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Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Legend of the Two-Headed Gator - Real or Fake?

I've lived here in Tampa, FL now for a few years. One of the things we love the most, is the wildlife... especially the native alligators in our back yard.

A Two-Headed Gator OR a case of Reptilian Photoshop?


However, I only recently heard about this strange sighting from a few years back - and after talking to others, the jury is still out on whether it's real or a hoax - I will let you guys decide for yourself!

At the time (2014), a Florida artist came out and claimed that he had seen a two-headed alligator while walking his dog.

Florida wildlife officials were immediately skeptical.

Justin Alan Arnold uploaded the picture he took on Facebook... although it was liked and shared thousands of times, experts from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission questioned the authenticity of the image.

The commentary that came with the photograph stated, "Two-headed alligator spotted in Tampa, Florida along the Hillsborough River in the Seminole Heights neighborhood. According to Florida Fish and Wildlife, this alligator has been reported by several people. They explained that failed separation of monozygotic twins is common in reptiles and amphibians but they rarely reach this juvenile state."

Officials from the FWC stated that they hadn't received any calls about a two-headed alligator, despite Arnold's commentary.

University of Florida professor Dr. Frank Mazzotti, said of the incident:

"Conventional knowledge is that when these deformities occur, the hatchlings do not survive unless cared for [by humans] and often, not even then"

So I now leave it with you all, dear readers - A Two-Headed Gator OR a case of 'not-too-bad' Reptilian Photoshop?

Friday, 30 December 2016

Heathcare in The United States - the Real Cost

Important Disclaimer: I do not purport to be an expert on the complexities of the Healthcare Policies or processes in any given country. I can however, speak with some authority on personal experiences with the Healthcare systems and cost differentials in Australia, Singapore and the United States.

One simply needs to tune into any mainstream media channel to hear the latest on a variety of different opinions by 'experts', politicians, journalists and 'John Q Public' on the state of Healthcare affordability in the US, what is right or wrong about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) or the heartbreaking stories of people not getting the treatment they require, or 'losing the farm' by having life threatening episodes attended to within the system.

Even the new President-Elect Donald, Trump seems now to be shying away from his pre-election promises of 'Repeal and Replace'.

This year, my family were met face-on with the interesting nuances of the cost of Healthcare in the US, when our 9-yo son was rushed to hospital and had to undergo an emergency Laparoscopic Appendectomy (or simply put, he had his appendix removed through a kind of keyhole surgery).

At the time, with my thoughts being only on the pain that my little boy was suffering, the last thing on my mind was how much it was going to cost. Many parents know the trauma one goes through when they see their own flesh and blood writhing in pain.



It didn't occur to me to question why there was an administrative assistant wheeling around a mobile payment unit throughout the ER and taking me away from holding my son's hand to swipe my credit card for a 'deposit' - after all, I have one of the top private medical insurance coverages available.

Let me be clear - The hospital and staff could not have been nicer or more professional - they got us through the drama and we came out the other end with nothing but utter gratitude that our boy was well and we didn't even need to spend one night in the hospital. He was sent from the pediatrician to the hospital emergency rooms around 11am. By 7pm, the procedure was done and he was discharged... a week later, back to playing flag football and basketball.

Then came the bills...

The emergency incident occurred in June this year - I just received and paid the final (of many) bills this month (December).



The billing process itself left me quite astonished - in any of the other countries that I have lived, the hospital is responsible for coordination and itemization of the billing. Any monies owed get paid to the hospital and they take care of all of the other components.

Here in Florida, I received separate bills from the hospital, the surgeon, the anesthetist, the labs - different bills for surgical procedures, ultrasounds, CAT scans... just to name a few. To actually reconcile all of this was fruitless - I reached out to the insurance company (who were extremely helpful) and the hospital (not so much), but in the end, I just had to keep paying bill after bill hoping and trusting that all was well with the charges. It would take a CPA at the least, to reconcile the pages upon pages of documentation.

Now here comes the part that totally floored me - although any amount of money could not buy the happiness I have to know that my child is safe and healthy...

Having been exposed to other systems and further talking through this with friends and family in Australia, under the Medicare system, the maximum I would have paid down-under for the procedure would have been $0.00 (notwithstanding some small co-pay for any general practitioners or specialists)... now before you jump all over me and say, "but Pete, you're an idiot... Medicare is not free, you would have paid for it in your taxes", I totally get it. HOWEVER - coverage under Medicare for citizens is on average ~2% of your annual salary. This cannot come close to the cost of private insurance in the US, which does not cover everything (by any means), with deductibles and co-share payments throughout the entire process (I'll get more into that shortly).

For any other doubters that say Medicare is not the best coverage for your family in Australia (which I do not disagree with) due to potential queues for elective surgery, shortage of beds in public hospital wards, etc, I also spoke with another friend down-under who pays for top private insurance coverage. Her daughter underwent exactly the same procedure this year, and their total out of pocket was $1,700 in a private hospital - private room and all. They thought this amount was preposterous... until they heard my story.  :)

For Aussies that cannot afford private insurance, Medicare gets the job done - nobody is denied treatment and no family will lose their life savings and even their home (I have seen many horror stories of this happening in the US). I have even watched videos of people sewing up large gashes in their own body instead of seeking medical help, just so they do not have to break the bank and go into debt for many years. Often, these same people cannot afford basic healthcare coverage.

Just as an aside - in Singapore, my actual insurance premiums were significantly less than the cost of Medicare in Australia and although there is co-payment involved in this, it still only kicks in after a very large threshold of expense (and no deductible)... and Singapore has some of the world's top rated surgeons and medical facilities.

Back to the US and the appendectomy - I will not go into exact numbers (it will do my head in), so I will just ball park it for the sake of my major point.

I estimated this year I have paid well in excess of US$10K in medical insurance premiums.

When we went through the episode in June, the hospital bill (charge) itself was ~US$29K. Of this, I had to pay the deductible and co-payment (along with the other providers aforementioned). Interestingly, the insurance company has a 'negotiated' rate with the hospital for members (~$13K), yet the co-payment is not based on this figure - it's based on the initial hospital billing - go figure! (if I didn't have insurance, I would have had to pay the entire original amount)... this concerns me, because it means that anyone who cannot afford insurance are billed more than double what the insurance companies have negotiated - that extra $16K in my mind must therefore (?TBC?) be pure profit from the people who can least afford it.

Anyway - I digress - in short, the total billings from the hospital and other parties totaled around US$35K plus (nowhere near what was paid by insurance of course - that's all negotiated)... of this, my out of pocket was (approximately) $3K deductible + >$6K in co-payments. Remember - we did not even stay in the hospital overnight!!

In the US, I paid >US$10K in insurance premiums + >$9K in actual fees (at least US$20K for the year with less than one day spent at the hospital receiving any actual treatment)... and remember, I have one of the best possible insurance packages available for the family. Comparatively, for a similar year, I could have got away with 2% of my salary in Australia and maybe around ~SGD$2K in Singapore.

So - why is this the case? I am left wondering that to this day (now that I've just paid the last $3K for services that were actually rendered some 6-months ago... I am certainly no insurance expert either - but what I do know is that when anything is insured (car, home, life. health) there are very complex algorithms that these companies use to determine risk, premium charges, deductibles, co-payments... all to enable them to not go out of business. In short, they need to bring more money in than they have to pay out - that's how any business operates - on profit.

The more the insurance needs to cover, the higher the premiums - the cost to the consumer to insure a Mercedes is much less than insuring a Kia. The companies would know the risk associated with having to pay out on either of those policies.



So in case you haven't read between the lines - the observation for me is one of governance and regulation. The healthcare system in Australia is highly regulated, as is the amount that hospitals and practitioners are allowed to charge (public or private). When there is less to 'cover' (pay) for the insurance companies, premiums are lower and the less impact on the consumer pocket-book.

What I do not know, is what kind of regulations govern the US healthcare system? I've heard (and read) that the price for certain procedures in certain locations, states, institutions vary thousands of percentage points for the same services rendered. Do the Government have input or oversight into what the hospitals or medical practitioners charge, their processes for billing or calculation methodologies? What about the relationships and deals setup between these institutions and the insurance companies... are these governed or regulated?

I'm open to any feedback any answers to the questions I've raised.. I want to be able to understand it better.

As of now, it makes me think that the US leadership should spend some time thinking about the regulation and governance of the entire Healthcare industry and processes and maybe - just maybe - the problem of rising Healthcare Insurance costs might start taking care of itself.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Off The Florida Keys… There’s A Place Called Kokomo

Well, actually there isn’t – although there is a place off Montego Bay, Jamaica that was formerly known as ‘Kokomo Island’, now known as Sandals Cay… but the Beach Boys’ lyrics nicely sum up the amazing atmosphere that is the tropical Florida Keys. This is really what I want to talk about!


Some say ‘bucket list’, others say ‘dream destination’… for me it’s just been a life-long ambition to visit what was once almost a mythical part of the world to me.

I’d seen the movie on the Sunday afternoon TV re-runs when I was a kid (the 1948 Humphrey Bogart / Lauren Bacall film noir classic, Key Largo); I’d listened to it sung about by Bertie Higgins in the early eighties (Key Largo, 1981) and then of course the Beach Boys ‘owned’ the atmosphere in their hit song ‘Kokomo’ from the ‘Cocktail’ soundtrack in the late eighties.

Whatever the driving motivation was, I just had to the Florida Keys one day… and this day, I did!!



Last week, we drove down the East Coast of Florida from our home here in Tampa, crossed the infamous ‘Alligator Alley’ and spent a night in Miami.

Leaving the car at the Hilton Hotel, we called our friends at Uber and managed to get around to check out some of the ‘sights’ (nudge, nudge).

Taking it as a strong recommendation from friends, we took in lunch at the Versailles Cuban Restaurant in ‘Little Havana’ before heading over to South Beach. Wow – for a beach-side Florida city, there is certainly a wide variety of fashion statements, ethnicities and individuality to be found!

Of course, summer in Florida is hot and humid and this day was no exception. However, we are obviously not unaccustomed to the weather (think tropical weather for most of our lives – Qld, Australia, Singapore and now Tampa, FL)... So we soaked up the rays and after making our way to the beach via Ocean Drive and back across to Espanola Way, we landed at Lincoln Road for some of the most well-needed ice cold milkshakes that we’ve ever had. J

There begins our tropical holiday!!

The next morning we trekked across some of the Miami shopping areas before heading south to the beautiful Keys. Through the planning stages, we had decided that we wanted to stay somewhere laid-back but at the same time, somewhere close enough to drive around and take it all in – including the world-famous Key West. This thought process kept taking us to Key Largo, where we stayed for three nights.


As usual, Sammi had done her homework well – the Hilton Key Largo resort was everything we had expected… water sports, private beaches, activities for everyone and a lovely (albeit very expensive) ‘Treetops’ Restaurant.


The location was also central enough for us to laze around the resort, head out whenever we needed and of course, a stone’s throw (less than 2 hours) from Key West. 

After terrorizing the other water vessels enough with my wave runner antics, we made the trip down to Key West on the second day. This is where things rose to a whole new level.


Although it was very ‘whirlwind’, we managed to take in some of the key ‘tourist must-do’s’ such as the Ernest Hemmingway home and the ‘Southernmost’ point of the continental USA (go figure… it’s just 90-miles from there to Cuba) to name a couple, but the highlight for me was lunch at the very original Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.




Of course, I had to have the ‘booze in a blender’ and we ‘wasted away again’ for a while, but I didn’t get any more tattoos – I’m not sure what the ‘Mexican Cutie’ would’ve translated to anyway.




So there you have it – fitting a 5-day vacation into a few paragraphs doesn’t come close to doing it justice, but I’ve hit on some of the high points.

If you’ve sometimes (or always) considered a holiday to the Florida Keys, you can take this as my unwavering strong recommendation… perhaps it’s time for me to start thinking again about investing in a holiday home   J








Ohhh... and by the way - happy anniversary to my darling wife - the sunset cruise dinner to celebrate when we arrived back in Tampa pales in comparison to your beauty!! (Brownie points earned)



Friday, 8 April 2016

RAMBO the Pet Gator Fighting a Battle to Live at Home

Mary Thorn loves her pet and will do anything to keep him... but this is not your everyday cat or dog story!

RAMBO the pet gator... ready to cruise the highways!

The resident of Lakeland in Florida, is fighting to keep her 6-foot-long pet alligator in her home.

Known simply as RAMBO, the 125-pound reptile wears clothes, rides on the back of a motorcycle and even has his own bedroom.

Although it's unusual for an alligator to be allowed to be kept indoors (and there are very strict laws on human-gator interaction here in Florida), Ms Thorn has had a license for the Rambo for the past 11 years. Unfortunately, he recently grew to 6 feet in length.

According to regulations, a 6-foot gator must  live outside on a minimum of 2.5 acres of land.

Ms Thorn said that even if she had that much land, Rambo still wouldn't be able to live outdoors because he has a sensitivity to sunlight (wow - maybe he also has a peanut allergy?)

Rambo often visits schools and charity events and he has 'apparently' been trained not to bite.

Gary Morse of the Florida wildlife commission stated that Ms Thorn and Rambo's case is under investigation.


Personally, our home here in The Eagles in Odessa, backs onto a very large pond which is choc-full of gators... and much bigger that 6-ft I can tell you. They don't worry us or bother us at all - in fact we love having them around and especially enjoy watching their antics though the mating period (April - May) and into nesting in late June - July... but living in our home? Nahhhh... let's leave the beautiful beasts alone, I say!! 



Friday, 13 November 2015

Winter Fashion Tips: Florida Style

Florida garners quite a bit of hate from the rest of the country when the winter months start to roll around. People in Chicago, Boston and New York really just don’t understand that we, too, get a winter season. Sure, we don’t get feet upon feet of snow, and we rarely hit below-freezing temperatures. But we still have a winter season—it’s just a little warmer than winters up in, say, New England.


 So when it comes to dressing for the season, our winter wardrobes look a little different than those of our colder counterparts. Floridians love looking at all the autumn/winter trends when they debut on the runways during fashion month, but we know that each trend will take a certain bit of adjusting in order to work with our warmer climate. With that said, here are some tips for dressing for winter in Florida…

Know Your Colours


Every year, Pantone publishes a colour report based off of a host of design, fashion and cultural factors. The colour report often predicts the biggest hues of the season. Since Floridians can’t wear as many winter styles as the rest of the country, stay on-trend by finding garments in the colours of the season. This year, “Cadmium Orange” and “Biscay Bay” seem to have been inspired our sunny weather, making it simple to work these shades into your winter style. Goodbye, black!


Keep It Simple


In the Sunshine State, the sun does exactly that—it shines… a lot. One moment you may be a little chilly, but as soon as the sun pops out, you’re ready to shed the coat. Keeping it simple is key. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many items like a scarf, cardigan and a coat—you’ll regret the extra garments as soon as you decide to sit outside for lunch. Just one piece of outerwear is all you need.

One Trend Rule


Just because you can’t sport a heavy parka doesn’t mean you can’t follow any of the winter trends. It just takes a little more creativity. Less is more when it comes to Florida winters, so pick one winter trend you just have to try, but then pair it with your trusty warm weather attire. As Lyst suggests, wearing a trendy beret and matching it with a “sophisticated mini dress” is a stunning, ladylike look, and it perfectly balances the winter trend with Florida’s weather.

Be Ready For Anything


Just like folks in the northern states need to be prepared for a snowstorm to hit at any moment, sometimes the Sunshine State’s weather can be a little unpredictable, too. Though Florida’s not popularly known for freezing temperatures, every now and then, we get a little frost. Even earlier this year, News4Jax reported that Jacksonville experienced snow flurries. With that said, you should always have at least a couple cold weather items in your closet: waterproof boots, a heavier jacket and some scarves. You never know when you might need them!

Note: Pantone colors image via Second City Style, and beret image from Lyst