National / International News
Democrats argue the top Senate leader's retirement might be a good thing. But it's going to set off a scramble to replace him in one of the most hotly contested races in 2016.
A federal grand jury decided there was enough evidence to bring charges against Officer Eric Parker. The incident sparked an international incident.
Next week, we're talking about Recycling. How does reuse factor into your financial life?
Maybe you're in the market for a used car, or passed along your old baby clothes to a friend...
The senator from Nevada was raised in a home built of scavenged railroad ties and with a toughness that has carried him through his life and political career.
Have you ever had such a bad experience somewhere — a store, a hotel, a restaurant, an airport — that you vowed never to return?
That's the question Dick Larson, a MIT engineering professor known as "Dr. Queue", asks his students. Larson, an expert in the field of lines, says that in a class full of college students, more than half of the hands go up. In fact, it was his own horrible experience in line at a big box store that first interested Larson in lines. Now, he studies the ways to optimize structures for an overall improved experience.
People have been studying lines since at least 1955, when an experiment in New York attempted to solve an issue with complaints about elevator delays. Larson says a business analyst at Wharton suggested that floor to ceiling mirrors be installed next to an elevator to stop complaints about delayed wait times. The elevator wait times stayed the same, but with people occupied by their own reflections, complaints dropped to near zero.
Coincidentally, 1955 also marked the opening of Disneyland, which soon mastered the art of the line to become, as Larson says, "The best scientist and engineers of line management in the world."
Disney's Imagineers — a team of scientists, engineers and operations managers — design lines along side attractions at Disney parks. The story begins with the wait to ride, and the Imagineers calculate and optimize the experience based on the payoff.
"They design all kinds of distractions within the line ... so that you feel like the amusement has actually started before you get on your two-minute ride up Space Mountain," Larson says.
If you've waited in line at a theme park (especially if you've waited alongside a child), twisting and turning through rooms and meticulously decorated outdoor spaces, to the tune of a favorite theme song and with video updates on monitors overhead, you've experienced firsthand some of these careful scientific calculations at work.
It's one thing to wait for the anticipated joy at the end of a theme park line, but lines aren't all so happy, and many of us are in them every day. In traffic, on hold with the cable company, waiting for checkout at the grocery store. It can be exasperating. Larson says that a lot of this is about managing expectations and weighing value.
"If somebody is shopping for the family for the week, and you have $200 worth of groceries, you expect to wait in that line for awhile, because there might be another one or two carts ahead of you like that," he says. "But if you go back the next day because you forgot a half a dozen eggs and a quart of milk, you expect to go in and out fast in the express checkout lane. It's all a matter of expectations."
If you're shopping for a value, you may be more willing to brave a long line. Larson says big box customers are happier to wait, because they think they're getting a deal, compared to if someone visits a high-end jewelry store, they may expect fast, personal service and no wait times.
So can the theme-park models be applied to the outside world to make line experiences better elsewhere? Larson says other businesses can take some of the same ideas: distracting, amusing and teaching customers to keep their minds and eyes off their clocks.
And technologically, lines are changing everywhere. There are more options for self-service — at the gas station, the drug store or the bank — and more ways to preempt wait times by scheduling appointments, call back times, or "fast pass" style service: like at Disneyland, or in an airline's mileage club, or in a toll lane, where you can pre-book or pay more so you can wait around less.
Lines may be improving, but Larson says when it comes to wait time, there's still more work to do.
"This is something that retailers and service providers don't understand," he says. "If they don't pay a lot of attention to their customers' line experiences, they may lose a customer for life."
"Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today." -Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield
You may have heard some version of this quote — in school, at work, from your parents or your boss —and you may even have said this to yourself or someone else as a piece of advice.
But Rory Vaden might disagree. He's the author of "Procrastinate on Purpose", which aims to distinguish procrastination from priority dilution. According to Vaden, the former is a lost art; the latter is a means to mediocrity.
In the modern workplace, overwhelmed by sheer volume of tasks and an increasingly prevalent over-achiever mentality, people take on as much as the possibly can, something that Vaden argues often leaves the most important things left undone in favor of daily minutia.
In his book, he suggests that giving yourself permission to procrastinate is about reorganization and patience, by putting tasks through a funnel which allows for elimination, automation, delegation and delay of tasks before committing one's focus. According to Vaden, offloading smaller responsibilities multiplies time for the next day.
To hear the full interview and learn more about how to procrastinate on purpose, listen using the player above.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid is not seeking re-election in 2016, but he is leaving no room for a leadership fight. He's throwing his support to his top lieutenant and message maestro.
Usually when we shop, finding the price is the easy part. Cars, airplane tickets, burgers and beer, it’s all right there.
But when it comes to health care, an industry we spend $3 trillion dollars a year on, prices often remain a mystery.
Some say that’s no coincidence, and that genuine cost transparency would make some of the waste and price variations vanish. It's not easy breaking open a black box that, intentionally or not, richly rewards doctors, hospitals and insurers.
Barbara Barnes has peered inside that box in a way few of us ever do. She audits hospital medical records for a living, about 20 charts a day, five days a week.
That trained-eye experience has hardened her, so when she plans her own medical care she knows the healthcare system helps her physical health — but when it comes to her financial health, she’s on her own.
“I look at some of this and I think to myself, 'Are you, as a physician, making the best decisions for the patients? Or, are you making the best decisions for you, and your hospital and your business?”
It’s an uncomfortable conclusion to draw about a business that many still see as compassionate, even loving, but in an era where many of us have to shell out thousands of dollars before insurance kicks, there’s nothing kind about concealing prices.
“How did we get to this place where you ask what something costs and no one can tell you and we accept that as normal," asks Jeanne Pinder, who launched Clearhealthcost.com, a guide to health care prices.
She’s hoping to stop people like Barnes from getting walloped by big — sometimes financially devastating — bills that are essentially secrets until after the fact.
In her work, Pinder has found example after example of jaw-dropping price discrepancies.
“People [in San Francisco] were being asked to pay anywhere from $20 to $988 for a simple X-ray,” she says.
Pinder relies on a mix of big data, shoe-leather journalism and crowd-sourcing for price information.
To maximize her reach, she’s partnered with four large public radio stations, including WNYC in New York, WHYY in Philadelphia, KPCC in Los Angeles and KQED in San Francisco. (Disclaimer: KPCC, like Marketplace, is part of American Public Media.)
Pinder is looking at the provider side of the ledger too. MedPage Today, which reaches some 670,000 physicians, has also agreed to work with Pinder.
That said, even with access to about 2.5 million consumers and doctors to help crowd source, Pinder says it’s beyond her scope to list every price for every procedure performed by every doctor out there.
“We don’t pretend to be exhaustive or comprehensive, it’s a sampling so that you can have an idea how big the price range is to orient yourself in the marketplace,” she says.
The effort is really just a start: Through the help of some outrageous stories, it aims to pressure doctors, hospitals and insurance companies to do more than what they do today, but there is some cause for guarded optimism. The professional group Healthcare Financial Management Association has launched a campaign for greater price transparency. The group says most hospitals do something on transparency, from the simple to the sophisticated. In Seattle, Virginia Mason Health System has built a tool that it says estimates out-of-pocket expenses based on someone’s actual insurance plan.
It's good business, says Vice President of Finance Steve Schaefer. “In every retail experience, every consumer weighs two variables: personal cost and quality. And they will make purchasing decisions based on those two variables,” he says.
That thinking about consumer behavior is a dawning realization for many in healthcare. That may be the most powerful benefit that comes from all the attention transparency is getting; by talking about prices, we begin a conversation about value. And if you think talking about prices was hard…
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid made the endorsement on Nevada Public Radio after saying earlier today that he won't seek re-election in 2016.