“Everything is going up”. It’s a common phrase these days as the cost of just about any factor of life and business is going through the roof, causing me to jump squarely on top of the soapbox today. There’s the everyday increases felt at the grocery store and gas station as well as the energy bills that are mostly absorbed by the consumer without much thought because they are viewed as unavoidable. However, in another category is the rising cost of larger, uncontrollable expenses, those of the non-negotiable type like health insurance. All private and public businesses, and subsequently their employees, are facing the reality of skyrocketing health insurance costs. Staring at double-digit increases on an annual basis, businesses and governments have been forced to make some tough decisions. In Ocean City, government officials are increasing the costs for office wellness visits as well as prescription drug co-pays, in an effort to keep health insurance costs in check. Others in the private sector are switching from conventional health insurance programs with deductibles in the $250 range to high-deductible plans based on Health Savings Accounts and Health Reimbursement Arrangements. These alternatives are reasonable approaches in today’s health care world, but many individuals will find themselves paying more out of pocket unless they become better health care consumers. While all sectors of society deal with these inevitable increases in health care, all the presidential candidates seem to be talking about these days is the need for universal health care, meaning each American should have access to some type of coverage. Of course, in a perfect world, that would be the case. However, as those of us who deal with health insurance on a daily basis are well aware, it’s foolish to apply common sense to the world of health care. The same goes with payroll taxes. It just does not work.
More and more people are recycling today than ever, but it’s disturbing to think only about one third of the waste collected in Worcester County is currently recycled. It was reported last week that county residents and businesses recycled 34 percent of their solid waste in 2007. I was curious how that stacked up with other residents in other parts of Maryland. Unfortunately, the numbers for 2007 are not available. However, figures from 2006 show Worcester’s recycling rate of 32 percent was below the statewide average of 41 percent. Leading the way in Maryland was Harford County, 53 percent, followed by Garrett County, 51 percent. As far as our neighbors on the lower shore, Wicomico recycles at a rate of 21 percent and Somerset at a 28-percent clip. It’s easy to conclude Worcester is doing a decent job as far as the shore goes, but not when compared to the state. The good news is Worcester’s rate is on the rise, but the bad news is the local recycling coordinator said the county could have hit its ceiling. Without a countywide curbside recycling program, which has been ruled out due to the cost to maintain a program in the rural areas of the county, there’s little hope among officials the local rate will improve much.
It’s that time of year to mulch and weed the beds around the house. In my world, mulch is typically defined by color. I usually stay away from the red in favor of the dark hardwood variety that has an earthy look. However, one variety to steer clear from if you can is Cypress mulch, which has a distinct light brown look. The Assateague Coastal Trust held a news conference this month asking local green thumbs to steer away from Cypress mulch and use alternatives. The reason being Cypress trees, a non-sustainable species, are being cut at alarming rates in low-lying areas in Louisiana and Florida jeopardizing the shoreland and causing it to wash away and affecting water quality. In my mind, with so many varieties of mulch available, it’s a no-brainer to stay away from this particular kind if there’s proof it’s harmful to the environment. The critical aspect of it lies with the retailers who must make the conscious decision to simply not sell it. Some have already done so (kudos to Village Greens), but others have yet to get the message.