Rook rocks! Example with googleVis

What is Rook?

Rook is a web server interface for R, written by Jeffrey Horner, the author of rApache and brew. But unlike other web frameworks for R, such as brew, R.rsp (which I have used in the past1), Rserve, gWidgetWWWW or sumo (which I haven't used yet) Rook appears incredible lightweight.

Rook doesn't need any configuration. It is an R package, which works out of the box with the R HTTP server (R ≥ 2.13.0 required). That means no configuration files are needed. No files have to be placed in particular folders, and I don't have to worry about access permissions. Instead, I can run web applications on my local desktop.

Screen shot of a Rook app running in a browser

Web applications have the big advantage that they run in a browser and hence are somewhat independent of the operating systems and installed software. All I need is R and a web browser. But here is the catch: I have to learn a little bit about the HTTP protocol to develop Rook apps.

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Contacted by a life insurance company that says you're a beneficiary?

It may not be the scam it sounds like.

We've been hearing a lot lately from consumers who've received letters from life insurance companies saying that they're the beneficiary on a long-deceased loved one's policy.

The letters often include a form that the consumers need to fill out to receive the money, and the form requires them to provide sensitive personal information.

Not surprisingly, many consumers have been skeptical about these letters. But while it may sound too good to be true, the letters may be legitimate. (Keep reading and we'll tell you how to check.)

Here's the background: Until recently, many large life insurers didn't aggressively research whether policyholders had died, even when the person's date of birth suggested that they were almost certainly dead. (This isn't as easy as it sounds, particularly with records that predate the widespread use of social security numbers as an identifier.) Last year, insurance regulators and consumer groups started challenging the insurers to do a better job.

As a result, many life insurers have started checking the names of policyholders against the Social Security Administration's Death Master File. When the companies find an apparent match, they contact the person/s listed as the beneficiary.

But how to be sure that the letter is real? If you live in Washington state, you can contact us at 1-800-562-6900 or reach us 24/7 via our online complaint and information form. We'll get in touch with our contact person at the insurance company who can verify that the letter you received is legitimate.

If you don't live in Washington, here's the contact information for your own state's insurance regulator, who may be able to help.

Insurance agent's license revoked; charged with identify theft

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has revoked the license of a Federal Way insurance agent who forged documents and stole tens of thousands of dollars from a client.

Cecelia Villanueva, who's been selling insurance in Washington since 1994, has also been charged by the King County Prosecutor's Office with two counts of identity theft. Her arraignment is pending. (She's listed in the court filing as Cecilia Cabasco Sawyer.)

In 2002, Villaneuva, sold an annuity that was ultimately worth more than $148,000 to an elderly woman and the woman's neice. She wrongly listed the neice's ex-husband as the primary beneficiary.

The elderly woman passed away in 2005. According to investigators, Villaneuva got a copy of the woman's death certificate, and forging the ex-husband's signature, she filed a claim with the insurer for the annuity proceeds. She steered the money into a bank account that she'd opened in the ex-husband's name, and repeatedly forged his name on checks.

The bank records show that she spent tens of thousands of dollars on groceries, cell phone service, at a drugstore. One of the largest checks, for $6,000, was simply made out to herself.

Eventually, the neice asked about the annuity. Villanueva claimed that due to the poor economy, the value of the annuity had dwindled to just $83,000.

The insurance company that Villaneuva worked for says it is working with the family to repay the stolen money.

Villanueva's insurance license was revoked under the state's insurance laws barring agents from improperly witholding or misappropriating clients' money, demonstrating untrustworthiness, and for forging signatures.

One Hundred Days

The woman on the phone was adamant. She demanded to know what benefits are now a part of new health policies and what does she have to do to change her old contract to a new one. Damn it, she wants her share of all of the free stuff. It was the second one of these today. I told her that she was already getting the no copay annual preventive care visit. Neither she, nor her twelve year old, had any need for the new birth control, IUD, and Morning After Pill benefit. And since her daughter is only twelve, the opportunity to stay on her parents’ policy to age twenty-six is hardly relevant. It didn’t matter. She KNEW that there was something that someone was getting that she wasn’t.

We have reverted to a nation of ten year olds, jealous of the kid who broke his arm and now has a cast. Where is our cast? I want my cast, and crutches, too.

And so we begin the next stage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the over-promise and under-deliver phase. The calls come in daily from people who believe that they are suddenly going to get fabulous coverage for free. “The doctor told me that I can’t be turned down or charged extra even though I have Type I Diabetes and a stent”, the gentleman insisted last week.

I have begged physicians to honor a simple agreement. I won’t practice medicine and they shouldn’t practice insurance. It makes sense to me.

It is important to again point out that we are not talking about health care. We are discussing the payment of health care services. Who is going to pay for the doctors, hospitals, and other medical providers and products?

In this highly politicized environment, this issue may be the most contentious of all. There are a couple of reasons for the heat:
  1. We are talking about almost 20% of the economy
  2. We are potentially discussing life and death
  3. We all have a stake in the final product
  4. We all think we know what we are talking about
Heat, but no light. The truth is that the differences between the real actions on the right vs. the left are hard to find. So the fight isn’t about real differences, but about vague notions of entitlement. The Republicans promise to repeal “Obamacare” and institute patient-centered health reform, a term that happens to test well in focus groups but means more than simply eliminating malpractice suits.

Look at Medicare Part D (Rx), a program that was created by a Republican controlled House, passed by a Republican controlled Senate, and signed into law by a Republican President. Here is a law that trampled on patients’ rights, states’ rights, and common sense. But it did help certain people get reelected and did a world of good for both the insurers and the drug companies.

When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators. - P. J. O'Rourke

So one side has a large segment of the population frothing at the mouth in anticipation of more free stuff, while the other side is desperately trying to convince Americans that the current system is a stone’s throw away from perfection. Of course, the only perfection is the cynicism that both sides have mastered.
Medical costs are rising as doctors and hospitals adjust pricing in anticipation of more government involvement. New fees, like facility charges, are appearing on our bills. Medical buildings are now hospitals, and that increases all charges. Your insurance premiums reflect those increases. There isn’t anything complicated in this. Every time the cost of care increases, every time you are given a new ‘free” benefit, every time the definition of what constitutes preventive care is expanded, your premium has to increase.

And if the government, an organization incapable of comprehending the concept of a balanced budget, prevents the insurer from raising the premium as the costs increase, the policy is terminated. Governments can print money. Insurers can not.

We have just less than 100 days till the election. Just under 100 days of exaggeration, distortion, and out-right lies from both sides. But one day, a year from now or maybe two, you will need to go to the doctor. Who negotiates the fees, who processes the paperwork, and who writes the checks will matter that day. If you happen to talk to any of the people running for office, ask them who is going to be doing that for you.

And more importantly, ask them where the money is coming from.


"I need insurance. Who would you recommend?"

We get this question all the time. And sorry, but we can't steer you to a particular agent, broker or insurer. We're the state agency that regulates the insurance industry in Washington state, and in that role, it's not our place to endorse particular companies or agents.

That said, we do have some online tools that can help you pick who you want to deal with.

We have this agent and company lookup, where you can find local agents, companies that sell specific types of coverage, etc. If you look up a company, you can also see the number of complaints by year. And the agent/broker listings include any disciplinary actions taken against that person.

If you want to find out how many complaints we get about particular insurers, here's our complaint comparison tool. It helps you find out out how insurers compare to one another. You can compare health insurers, for example, or auto, or life, etc.

And because market share varies dramatically, we include a "complaint index" that makes it easier to make apples-to-apples comparisons between different companies.

Lastly, it's always a good idea to double-check by running the name of an insurer, agent or broker through our disciplinary orders database. It goes back to 2002, and includes details on violations, fines, and other orders we've issued.

My kid's delivering pizzas in his car. Does he need extra insurance?

Sorry, but the answer's usually yes. Most personal auto insurance policies won't cover you if you're getting paid to use your own car to transport people or property for business purposes.

In general, you'll need to buy a business or commercial auto insurance policy if you are a health care worker who occasionally uses your own car to take clients to appointments. The same is true if you use your own car to deliver flowers, newspapers, pizzas, etc.

If you have questions about your coverage -- and policies do differ -- contact your agent or insurance company directly.

Eastern Washington storm damage and insurance claims

Large parts of eastern and northeastern Washington suffered significant storm damage on Friday, when high winds and heavy rains ripped through the region, toppling trees, cutting power lines and damaging cars and homes. Flash floods also damaged some areas.

As homeowners, businesses and vehicle owners pick up the pieces, here are some key things to know about insurance claims:

Direct damage to insured structures by wind, wind-driven debris and falling trees is generally covered under standard homeowners and business coverage.

As for vehicles: If you have comprehensive coverage, that will also generally cover damage to a car or truck from falling limbs, etc.

Immediately contact your agent or insurer, who can help walk you through the claims process. If the damage is severe enough that you cannot remain in the home, your policy may include some coverage for temporary living quarters.

Flood damage is usually only covered if you had flood insurance. Contrary to what many people think, flood coverage is NOT part of a standard homeowners policy. In Washington, the first stop for flood coverage is often the National Flood Insurance Program, a federal insurance program sold through local agents.

As for the damage, be sure to take pictures. Avoid making permanent repairs or discarding damaged property until claims officials can document the damage or loss. If you can safely do it, try to minimize further damage, such as covering broken windows.

Here's a more-detailed list of tips for filing an insurance claim after a natural disaster.

London Olympics and a prediction for the 100m final

It is less than a week before the 2012 Olympic games will start in London. No surprise therefore that the papers are all over it, including a lot of data and statistis around the games.

The Economist investigated the potential financial impact on sponsors (some benefits), tax payers (no benefits) and the athletes (if they are lucky) in its recent issue and video.

The Guardian has a whole series around the Olympics, including the data of all Summer Olympic Medallists since 1896.

100m men final

The biggest event of the Olympics will be one of the shortest: the 100 metres men final. It will be all over in less than 10 seconds. In 1968 Jim Hines was the first gold medal winner, who achieved a sub-ten-seconds time and since 1984 all gold medal winners have run faster than 10 seconds. The historical run times of the past Olympics going back to 1896 are available from

Looking at the data it appears that a simple log-linear model will give a reasonable forecast for the 2012 Olympic's result (ignoring the 1896 time). Of course such a model doesn't make sense forever, as it would suggest that future run-times will continue to shrink. Hence, some kind of logistics model might be a better approach, but I have no idea what would be a sensible floor for it. Others have used ideas from extreme value theory to investigate the 100m sprint, see the paper by Einmahl and Smeets, which would suggest a floor greater than 9 seconds.

Historical winning times for the 100m mean final.
Red line: log-linear regression, black line: logistic regression.

My simple log-linear model forecasts a winning time of 9.68 seconds, which is 1/100 of a second faster than Usain Bolt's winning time in Beijing in 2008, but still 1/10 of a second slower than his 2009 World Record (9.58s) in Berlin.

Never-mind, I shall stick to my forecast. The 100m final will be held on 5 August 2012. Now even I get excited about the Olympics, and be it for less than 10 seconds.

R code

Here is the R code used in this the post:

url <- ""
data <- readHTMLTable(readLines(url), which=2, header=TRUE)
golddata <- subset(data, Medal %in% "GOLD")
golddata$Year <- as.numeric(as.character(golddata$Year))
golddata$Result <- as.numeric(as.character(golddata$Result))
logistic <- drm(Result~Year, data=subset(golddata, Year>=1900), fct = L.4())
log.linear <- lm(log(Result)~Year, data=subset(golddata, Year>=1900))
years <- seq(1896,2012, 4)
predictions <- exp(predict(log.linear, newdata=data.frame(Year=years)))
plot(logistic, xlim=c(1896,2012),
xlab="Year", main="Olympic 100 metre",
ylab="Winning time for the 100m men's final (s)")
points(golddata$Year, golddata$Result)
lines(years, predictions, col="red")
points(2012, predictions[length(years)], pch=19, col="red")
text(2012, 9.55, round(predictions[length(years)],2))

Update 5 August 2012

You find a comparison of my forecast to the final outcome of Usain Bolt's winning time of 9.63s on my follow-up post.

Insurance tips: Sudden discovery...of a longtime problem

Consumers routinely call to file a complaint about denied homeowners insurance claims in which the problem is that they just discovered a long term problem. These tend to be things like mold, rot, mildew or deterioration.

The problem for these homeowners is that Insurance is designed to cover sudden and accidental damage, but not wear and tear for home care and maintenance that any homeowner is expected to address on their own. Some policies may allow coverage for damage caused within a matter of weeks -- and they may mean that plural literally, as in just two weeks -- to be considered sudden and accidental.

Generally, an insurer will inspect the damage to determine if it could have been caused suddenly or over a period of time. An example is mold damage that resulted from a leaking hot water heater, or a refrigerator water line that's been leaking, slowly rotting the kitchen floor joists.

The upshot is this: the longer an underlying problem has existed, the harder it is to successfully claim that the damage was sudden.

Update (9/25/2012): Here's a classic case of this sort of problem.

Rule making starts for essential health benefits

In 2014, when the rest of the Affordable Care Act kicks in, all health plans - whether they're sold inside the new online health exchange or outside - will be required to cover certain essential health benefits.

The essential health benefits will be based on the largest health plan in the small employer market -- Regence's Innova plan and must include all current state mandated benefits.

Specific coverages and any gaps that need to be filled will be determined through the rule making process started earlier this month, but all plans must include the following categories:

  • ambulatory patient services
  • emergency services
  • hospitalization
  • maternity and newborn care
  • mental health and substance abuse disorder services - including behavioral health treatment
  • prescription drugs
  • rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices
  • laboratory services
  • preventive and wellness services
  • chronic disease management
  • pediatric services, including oral and vision care
A public hearing to determine the specific coverages and any additional benefits that are needed will be held this fall. Check our website for updates or sign up to get rule-making notices.

Follow The Money

This may come as a total shock to some of my readers, but even here, in the USA, the greatest country EVER, there are poor people. For the purposes of this blog post, it doesn’t matter why some Americans are poor. It is irrelevant as to whether the poor have had access to help or if they have abused the programs designed to lift them from poverty. It doesn’t even matter if there aren’t enough jobs or if they are too lazy to work.

I simply need for you to admit that there are poor people. Nod your head if you are with me.

Great. Now that we all accept that there are poor amongst us, we are no longer capable of pretending that they don’t exist. They do exist and the poor – adults and children – have health care needs. They can’t help it. They are human. The poor get sick. Their children suffer injuries.

Who pays for the health care of the poor? We do. We pay in the higher taxes that fund Medicaid. Our costs for doctors’ visits, hospital stays, and major testing are inflated to help cover the costs of the uninsured and the lower reimbursement rate of Medicaid. And hospitals bear the burden of “charity” care.

Medical providers may not like Medicaid, where their payments are a political football, but some compensation is better than none. That’s why our major local hospitals are counting on the Medicaid expansion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). The possibility of extending coverage to 133% of the federal poverty level, which is about $30,000 for a family of four, would protect a lot of people.

Two other key elements: The PPACA adds childless adults to Medicaid, people usually not covered by this program. And, in an effort to encourage more primary care doctors to accept Medicaid patients, family doctors will now be paid at the Medicare rate.

The recent Supreme Court ruling made that expansion optional. Some states may participate. Some may not. Governor Kasich is still weighing his options. There are reasons, beyond the political, for each state to participate or to pass on this program.

The negatives are easy: Yes, the federal government is committed to covering the bulk of the initial cost, but what happens if the money stops? Can the federal government, regardless of who is in the White House, be counted on to honor this obligation? History casts doubts on Congress’s willingness to fund Medicaid, cut expenses, or resolve issues. Worse, the money, if it does come, isn’t forever. No one really knows how much this will cost the states after 2020.

Another issue is the increase in pay to primary care physicians. There was a real interest in funding this provision when the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives. Today, none at all. If this is initiated and funding for this part of the program ends, can the Ohio legislature, for example, screw the Cleveland Clinic and cut physician compensation? Congress budgeted $11 Billion for 2013 and 2014. It takes a willing Congress to allocate another penny.

It is important to remember that all cost estimates are, at best, guesses. New diseases, new treatments, new rules, and greed will all affect the final taxpayer outlay. Did anyone predict the AIDS epidemic in 1980 and the costs associated with the treatments? New and expensive medications and treatments are being developed here, in Cleveland, and around the world. It is impossible to predict, with certainty, the costs for care three, four, or eight years from now. We are writing Blank Check commitments.

Rule changes must also be a major concern. Did any member of the House or Senate know in March 2010 that the Preventive Care Benefit of the PPACA would include free birth control pills, IUD’s, and the Morning After Pill? Of course not. What will suddenly be covered, for free, under the Medicaid expansion?

So what are the positives? There is only one. If we accept that there are, and always will be, poor amongst us, then we have to make a decision as to whether or not we care. Are the poor our responsibility? If so, then we must craft a proper plan designed to meet their needs. If not? Well, I prefer to not think about a country that chooses “If not”.

This program, the Medicaid expansion, fails like so much of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act because of its lack of straight forward purpose. It is time to stop pretending that spending money will save us money. The Obama Administration needs to sell its vision to the American public. Tell us why we need to take action and how much it will cost.

This isn’t about health care. It is about how doctors, hospitals, and other medical providers get paid. And if you want to understand this, you have to follow the money.


Insurance tips: What's an "approved" mobile home park?

We've heard recently from a couple of manufactured home owners who didn't know whether they reside in what's known as an "approved park." When they filled out their homeowners insurance application, they checked the "no" box when asked if their home was located in an approved park.

Result: They ended up paying higher premiums than they needed to.

Check with your agent or insurer, but generally, an approved park means that the location must be a:
  • planned and named community of manufactured homes,
  • which have permanently installed water, electricity and sewage services
  • which are collectively managed
  • and whose residents recognize common bylaws or rules.

How to find old life insurance policies (and other unclaimed property)

The case: A woman called us last year, trying to track down a life insurance policy that her grandmother had bought in 1971. The policy had been sold by one company to another.

"Makes me wonder how many policies go unclaimed," she said.
A lot. According to the New York Times, hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

So how do you track down a relative's old policy?

Gather as much information as possible: name, insurer and any relevant documents. Try to find the policy itself, which will have a number on it. Make sure you have a copy of the death certificate.

Tip: If you can't find the company, try going through the person's financial records, looking for payments made to an insurer. Also, look through old mail -- the company may have sent periodic statements or billing reminders. If you know which company they had their auto= or homeowners coverage with, consider contacting that company. People often use the same insurer for life insurance.

Then, make sure the company still exists, or if it merged with another company. If you live in Washington state, we can help with this, for free. Call us at 1-800-562-6900. If you live in another state, call your state's insurance regulator for help.

If you can't find any information, even the name of the company, you may want to pay a search company to run your relative's name against insurance industry databases or to contact a large number of insurers directly. Examples include companies like MIB Solutions or The Lost Life Insurance Finder Expert. (Note: mentioning a company or product on this blog ≠ endorsement.)

Other places to check:

If the policy goes unclaimed for a long time, insurers are supposed to turn the money over to state unclaimed property funds. Run your relative's name through these free, state-run online search sites. There are companies that will offer to do this for you, but you can easily and quickly run the checks online yourself. Here's Washington state's official unclaimed property site. And here's a list of similar official unclaimed property websites in other states.

Tip: Online companies can also search for unclaimed property for you, but with a little time at your computer and the sites listed above, you can do the same thing, for free, yourself.

As for that life insurance case, we helped the woman figure out the current company holding the policy and file a claim.

"This is incredible," she wrote. "We can't thank you enough."
Bonus round: Here are our tips if you're buying life insurance or an annuity.

Bridget Riley exhibition in London

The other day I saw a fantastic exhibition of work by Bridget Riley. Karsten Schubert, who is Riley's main agent, has a some of her most famous and influential artwork from 1960 - 1966 on display, including the seminal Moving Squares from 1961.

Photo of Moving Squares by Bridget Riley, 1961
Emulsion on board, 123.2 x 121.3cm

In the 1960s Bridget Riley created some great black and white artwork, which at a first glance may look simple and deterministic or sometimes random, but has fascinated me since I saw some of her work for the first time about 9 years ago at the Tate Modern.

Her work prompted a very simple question to me: When does a pattern appear random? As human beings most of our life is focused on pattern recognition. It is about making sense of the world around us, being able to understand what people are saying; seeing lots of different things and yet knowing when something is a table and when it is not. No surprise, I suppose, that pattern recognition is such a big topic in statistics and machine learning.

Neil Dodgson published some interesting research papers related to the work by Bridget Riley. In a paper from 2008 he concluded that even limited randomness can produce a great deal of complexity, such as in Riley's Fragment 6/9, and hence might be so appealing to the pattern detection systems of our brains. I wonder, if it may also help to explain why some people can spend hours looking at stock market charts.

Of course I couldn't resist trying to reproduce the Moving Squares in R. Here it is:

## Inspired by Birdget Riley's Moving Squares
x <- c(0, 70, 140, 208, 268, 324, 370, 404, 430, 450, 468,
482, 496, 506,516, 523, 528, 533, 536, 542, 549, 558,
568, 581, 595, 613, 633, 659, 688, 722, 764, 810)
y <- seq(from=0, to=840, by=70)
m <- length(y)
n <- length(x)
z <- t(matrix(rep(c(0,1), m*n/2), nrow=m))
image(x[-n], y[-m], z[-n,-m], col=c("black", "white"),
axes=FALSE, xlab="", ylab="")

However, what may look similar on screen is quite different when you see the actual painting. Thus, if you are in London and have time, make your way to the gallery in Soho. I recommend it!

Homesite Insurance agrees to refund $386,000 in overcharges to policyholders

Homesite Insurance Company of the Midwest has agreed to refund hundreds of thousands of dollars that it overcharged homeowners insurance policyholders in Washington state.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is also fining the company $30,000.

Due to a computer issue, the company says, it used rates last year that were different from the rates approved by Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler for that time period. The rates it charged had been approved for an earlier period.

As a result, Homesite overcharged 4,504 consumers a total of $386,578. (It also undercharged 2,140 customers $154,241, but those policyholders won't have to pay that.)

The company has agreed to contact the overcharged consumers and issue refunds, plus 8 percent interest, by Sept. 30th.

Review: Kölner R Meeting 6 July 2012

The second Cologne R user meeting took place last Friday, 6 July 2012, at the Institute of Sociology. Thanks to Bernd Weiß, who provided the meeting room, we didn't have to worry about the infrastructure, like we did at our first gathering.

Again, we had an interesting mix of people turning up, with a very diverse background from chemistry to geo-science, energy, finance, sociology, pharma, physics, psychology, mathematics, statistics, computer science, telco, etc. Yet, the gender mix was still somewhat biased, with only one female attendee.

We had two fantastic talks by Bernd Weiß and Stephan Sprenger. Bernd talked about Emacs' Org-Mode and R. He highlighted the differences between literate programming and reproducible research and if you follow his slides, you get the impression that Emacs with Org-mode is the all-singing-all-dancing editor, or for those who speak German: eine eierlegende Wollmilchsau.

Read more »

Wildfire burning near Chelan

The Associated Press (via the Seattle Times) is reporting that 80 firefighters and three helicopters are trying to douse a 250-acre wildfire near Chelan.

Fire crews, we've been told, hope to have the fire mostly contained by tonight.

As the summer fire season begins here in Washington, here are some important tips about wildfire preparedness, insurance and claims:

-Tips on wildfires and homeowners insurance

-More info: Tips on disaster preparedness and filing homeowners insurance claims

-Printable home inventory checklist

-How to contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Interesting AP story: Insurers hire firefighters to protect Colorado homes

The Associated Press is reporting that insurance companies have been hiring firefighters and sending them to protect high-value properties threatened by the Colorado wildfires. From the article:
For insurers, hiring their own crew is worth the cost. They spend thousands on well-equipped, federally rated firefighters, potentially saving hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars to replace a home and its contents.
Insurance companies began sending crews to wildfires around 2006, said Paul Broyles, former head of fire operations at the National Interagency Fire Center, which coordinates federal firefighting efforts from Boise, Idaho.

Man charged after filing $20,000 insurance claim for fake dead cat

OLYMPIA, Wash. _ A Tacoma man is facing attempted theft and insurance fraud charges after filing a $20,000 claim for a fictitious dead cat, using pet photos he lifted off the internet.

“We’ve handled some pretty unusual fraud cases, but this is one of the stranger ones,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

Yevgeniy M. Samsonov, 29, has been charged with first-degree attempted theft and felony insurance fraud in Pierce County Superior Court. Arraignment is set for July 11.

On March 27, 2009, Samsonov was involved in a minor traffic accident in Tacoma. A driver behind him was stopped at a traffic light when her foot slipped off the brake. Damage to both vehicles was very minor.

Samsonov filed a claim that included chiropractic treatment of soft tissue injuries. The other driver’s insurer, PEMCO, paid him $3,452.

Two and a half years later, Samsonov sought additional payment from PEMCO. He said that in addition to the vehicle damage and medical claim, his beloved cat Tom had been in the car and killed in the accident.

The company issued him a check for $50 to compensate him for the cat.

Samsonov then told PEMCO that he’d paid $1,000 for the cat, who’d been like a son to him. He wanted to be paid $20,000.

He sent the company two photos he said he’d taken of his cat. (See below.)

A PEMCO claims representative did a Google Images search and discovered identical cat images appearing on websites, blogs, Facebook pages, and Wikipedia posts about cats. The two images Samsonov submitted are actually of two different cats. One is named Lacy. Neither belonged to Samsonov.

PEMCO canceled its $50 check and forwarded the case to Kreidler’s anti-fraud unit.

Fireworks and homeowners' insurance

Yes, it's tempting to shoot off fireworks around the Fourth of July. Here are a couple of key things to know:
  • If fireworks are not legal where you live, you may jeopardize your insurance coverage if someone is injured or property is damaged as a result of your shooting them off.
  • On the other hand, fireworks-related damage to your property typically is covered if someone else -- not a family member -- is responsible. also has an article with some more scenarios and tips.

Prescription drugs and Premera

Crosscut's Harris Meyer has a story today about a clash between our office and Premera, one of the state's largest insurers:
Since 2009, Premera Blue Cross’s LifeWise unit has sold a high-deductible plan called Wise Essentials Rx, the only catastrophic-type plan in the state offering drug coverage. Its enrollment quickly zoomed to 45,000. But that plan and Lifewise’s standard plan covered only generic, not brand-name, prescriptions.

Earlier this year, Premera’s two main rivals, Regence BlueShield and Group Health Cooperative, filed requests to switch their standard plans for individuals from full to generic-only drug coverage. Group Health said it doesn’t favor a generic-only benefit but feared its plan otherwise would get swamped with sicker enrollees who couldn’t get brand-name drugs in other plans. All three insurers have reported losing money in the individual market.

Those requests prompted Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler to issue an emergency rule in February barring generic-only coverage. He said patients with multiple sclerosis, some types of cancer, AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis and certain forms of mental illness can’t necessarily be treated effectively with generics. The insurers’ moves, he warned, would leave most Washingtonians in the individual market without adequate drug coverage.
Click the link above for more on this situation, and why we responded the way we did.

Applying a function successively in R

At the R in Finance conference Paul Teetor gave a fantastic talk about Fast(er) R Code. Paul mentioned the common higher-order function Reduce, which I hadn't used before.

Reduce allows me to apply a function successively over a vector.

What does that mean? Well, if I would like to add up the figures 1 to 5, I could say:

add <- function(x,y) x+y
Reduce(add, 1:5)

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A Rose By Any Other Name

“As a Democrat, you should be outraged”, the client said in lieu of “Hello”. I paused for a moment and he identified himself. I replied that I’m seldom outraged. “Weren’t you shocked by the decision?” Of course, if he had ever read this blog he would have known the answer. “Nope, I’m not shocked.” “You knew that Roberts would do this”, he asked incredulously. “No”, I replied. “I had no idea. No one did. The pundits and blowhards on both sides told their audiences what they wanted to hear. No one really knew. I never wasted a moment worrying about the Supreme Court or guessing the outcome. You can only be shocked if you believed in the prognostications of a bad guesser.”

“But it is a tax! Obama said it wasn’t a tax, but it is. This is the largest tax hike in U.S. history.”

If I may quote the hero of the right, Ronald Reagan, “There you go again.” Every time a Democratic president raises revenue, it is the largest tax hike in U.S. history. What possible pleasure could they derive from yelling “Wolf!” so often? When will even they grow tired of this refrain?

And so I reminded the client and others that I’ve talked with over the last few days that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Governments tax us. Period. Sometimes the legislators use the word TAX. Sometimes we are treated to the threats of penalties or fines. We are forced to purchase licenses and permits for everything from driving a car, to fishing, to installing a new hot water heater in certain suburbs. They are all taxes.

A new law was recently passed in Beachwood forbidding the use of a hand operated cell phone while driving. Does Beachwood really care? Get serious. How often have you seen a Beachwood patrol officer driving while talking on a cell phone? But this new law carries a fine (tax) of $101 and two points on your driving record. This is just another way to fill the depleted coffers.

I view all taxes, fees licenses, etc… the same. They feed the addiction politicians have to other people’s money. Some of us place a great value on defense and military spending. Some of us feel that more help should be given to the poor and less fortunate. And of course, there are those that believe that our job creators need more help and incentives. If funds are unlimited, there is no conflict. But funds aren’t unlimited, so the arguments continue. What we have not had is an honest debate about priorities. Do we care enough about defense, healthcare, poverty, et al to spend some of our own money to solve these problems?

So, let’s stop the silliness about taxes and get back to the matter at hand. Does the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) cover the uninsured (allegedly 50 million Americans) and control costs? My answer is still NO. Have the Republicans put forth a comprehensive alternative? Also, still NO.

You can’t beat something with nothing.

Millions of dollars have been spent by insurers, government entities at every level, and businesses to comply with the PPACA. Simply repealing the law makes all of that money wasted. Though some Americans have been hurt by the law, others have benefited. Repealing the law runs the risk of eliminating their insurance coverage. Repeal without a better, more comprehensive solution, is irresponsible.

Repeal and Replace is cynical political rhetoric if there isn’t another option ready to fill the void. Responsible lawmakers, more focused on governing and the public good, might consider a different R word, Revise.

Working together, something that has yet to be tried, our legislators could attempt to create an amended PPACA that might have a better chance at accomplishing a couple worthwhile goals. That law might not be as useful as a fundraising tool, but could help to deliver affordable care to more Americans.

What will it take? The first step may be a little intellectual honesty. The second is to notice the flowers hiding amongst the thorns.