programming was affected. Even most program theme songs were controlled by ASCAP and had to be changed. Jack Benny had to stop playing his signature “Love in Bloom” on the violin, and Burns and Allen had to stop using their theme “Love Nest,” written by ASCAP co-founder George M. Cohan.


Jeanie in 1854, before her hair turned gray. Wikipedia image.

The stations had two alternatives, and had to act fast. First, they could make use of public domain material. This is why the Lone Ranger rode to the tune of the public domain William Tell Overture, and the Green Hornet flew to the music of The Flight of the Bumblebee. One notable beneficiary on stations’ play list was “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” penned by Stephen Foster in 1854. Time magazine quipped that the song had received so much airplay that Jeanie’s hair turned gray.

Stations also turned to foreign music such as “Perfidia.” And since ASCAP had generally believed that “hillbilly” and African-American music were beneath their dignity, these genres quickly found a home on the American airwaves.

In order to get radio airtime, performers had to make the same choices. It’s no coincidence that Glenn Miller’s orchestra made 1941 hits with “American Patrol” and “Song of the Volga Boatmen,” both in the public domain.

For new music, broadcasters turned to the fledgling Broadcast Music International (BMI), a rival licensing agency founded by the broadcast industry in 1939. BMI recruited composers whose ASCAP contracts were about to expire as well as new composers, and made these available to broadcasters on more favorable terms.

A substantial portion of the December 15, 1940, issue of Broadcasting magazine was devoted to helping broadcasters gear up for the boycott.  For example, the ad at the top of this page Standard Radio touted, during the “music emergency,” its music library of 2046 non-ASCAP taxfree selections including performances by artists such as Duke Ellington and Ray Herbeck, with the promise of 100 new releases per month.

An editorial in the same issued called it a war, not unlike the war raging in Europe:  “Zero hour approaches in the war over music.  War is hell in any language, and there are hellish days ahead for the adversaries in the conflict precipitated by a hitherto arrogant, brass-knuckled ASCAP that now must know it overplayed its hand.  The rank and file broadcaster is not thinking about an ASCAP deal.  Like the Italians, ASCAP attacked with untenable demands.  And like the Greeks, the broadcasters are on the march.”

And in this war, the broadcasters knew that ASCAP would be ruthless.  Every broadcaster knew that the ASCAP lawyers would retaliate heavily for even the most innocent minor violation.  The broadcasters had to ensure that not one note of an ASCAP-licensed competition could go out over the airwaves.

The magazine carried the advice sent out by CBS to its affiliates about the steps that needed to be taken to avoid even an accidental infringement of any ASCAP music. It stressed that the program producer or director had to personally inspect “all music on the conductor’s stand against his certified music sheet. No other music may be broadcast.” It stressed that it was particularly important to be careful with remote broadcasts. And for protection in case of later accusations, it was especially critical to keep a meticulous log of all music broadcast.

And dead air was better than an ASCAP lawsuit, so “the program producer must have the right to pull the plug on the slightest deviation from a certified music schedule.”

Ad libs and improvisations were not to be allowed. “If it isn’t on paper and certified, it is not be be broadcast.” And stations couldn’t forget that last-minute substitutions of talent might be required. “All staff artists, organists, and pianists, who might be required to fill in, must clear a sufficient number of work sheets to meet such needs.” Organists on dramatic shows would need to immediately submit a folio of cue music sufficient for their needs and be reminded that no other music could be played unless it had been cleared.

Even at non-musical remotes, the stations would have to be careful. If a station knew that music might be played in the background at a baseball game or political rally, it was not to be picked up. Since most band music was controlled by ASCAP, “the chances are we will have to forego those portions of a special event during which the band is playing, unless you can build and work from a soundproof booth.”

All recordings would have to be checked, and the ASCAP material be put away for the duration of the emergency. If a record had an ASCAP song on one side and a non-ASCAP song on the other, then tape would need be placed over the infringing side to keep it from being accidentally played. Even the emergency records kept at the transmitter site would need to be checked. A failure of the studio to transmitter link could not be allowed to serve as a reason for the ASCAP lawyers to swoop in.

1940MarksThe magazine also contained some good news.  There were already 3400 records licensed by BMI would could be safely played.  The magazine also announced the signing of a contract between BMI and the Edward B. Marks Music Corp., shown here, transferring that publisher’s catalog of over 15,000 songs to BMI.  This freed up such compositions as “Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight” and “Ta Ra Ra Boom Der Ay” for broadcast.  Benny Goodman’s theme song, “Let’s Dance” was among those included in the Marks deal.


Read More at Amazon

The following songs in this post are available at Amazon where you can listen to a free sample or download the MP3:


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St. John’s School Fire, Oct. 28, 1915

One hundred years ago today, twenty-one girls between the ages of 7 and 17 were killed in a fire at St. John’s School in Peabody, Massachusetts. Under the school’s established fire procedure, most students were to leave the building through a rear exit. But because the route was blocked by thick smoke, most instead tried to exit through the front door, where they became blocked in the vestibule. A major contributing factor was the fact that the front doors opened inward. The crowded vestibule was soon engulfed in flames, and the entire building was soon fully engulfed.

Most students were able to escape through first-floor windows, or even by jumping from higher windows. The school’s teachers, nuns of the Sisters of Notre Dame, acted heroically, by dropping many of the students to improvised life nets made of coats and blankets.

One lesson learned from this fire was that the exit doors of public buildings need to open out to avoid bottlenecks in case of fire. In the wake of the fire, Peabody became the first city to impose this requirement.

Every school with which I have been involved takes fire safety very seriously, and it is natural to ask the question of how successful these efforts have been. In other words, how often do we see a headline like the one at the top of this page?

The answer is that school fire safety has been extraordinarily successful. In the past half century, zero American schoolchildren have been killed by fires. There have, of course, been fires. But in over fifty years, there has not been a single fire fatality. Not a single one. And when we stop to think of why this is true, we can learn some lessons that will help prevent other tragedies.

The important thing to remember is that we cannot point to a single magic bullet that has prevented school fires. There is no one thing that we did to prevent them. We did a lot of things. And when we did them, we didn’t waste time worrying that we shouldn’t do them because that one thing wouldn’t prevent all fire fatalities.  Nobody would call us paranoid for taking all of those precautions against something that hasn’t happened in 50 years.  And nobody would argue that we shouldn’t take fire precautions because they might scare the children.

In the St. John’s fire, the critical lesson learned was that doors to public buildings should open out. But no sane person would stop there and conclude that by changing the doors on the school that we could prevent fire deaths. We fixed one safety hazard, but continued identifying other hazards. Here are some of the other things we have done for school fire safety over the years:

  • We use fire-resistant building materials.
  • Students and staff have routine fire drills.
  • Firefighters are familiar with the layout of the schools in their area.
  • Exits are well marked and the exit signs have backup power.
  • Adequate fire hydrants are in place near schools.
  • The locations of fire stations take into account proximity to schools.
  • Fire extinguishers and fire alarms are required.
  • Most schools are equipped with sprinklers.

There are probably others that I’ve forgotten. But you get the idea. We haven’t had any fire fatalities because we have multiple redundant layers of protection. And nobody says that doing all of these things makes us paranoid. We’ve had zero fatalities because we do them.

During the same half century of extraordinary success in school fire safety, there have been more than 300 deaths from school shootings.  Security expert Lt. Col. Dave Grossman makes the compelling case
that we have to stop being in denial about school violence. Invariably, in the wake of a school shooting, the inclination is to come up with a single solution that will prevent the next one. But we need to take the same approach that we do to fire safety: What we really need are multiple redundant layers of protection. Some of the possibilities suggested by Grossman include:

  • Have an (armed) police officer in the school.
  • Have a single point of entry to the building and classrooms.
  • Have regular drills
  • Allow police officers to carry weapons off duty. Grossman points out that nobody considers it paranoid for an off-duty firefighter to have a fire extinguisher in the trunk of the car when dropping his or her kids off at school. And it would be no more paranoid for a parent who was a police officer to be prepared.
  • Equip all patrol officers with rifles and smoke grenades.
  • Be prepared to use fire hoses to deal with active shooters.
  • Finally, Grossman points out that “armed citizens can help.”

Will any one of these steps prevent every possible school shooting scenario? No. Having a police officer in the school is not the one magic bullet that will prevent every school shooting. Having the responding officer equipped with a rifle in his or her trunk is not the one magic bullet that will prevent every school shooting. And having a handful of random citizens armed is not the one magic bullet that will prevent every school shooting.

But having sprinklers is not the one magic bullet that will prevent every fire death. Having fire drills is not the one magic bullet that will prevent every fire death. Having doors that open out is not the one magic bullet that will prevent every fire death. But we did all of those things anyway, because if we do all or most of these things, then it is very likely that these multiple redundant precautions together will prevent most fire deaths. The last half century of American history proves that this is true.

A hundred years ago, when 21 girls were killed in a school fire, we learned one lesson, but we also kept on learning our lessons. Lessons were learned from the fire at Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago on December 1, 1958 when 95 were killed. The net result is that we have learned these lessons, and we continue to have multiple redundant layers of security to prevent them. And because those measures have proven so successful, we keep at it.  Nobody says that we’re paranoid.  Nobody tells us to stop because we’ll scare the children.  We simply do what we need to do because it works.

According to, these are the names of the girls killed in the fire a hundred years ago today:

  • Agnes Ahearn
  • Mabel Theresa Beauchamp
  • Helen Theresa Bresnahan
  • Florence Burke
  • Nellie Elizabeth Carty-Burns
  • Patroni Chebator
  • Elizabeth Comeau
  • Catherine M. Compiano
  • Ann Daleski
  • Florence Doherty
  • Mary Ida Essaimbre
  • Mildred Fay
  • Marion Hayes
  • Annie Jones
  • Helen Keefe
  • Annie L. Kenney
  • Mary Elizabeth McCarthy
  • Mary Meade
  • Elizabeth Nolan
  • Annie E. O’Brien
  • Catherine M. O’Connell

At that same site, you can view the statue erected in 2005 in memory of the girls who were killed. It depicts two of them in the embrace of their Saviour.

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See Us at Freedom2015, Nov. 6-7, Des Moines

When we’re not busy posting pictures of old radios, one of our more serious concerns is the state of religious liberty in America.  Therefore, we will be attending Freedom2015, a religious liberty conference in Des Moines, Iowa, Friday November 6 and Saturday November 7.  The conference has a number of nationally recognized speakers scheduled, including presidential candidate Ted Cruz.  If you’re attending, please look for me.  I’ll probably be wearing my bright yellow shirt.

One of the conference sponsors is Samaritan Ministries, about which I’ve written in other posts.  If you plan on attending, please let me know so that I can say hello!

Ahmed’s Clock

Irving, TX, Police Dept. photo, via NY Daily News.

Irving, TX, Police Dept. photo, via NY Daily News.

Ahmed Mohammed is a bright 14-year-old student in Irving Texas.  He made the digital clock shown above in a pencil case, and this week brought it to school.  He showed it to one teacher who was impressed.  He then put it away in his backpack, but it started beeping during another class.

The other teacher apparently believed that bright kids shouldn’t bring unusual looking things to school.  The principal was called, and then the police were called.  Ahmed was arrested for having what someone believed to be a “hoax bomb.”

Nobody thought it was a real bomb.  Ahmed didn’t think it was a hoax bomb.  It was a clock, and it presumably told time.  He told the police that it was a clock.  He didn’t elaborate any further, because there was nothing to elaborate about.  He could have said that it told time, but presumably the cops in Irving, Texas, already knew that clocks told time.  But because he didn’t elaborate further, he was arrested.

Last month, I posted on this site the digital clock shown below in a 1975 picture.


As you can see, this clock is just like Ahmed’s, just a lot bigger.  As you can see, there are students in the background, and they don’t appear to be freaking out because there’s a big homemade clock in the room.  The teacher wasn’t alarmed.  The principal wasn’t alarmed.  The police weren’t alarmed.  They realized that it was a homemade clock, built from plans in a magazine.  And even though it presumably had a much greater explosive potential than Ahmed’s clock, nobody was concerned.

In 1975, there was nothing wrong with a kid making something unusual and bringing it to school.  Today, a kid might get arrested for doing the same thing.  And it’s a damn shame.

Stop it, people.  Use a little bit of common sense for a change.

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800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta

Magna Carta (Wikipedia image).

Magna Carta (Wikipedia image).

No free man will be taken or imprisoned or disseised or outlawed or exiled in any way ruined, nor shall we go or send against him, save by the lawful judgment of his peers and by the law of the land.

–Magna Carta, Chapter 39.

Today marks the 800th Anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, June 15, 1215. In the photo below, the great charter is delivered to the United States in 1939 for safekeeping during the War.


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Secret Transmitter at the Hauptmann Trial?

LindberghCourtroomOn February 13, 1935, the jury in the Lindbergh kidnapping case returned its verdict, finding Bruno Richard Hauptmann guilty, and recommending the death penalty.

The case was the “crime of the century,” and the reporters present at the trial were eager to scoop their colleauges. The courtroom was locked when the jury returned, but the Associated Press figured out a way to get the news out of the courtroom. Their reporter carried a small transmitter in his briefcase, and upon hearing the verdict, he was to send a prearranged code with the news. A nearby AP telegrapher would be listening, and immediately telegraph the news to AP headquarters.

The code for guilty, but with a recommendation for mercy, meaning life in prison, was four dots. That night, the AP scooped the competition, and radio listeners around the country heard the news that Hauptmann would get life in prison. But unfortunately for the listening public (and for Hauptmann), the verdict was actually guilty of first degree murder, meaning the electric chair. The AP issued a correction a few minutes later.

The little mixup was caused by someone else having the same idea. The New York Daily News also came up with the idea of smuggling a transmitter into the locked courtroom, and the Daily News’ signal of four dots meant merely that the jury had entered the courtroom.

This story was recounted 80 years ago this month in the June 1935 issue of Shortwave Craft magazine. The article is probably written by publisher Hugo Gernsback, and as with most of what he wrote, it contains a good bit of self-promotion. He included the photo of a briefcase shortwave receiver that had been featured in the magazine three years earlier, in the June 1932 issue.


Undaunted by the fact that what he had published had been a receiver, he notes that “with a slight change in the connections, this receiver is easily converted into a transmitter for code signals, such as those used at the Hauptmann trial.”

I haven’t found any corroboration of this incident. Gernsback’s support of his theory comes from his assertion that the reporters in question didn’t deny it when he asked about it. It seems a bit far-fetched, since it depends on both the AP and the Daily News happening to use the same frequency for their clandestine transmitters. Since the transmission would necessarily be so short, it would be imperative for the listener to be tuned to the exact frequency prior to the signal. It seems that the chances of both papers using the same frequency just by chance are pretty slim.

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Moses “Moe” Annenberg

RadioGuideMastheadOne source that we frequently take advantage of is Radio Guide Magazine, which was published from 1931 to 1943. In addition to program listings, it contained features regarding radio, including what was happening on the shortwave bands. The published, as can be seen from this clip from the masthead of a 1937 issue, was one Moses “Moe” Annenberg, publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer as well as dozens of other publications.

He is shown here leaving the courtroom of federal Judge James Herbert Wilkersonn after pleading guilty to tax evasion. He had been indicted for evading over $3 million in taxes from 1932-36, and pleaded guilty to the count covering 1936, in which he ws charged with evading $1.2 million in taxes. It was the largest tax evasion case to date. Annenberg was sentenced to three years, and he died in prison in 1942.

He was the father of Walter Annenberg, who took over the reins of Radio Guide, and later founded TV Guide.

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March 8, 1965: Vietnam War and Civil Rights


Fifty years ago today, it was anything but a slow news day, as shown by the front page of the Milwaukee Journal, March 8, 1965.

In the left column, almost lost in the clutter, is an article with the headline, “US Marines Land at Base in S. Vietnam,” which reported that 3500 U.S. Marines from the Third Marine Division at Okinawa had landed at Da Nang, or were in the process of arriving. This marked a major escalation in U.S. involvement in the war. In 1964, there were about 16,500 American servicemen in Vietnam. The March 2 attack on the U.S. Marine barracks at Pleiku marked the initiation of a three year bombing campaign, and a rapid escalation of U.S. forces on the ground. These 3500 Marines arrived on March 8, marking the beginning of the ground war. At the time, U.S. public opinion overwhelmingly supported their deployment. By the end of 1965, there were 200,000 U.S. servicemen in Vietnam.

"Bloody Sunday" in Selma, AL, March 7, 1965. Wikipedia photo.

“Bloody Sunday” in Selma, AL, March 7, 1965. Wikipedia photo.

But the escalation of the war was dwarfed by other news. The photo shows not fighting in Vietnam, but on the streets of Selma, Alabama. According to the caption of the UPI photo, it shows “charging Alabama state troopers passing fallen Negroes on the median strip after the troopers, acting on orders of Gov. George Wallace, broke up a march with clubs and tear gas. The Negroes had planned to march to the state capitol.” The article notes that the march consisted of “600 praying Negroes” and had been “broken up by Alabama state troopers and deputies who used clubs, whips, ropes and tear gas. Sixty-seven Negroes were injured.” An FBI agent filming the troopers was also injured after being attacked by a group of white civilians.

The paper reported that the National Council of Churches had called upon Christians throughout the nation to join the demonstrators in another march scheduled for the following day. Catholic authorities were conferring on a plea from Rev. Martin Luther King and promised a statement as well. Rabbi Richard G. Hirsch of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations also announced that he planned to attend the march.

A number of race-related decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court were announced in the paper. The banner headline went to announcing the decision in Louisiana v. United States, 380 U.S. 145 (1965). Louisiana had vested in its election registrars virtually unbridled discretion in administering an “interpretation test” to prospective voters. Under the state law, in order to register, a voter was required to read, “be able to understand” and “give a reasonable interpretation” of any section of the state of federal constitution. According to the Court, there was ample evidence that the provision was used as a ruse to deprive otherwise eligible African-American voters of the right to vote. The court noted that “colored people, even some with the most advanced education and scholarship, were declared by voting registrars with less education to have an unsatisfactory understanding of the Constitution of Louisiana or of the United States. This is not a test but a trap, sufficient to stop even the most brilliant man on his way to the voting booth.”

The Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the district court’s striking down of this provision.

The front page also contained an editorial stressing the importance of voting in a school board primary to be held the following day. To drive home the importance, the front page cartoon shows a stereotypical southern politician addressing a group of African-Americans protesting for voting rights. He’s telling them: “What you all fussin’ for? Lots of white folks up north don’t think voting’s important.” And he was probably right. The paper notes that only 11% of registered voters bothered going to the polls in the 1963 primary.

Finally, the paper reported that President Johnson had asked congress for help in the “War on Crime.” He asked for a ban on mail-order firearms, tighter control over drugs, and for provisions to “strengthen safety in the streets” with “development and testing of experimental methods of crime control.”

Samaritan Ministries: An Alternative to Obamacare

Joining the Ranks of the Uninsured

My wife was recently informed that as of January 1, she will no longer have health coverage through work. Ironically enough, she works for a hospital. We were instead encouraged to go to the MnSure website (Minnesota’s brand of Obamacare) to purchase coverage there.

What Obamacare Has To Offer

Healthcare.govLogoThe least expensive policy there has a $589.40 monthly premium for a UCare plan with a $10,000 deductible and $13,200 maximum out of pocket. While a handful of preventitive services would be covered at no cost, with the $10,000 deductible, it’s unlikely that we would ever make a claim. In other words, in addition to paying over $7000 per year in insurance premiums, we would still have to pay whatever medical bills we incurred throughout the year (unless, of course, we were “lucky” enough to have more than $10,000 in medical bills). In short, this is no different from a traditional major medical policy, other than the premiums being an order of magnitude higher.

The plan with the lowest deductible of $0, but with a maximum out of pocket of $12,000, from BlueCross BlueShield, had a monthly premium of $1183.81. Presumably, by paying over $14,000 in premiums in the course of a year, most bills would be covered, but there’s still the possibility of having to pay an additional $12,000 out of pocket.

Neither option is “affordable.” Therefore, as of January 1, my family will no longer have health insurance coverage. As a direct result of the so-called Affordable Care Act, my family can’t afford health insurance.

Exploring the Exemptions:  Becoming a Hardship Case

PowerMeterFortunately, there’s a silver lining, since this allowed us to explore other options. There are exemptions to the Affordable Care Act.  For example, you’re not liable for the penalty if you can come up with a disconnection notice from a utility company. This could be arranged with little difficulty, although it’s problematic for a couple of reasons. First of all, the exemption appears to be available only for the “month of the hardship” as well as the months before and after. So to take full advantage of this loophole, I would need to pay the electric bill in such a way as to receive a total of four disconnection notices over the course of a year.  This would entail a lot of careful planning, as well as hoping that the friendly electric utility would send the required disconnection notice on time.  If I accidentally paid the electric bill on time, we would be liable to the penalty for not having insurance.  And it seems unfair to the electric company to make them do this additional work in order to satisfy the requirements of the health insurance industry.

But most importantly, even though we might avoid the fine, we would still be without health coverage. So taking advantage of the hardship exemption doesn’t seem like a very good plan.

A Better Alternative: A Health Sharing Ministry

CrossClipartA more prudent exemption is for “a member of a recognized health care sharing ministry.” More background information about this option can be found at the following links:

Under the Affordable Care Act, for this exemption to apply, the organization must have been in existence since at least December 31, 1999, and the members must share common ethical or religious beliefs. Because of this requirement, it’s apparently impossible for a new health care sharing ministry to be formed. All of the existing ones appear to be Christian organizations.

Why This is Unfair to Other Faiths

StarOfDavidClipartFrankly, this is unfair to members of other faiths. It seems to me that persons of faiths other than Christianity ought to be able to participate in such an organization. Unfortunately, none exist.  The remedy, it seems to me, is to eliminate the December 31, 1999, requirement, so that members of other faiths can form such organizations if they desire to do so.  For that reason, I would strongly support a change in the law to remove this requirement. But as far as I know, the only ministries that were established as of the magic date of December 31, 1999, were Christian. Fortunately, we happen to be Christian, and were thus eligible to join any of the existing ministries.

The Three Eligible Ministries and How They Work

The only three eligible organizations appear to be:

Each of these organizations has a statement of faith expressed in general enough terms that a member of any Christian denomination should be able to subscribe in good conscience.

All of these organizations operate under the same general principles. First, they all go to great lengths to stress the fact that they do not offer insurance. And, indeed, they do not. Instead, they operate on the principle under which insurance was originally based: The members agree to assist the other members in time of need, both spiritually and materially. If someone gets sick, the other members are asked to pray for that person. And the other members are also asked to help them pay their medical bills.

Premiums are not collected up front, as in the case of insurance. Instead, when someone has a medical need, they submit it to the other members. And then the other members contribute money to meet that need, in addition to offering prayers and encouragement. As far as I can tell, the other members have no legal obligation to help with the need. Instead, the members of the ministry simply rely upon the other members, knowing that those other members will turn to them in their own time of need.

How Samaritan Works

SamaritanLogoAfter studying these organizations, we decided to join Samaritan Ministries, and our membership takes effect on January 1, the day after our insurance ends.  The different organizations work somewhat differently, but here is how Samaritan Ministries works:

If you’re sick, you simply go to the doctor and explain that you’ll be paying yourself, and you make payment arrangements, whether that is cash at the time of service, charging it to a credit card, or making payment arrangements. Because no insurance company will be involved in the process, it is up to the patient to shop around for a reasonable price. (Assistance in that regard is offered, however, if needed.)

For small medical bills (basically, under $300 per incident) that’s the end of it. In other words, if I have a cold and decide to go to the doctor, I’ll make an appointment at the doctor of my choice, see him or her, and pay the bill. Perhaps I’ll pay $50 for the visit. If I’m quoted a price that’s too high, then I’ll go elsewhere.

In other words, it’s similar to what would happen if I had the $589.40 per month plan. I go to the doctor and pay the full bill. The only difference is that if I have the $589.40 per month plan, I probably don’t have any opportunity to negotiate. Perhaps UCare negotiated a better deal, and I would only have to pay $40 if I showed my UCare card. If that’s the case, then I’m out $10 for not forking over my $589.40.

On the other hand, perhaps UCare didn’t negotiate a better price. Perhaps they negotiated a price of $60 for the visit. If that’s the case, then my $589.40 per month premium actually results in my paying $10 more at the time of service.  Either way, for small medical needs, I’m not getting much if any value from my $589.40 premium.

Of course, I would be better off if I had signed up for the $1183.81 per month plan from BlueCross. If I had that plan (assuming I showed up at the right clinic, of course), then I wouldn’t have to worry about paying $50 for my cold. But it seems to me that I’m probably not going to have enough colds in any given month to cover the $1183.81 premium. Even if I have one cold per month, I’m still out $1133.81.

If my bill for a particular episode is $300 or less, that’s how it works. I don’t submit any claims anywhere; I simply pay them. While paying $300 wouldn’t be pleasant, this will not bankrupt me. What would bankrupt me would be paying the $1183.81 in an effort to avoid paying the $300.

If my bill hits $300, this is where Samaritan Ministries will help me. So instead of a cold, let’s assume that I have a heart attack. I assume that the going price for treating a heart is more than $300.

Once again, I tell the doctor that I’m a self-pay customer and that he or she should send me a bill.  (Or, more likely, the people who rush me to the hospital share this information.)  When I get home, I receive the bill for $100,000, an amount that would bankrupt me. Since I’m busy recuperating from my heart attack, I call Samaritan and ask them to help me deal with it. At that point, they do two things. First of all, they help me negotiate the bill down if appropriate. Then, they send my name and address to one or more other members, and ask those members to pray for me and send me $99,700 ($100,000, minus my $300 responsibility, minus anything they negotiated off the bill). The maximum amount paid by any given member is $405 per month. So in this hypothetical, I’ll receive more than 246 individual checks, payable to me, with a grand total of $99,700. As far as I can tell, the minor annoyance of having to deposit all of those individual checks is about the only downside of this approach. And it seems to me that this minor annoyance is offset by the knowledge that these 246 people are also praying for my speedy recovery.

More likely, any use we make of this service will be for more modest amounts. For example, if we have a medical bill of $1000, and Samaritan is able to negotiate it down to $800, then we will get $700 from fellow members and be responsible for $100 ourselves. Had we signed up for the $1183.81 per month plan, we would not have had to pay this $100 (assuming, of course, that we showed up at the right clinic). If we had signed up for the $589.40 per month plan, then we would have to pay the full $1000 out of pocket.

In short, given almost any plausible scenario, we’re way ahead of the game by using Samaritan. While we didn’t explore them as deeply, it appears that we would have similar savings with one of the other two ministries.

In return for this, we agree to pay up to $405 per month to other members. Once per year, this money is instead sent to Samaritan’s administrative office, meaning that they take 1/12 (about 8%) to cover administrative expenses. I suspect that this is far below the administrative expenses of any insurance company. Other months, we’ll be given the name and address of one or more other members, and will be instructed to send our $405 directly to them, along with our prayers and encouragement. For the last two months, medical needs have apparently been lower than expected, so for the last two months, members have actually sent less than the normal $405 per month. Apparently, the monthly amount used to be $355 but recently increased to $405. But in the last two months, there was, in effect, a discount on what members had to pay, and they did not pay the full $405.

This basic plan covers medical needs of up to $250,000. For amounts in excess of that, there is an option to participate in another program. Members are asked to set aside another amount (about $400 per year) and share that amount in case another member experiences a catastrophic need in excess of the basic $250,000. We opted to participate in that program as well.

How Much It Costs

The basic membership in our case, for a family of three or more, is a commitment of $405 per month. Most months, we will expect to send that amount to other members (although some months, such as the last two, the actual amount will be less). For a single person, the monthly share is $180. For a couple, it is $360. For a single parent and child(ren), it is $250. Rates are slightly lower for young adults under 25 years of age.

In addition to these fees, there is a $200 initial membership fee, and a $15 annual fee for participation in the over $250,000 plan.

If we’re lucky, we’ll spend $405 per month, and never be reimbursed for any of our own medical needs. But if we do have a medical need, what Samaritan offers seems vastly superior to anything that MNSure has to offer. I will periodically update as to our experiences with Samaritan Ministries. All of the reviews I’ve read from other members have been positive. Even though it is not insurance, what Samaritan Ministries offers is more like what insurance was originally intended to be, before people realized that they could make a profit by selling it.

Asking a Favor of You

Finally, if you do decide to sign up for Samaritan Ministries, I would appreciate if you would indicate on your application form  that I referred you. There’s a box where you can check how you learned about Samaritan. If my information proved helpful, I would appreciate if you would include my name, Richard Clem. On the first page, you can check the box “Friend/referral (somebody told me)” and/or “Internet,” and write in my name. In the interest of full disclosure, if you do include my name as a referral, then I will receive a credit of $180.

And if one of the other ministries fits your needs better, then I encourage you to join them.  The other two could very well work out better for some people.  Do your homework and join the one that best meets your needs.  But if Samaritan is the one for you, then I would appreciate if you would list me as having referred you.

Before making a decision, I encourage you to carefully read Samaritan’s website, and ask them any questions you might have. If you have any questions for me, feel free to ask. Since our membership doesn’t take effect until January 1, we don’t yet have any personal experience. But I will update this page with the good and the bad. But for now, I see very little bad, and this does seem to be a good option for those who are truly concerned with health care being affordable.

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