15 October 2017

The Health Insurance / Care Morass

A several weeks old issue of the New Yorker has been sitting on my desk, folded open to a page from an essay by Atul Gawande titled Is Health Care A Right? because I keep re-reading one paragraph:

The reason [that health care is so broken] goes back to a seemingly innocuous decision made during the Second World War, when a huge part of the workforce was sent off to fight. To keep labor costs from skyrocketing, the Roosevelt Administration imposed a wage freeze. Employers and unions wanted some flexibility, in order to attract desired employees, so the Administration permitted increases in health-insurance benefits, and made them tax-exempt. It didn’t seem a big thing. But, ever since, we’ve been trying to figure out how to cover the vast portion of the country that doesn’t have employer-provided health insurance: low-wage workers, children, retirees, the unemployed, small-business owners, the self-employed, the disabled. We’ve had to stitch together different rules and systems for each of these categories, and the result is an unholy, expensive mess that leaves millions unprotected.

Employer-provided health insurance is the problem.

If you have employer-provided insurance, do you know what the premium is? Not the premium you pay, that gets deducted from your check, but the underlying premium that often an employer splits with you. Or doesn't. My employer pays 100% of the premium for the individual employee - but if the employee has a spouse and/or children to add onto the plan, the employee pays that difference. That's a good chunk of change.

Right now our rates are:

Each employee gets the same benefit from the organization - an untaxed benefit of almost $700 per month.

What if it were different, and the organization paid 80% of the premium no matter what spouse/children were covered? The rates would look like this:

In this iteration, the single employee pays something, and the employee with any dependents pays a lot less than in the first version. On the other hand, the employer pays a lot more for an employee with a family.

[I lay these numbers out, because it seems to me that a lot of people don't realize that the $xx per pay period that's coming out of their paycheck is not 100% of the premium.]

Which is fair?  Consider it this way. If your employer coughs up $1600 a month for an employee with a whole family on the plan, isn't that shorting the single employee for whom the employer is only paying $560? Would it be fair for an employer chose to hire the single employee over the married with children one, because the cost to the employer is lower? Of course not - and it's probably discriminatory.

I don't know what the solution is, but I firmly believe that health insurance ought to be severed from employment. You're a person, your kid is a person, your mother is a person - all of the people should be provided for. How that happens, I don't know. But the patchwork we've got going on - where some people are on Medicare, and others covered by employers, and others elsewhere - is not cutting it.

Consider this: when you are on Medicare, Medicare is only covering you. Not you and your spouse, and certainly not you and your children. Just you. Your spouse has his/her own plan. Doesn't that make more sense? Each person on their own plan - a baseline provided by the government and the choice to buy-up via a wraparound plan. Each to his own.

How do we get there?

13 October 2017

Jeans, Genes, Jean

Yesterday's New York Times crossword was all about the homophones, but jeans/genes wasn't in it.

Jeans
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an ordinary woman in possession of a need for new jeans must be in want of a pair that fit.

And yet, it seems impossible.

I ordered several pairs online – different styles, same size. I decided one pair was okay. I wore them a couple of times, and they stretched out in the waist so much that they started falling down. I could take them off without unbuttoning and unzipping. Hiking up your pants every few minutes is not conducive to living one’s life. I got out the big shears and the sewing machine and took a triangle out of the center back and put it back together like Frankenstein. That worked…for a while. I don’t know, they stretched out again? The thing is, they fit through the hips and thighs, but the waist is too big.

In desperation the other day, I reached around and gathered up another fold, marched over to my husband with a binder clip, took the pants off, and crudely hand-stitched the pleat with black button thread. I have never been so happy with a crude repair as this has made me.

jeans, repaired


But I would rather have a pair that fit without alteration. So – if you have any suggestions about where to find a pair of jeans that have an actual waist, I would be delighted to hear them.

Genes
Every so often, I get the genealogy bug. It’s been in the back of my mind that I’d like to go to Europe and visit the German island that my maternal grandfather’s family was from. He was born in the US, not long after his parents moved here from Föhr. Down the rabbit hole I went, and I was thrilled to find my grandfather’s paternal grandparents on Find-A-Grave! They're buried in the Friedhof Nieblum auf Föhr cemetery.

I haven’t found his maternal grandparents yet, but the internet is a deep and wide place, and Föhr is a small island.

Jean
My aunt Jean died recently, at the age of 96. She was a total pip – tap dancer, showgirl, puppeteer – and a delight.

When she was 89, she gave my sister a tiny little tap dance lesson. (She didn’t try and teach me, because she didn’t have any shoes that fit me.)



Here's to tap dancing in jeans.

22 September 2017

And Cancer Sucks

I confess that I wrote yesterday's post a week ago, scheduling it to run yesterday because yesterday would have been my mother's birthday.

But on Tuesday - two days before Moky's birthday - I learned that an old friend had died. She had had lung cancer for years - almost a chronic condition. She was in good shape, making plans to travel to Europe, volunteering as an archivist, doing what she did. And Monday morning, she woke up and had trouble breathing and called 911 and died.

She's the one that told me about Lungevity when my sister was diagnosed and was looking for support. She contributed to my Lungevity walk-a-thon with a donation a couple of weeks ago. She'd never smoked.

I am just shattered.

Lung cancer sucks.


Arlene, I miss you.

21 September 2017

Birthdays Are Hard

A couple of weeks ago, my sister gave me a bag of ephemera: my baby book, a box of our grandfather's letters & schoolwork in German, a folder of congratulations on the 1925 birth of a baby girl whose mother once upon a time lived across the street from my mother, and an envelope of photos. This here picture is my mother, in about 1995, with my cat Yoyo. I think it was taken in the crazy days leading up to my wedding, because it was in with some outtakes from that event.

Today would have been my mother's 82nd birthday, but that she hadn't died 8+ years ago, of lung cancer.

In her memory, and because cancer sucks, and because my sister has lung cancer, I'm doing something I have never ever ever done before: I'm participating in a walk-a-thon, raising money for Lungevity.


If you know someone who has had, or who has, or who has died from lung cancer - and you surely do - please help. Lungevity funds scientific research, educates on early detection, provides patient support - helping "people live better with lung cancer and dramatically improve on the current 18% five-year survival rate", and they have a four-star rating from Charity Navigator.



Click the Donate button above, or use this link: https://lungevity.donordrive.com/participant/36990

When you've done that, treat yourself to a popsicle. Red. In memory of Moky.

And thank you.

01 September 2017

The Stories I See

My commute to NYC is not short, but it affords me the luxury of time to read. I read the inky, unwieldy Times, I read books from the library. I read long form articles that I print on the backs of discarded spreadsheets and copy drafts, because I digest paper words better than digital. I do the crossword, easily on Monday and sometimes with glee on Friday (though I occasionally cheat and check cranky Rex, justifying it as a learning tool - cheating today will mean more chance of success tomorrow.)

Today, I pulled a paperback out of my bag - not a library book, but something I'd bought at a warm and funky independent bookstore in Saugerties. Because it's mine, I felt no compunction about marking a phrase that jumped off the page at me:


"It was interesting to consider ... that a story might merely be a series of events we believe ourselves to be involved in, but on which we have absolutely no influence at all."


The subway pulled into 14th street. On the platform, I could see a 20-something couple, lips locked in a theatrical embrace, one of her feet in the air. They stood rock still, like they were posing, and as I exited the train, I looked for their photographer. But there was only me to record the scene.

Later, as I walked up Broadway, I mentally dress-coded a young woman 10 feet ahead of me. Tight black knee-high boots, black t-shirt, and tailored plaid short-shorts, her butt cheeks were visible at every step. Between us, an older woman in jeans delicately reached back and traced the arced outline of her own butt cheek. I wondered - was her action a subconscious reaction to Plaid Shorts? Or merely an itch?

The passage above, from Outline, came from a bit where the novelist/narrator is teaching a class in creative writing, and has asked her students to "tell me something they had noticed on their way here".

Reading begets noticing; noticing begets writing. I stand outside myself, etching stories into my head, speaking them softly into my phone, involved yet not at all.

When Plaid Shorts turned into my office building and got on the elevator with me, I refrained from commenting on her attire. Because her story is hers to tell and my place was not to interfere.

And yet I am involved.

14 August 2017

Today, I'm Robin

Since yesterday, I've been mulling the pledge I made to donate $24 to a good cause. At first I thought about funding a bit of a classroom project, given that the whole thing came up because of back-to-school shopping.

But Charlottesville has been on my mind. And so, with the help of a Medium post by Sara Benincasa, titled "What to Do About Charlottesville", I sent my little donation to Great Expectations, a project where foster kids in Virginia get help navigating out of the foster system into adulthood, through programs at Virginia community colleges.

The current overt burbling up of the alt-right, of racists, fascists, Nazis, Klansmen, is deeply disturbing. And yet, as a middle-aged white woman in a liberal NYC suburb, what do I do? Benincasa makes an apposite point:

I believe in the Superhero Sidekick theory of helping, which is to say that if you’re trying to ally yourself with the interests of an oppressed group of which you are not a part, you pull a Robin, not a Batman. You’re not the star of the show, so you don’t direct the mission. You listen, you learn, you assist. You definitely don’t lounge around and wait for the superhero to do all the work and then take all the credit. You also don’t throw up your hands and wail, “WHAT WILL WE EVER DOOOOOOO? THIS IS HOPELESS!” when Batman is right there going, “Um, Robin? There’s like ten things you could do today that would help everybody out. You listening?”

So, here's how I did my Robin part today:

  1. Little gift to Great Expectations
  2. Repost/amplification of Benincasa's "What To Do" piece
How did you do your Robin part?

13 August 2017

Back to school shopping, and how I regained my will to live

The child has been begging to go shopping. Yes, she needed new sneakers. Yes, she needed new bras. Yes, she needed new jeans. Yes, she starts high school and wanted a “first day of school outfit” and I caved in because sometimes I am nice (although I did think about invoking Thoreau's beware of all enterprises that require new clothes except that I thought she might take that to mean that high school was optional or something).

So, it was time to go to the mall. There are several malls not too far from us, but to hit all the stores one wants to hit, one needs to go to two different malls, and pay for parking at each, and paying for parking GALLS ME.

I elected to go to a farther away mall because 1) free parking and 2) everything under one roof and 3) a less crowded Trader Joe’s on the way home.

She got sneakers. We went into both Sephora and Ulta and walked out with only one hair clip, for me. We were sweet-talked by a cute young not-our-camp Spanish guy with terrific glasses, who was shilling expensive beauty products out of a kiosk; we bought nothing (hello $99 jar of goop), but he was amusing. We both got bra-fitted, at Soma, where they have wireless bras. She got an overall dress, and a sweater, and two pairs of jeans, and a tiny backpack.

And in Aeropostale, we were on line to pay for two cheap t-shirts, when the customer ahead of us at the register called to us: “I’ll pay for those shirts. I have $24 of credit that is just going away unless I spend it right now.” She had a pile of merchandise and some complicated return deal and was DONE WITH shopping. So my girl’s two shirts went into mall lady's pile, but she needed another few dollars worth of merchandise so another t-shirt and then a $4 tank top went in, and the whole total came to 63¢ due. I paid it, meaning that for 63¢, the girl got four new shirts. I told the other woman that I’d been on the verge of losing my will to live because 3 hours in the mall and that she had restored my gumption.


Today, in honor of mall lady, I’m going to donate $24 to a good cause.

But I'm not setting foot in another mall for at least a year, and the girl knows that.