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Here are the facts about Highmark's costs

During the course of the health-care reform debate, there have been claims that Highmark spends upward of 30 cents of every health insurance premium dollar on administrative costs (one example is the Jan. 3 letter "Insurance and Costs," which claimed that Highmark's costs are about 27 cents per dollar).

These claims are false. The facts tell a very different story. Highmark is a nonprofit company, and we operate very efficiently. We use almost 90 cents of every health insurance premium dollar to pay hospitals, doctors and other health-care professionals to provide medical care for our subscribers.

Only 9 cents of every premium dollar Highmark receives goes for administration. And most of our administrative costs are used to develop and market products and services that help our subscribers to eat better, exercise more, cut out smoking, manage chronic medical conditions through nurse health coaching, and become smarter health-care consumers -- thereby helping to reduce health-care cost inflation. Our administrative dollars are also used to employ new information technology to help pay medical claims faster and to ease administrative burdens for doctors and hospitals.

We are committed to reducing our administrative costs to meet the demands and expectations of our subscribers and to remain competitive, both regionally and nationally, in the health insurance marketplace.

DONALD R. FISCHER, M.D.
Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer
Highmark Inc.
Downtown


Disaster fiction

I have to respond to the Dec. 28 editorial about Flight 253 ("Flight 253: Heroic Passengers Were the Thin Line of Defense").

While I largely agree with your point that passenger awareness is more effective than billions spent on needless security theater, I take exception to your final paragraph. You imply that the passengers prevented a disaster, and that is simply not the case. The fast action of the passengers probably prevented a number of potentially serious burn injuries, and that is laudable. However, the fact is that it is enormously difficult to damage an aircraft enough to crash it, especially a large one like an A330-300. Even blowing a hole in the side of the plane (which is much harder than most people think) is relatively harmless; the movie scenes of bodies being sucked out of a hole are just that, movie fantasies.

It's time for the media to start educating people, instead of perpetuating movie fiction as reality.

KARL SCHENDEL
McCandless


Al-Qaida challenge

The attempt to destroy the Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day was foiled, and that was a good thing. We are learning about how our defense systems could have done better in spotting the dangers, and that is also a good thing. But ever since 9/11, the idea that al-Qaida will attack and we will parry has been the established paradigm.

Anyone can be a vandal, an arsonist, make an IED. Anyone can do damage that requires extensive knowledge and effort to repair. A shooter can't repair the damage his bullet does; that takes doctors, nurses and an ER, if it is possible at all. Any idiot can make an existing situation worse. But making it better requires a very different outlook and set of skills.

So, al-Qaida, here's the question: What else ya got? You can seduce some to destroy, but can you motivate anyone to build, to make things better? Instead of inveighing against what you think is wrong with the United States, why don't you look at what's wrong with wherever you're living, and try to fix that?

Build something worth having, and maybe what we have won't seem like such an insult. Your call.

CAROLE McINTYRE
Waynesburg


Absurd security

I keep shaking my head and wondering how an actual terrorist with a bomb in his underpants made it through security even though his own father warned authorities that he was a security threat and had been trained in a terrorist camp in Yemen.

Then a very well-known celebrity, Joan Rosenberg (aka Joan Rivers) was denied boarding access because some "official" didn't know what "aka" meant. It reminds me of the time I (a 60-plus grandmother carrying a plastic see-through tote bag) was in Las Vegas on my way to California and was pulled out of line for an extensive (random) search and patdown. Don't you feel safer now?

Neither Joan Rivers nor I got through security without question, but the underpants bomber did.

SHEILA FOLEY
Brookline


No comparison

I cannot believe the letter from Alex J. Vallas ("We're at War With Terrorists, So Let's Focus Sensibly," Dec. 31) wherein he suggests the United States can learn from the Israeli airport security measures. Israel has perhaps three large airports that would be, perhaps, no larger than three airports within Pennsylvania, let alone all the airports within the United States.

What we need is applicable use of the technology we have available to apply to all passengers.

NORMAN MOSES
New Castle


Partisan distortion

Jack Kelly's Jan. 3 column ("Blowing Up Liberal Shibboleths") is typical of his style and what has come to dominate opinion pieces: a distortion of facts for partisan bickering. Mr. Kelly, like writers on both sides, offers selective information to support his opinion, rather than arriving at his conclusion after reviewing the information.

He describes the Transportation Security Administration as a "bumbling empire" when it successfully assists 10 million commercial flights a year to operate safely in the United States. He then opines that "hurting the feelings of Muslims" affects President Barack Obama's security policies. Mr. Kelly should also know that of the 1 billion people who practice the Islamic faith, fewer than 1 percent are involved in active radical jihadist activities.

What Mr. Kelly really exposed is not a weakness in Mr. Obama's approach, or an issue with Islam, but the weakness of his writing. Why is someone who distorts facts given space in the Post-Gazette?

STEVE KARAS
Forest Hills


Most chose war

Regarding the letter from Jonas Moffat on Dec. 27 ("A Peace Message"): While it may be so that some Palestinians only want peace, their message has been drowned out by 60 years of violence against the people of Israel. Mr. Moffat neglects to point out that the Palestinians invented such terror tactics as suicide bombings, airline hijacking, blowing up buses with women and children aboard and firing deadly rockets into population centers.

If the Palestinians want only peace, why did they put Hamas in power, a group whose primary mission is the destruction of Israel? Why was their response to Israel's offer of 95 to 97 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza met with an intifada?

When Israel left Gaza, the Palestinians had a chance to start building a peaceful and productive society. Instead, they chose war. Let's hope that if there truly are Palestinians who want peace with Israel, they become greater in numbers than the great majority who for the past 60 years have ceaselessly striven for Israel's destruction.

RICHARD LEVINE
Squirrel Hill


Phil Musick knew about so much more than sports

With the passing of Phil Musick, Pittsburgh has lost another icon, and not necessarily from the hyped-up sports universe ("Phil Musick: Columnist Who Swung for the Fences," Jan. 6 news obituary). While I know him primarily for his sports journalistic perfection (having read his columns while growing up in the 1970s), my fondest memories of Phil are from the late 1980s and 1990s as he hosted the radio show on WTAE 1250, before it changed to ESPN.

Sandwiched between other local hosts such as Myron Cope, Mossie Murphy, Lynn Cullen and Ann Devlin, Mr. Musick's nightly show barely touched on Pittsburgh sports and moved toward local issues, politics, social problems and beyond. Phil could talk extensively about RBIs, batting percentages and the like, but he was just as happy talking about how to grill the perfect steak, of course accompanied by a perfect Manhattan on the side.

R.I.P., Phil, and give Clemente a big hug for all of us.

MARK CASKEY
North Strabane


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We welcome your letters. Please include your name, address and phone number, and send to Letters to the Editor, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh 15222. E-mail letters to letters@post-gazette.com or fax to 412-263-2014. Letters should be 250 words or less, original and exclusive to the Post-Gazette. All letters are subject to editing for length, clarity and accuracy and will be verified before being published.



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