This is way too complicated

Since it’s almost time to renew my health insurance plan, I spent some time on wahealthplanfinder.org today. I wanted to see how much the rates went up, and what plans are available. It’s a daunting task, and not just because the website still really sucks. More on that later. First of all, I have SIXTY-FIVE plans to choose from! Who was that said Americans want choice and control over their health care options. Bullshit, I say. So many plans to choose from is bewildering, if not paralyzing. For 2015 plans range in cost from $164.80 to $1077.80/month. (That assumes I get the same subsidy I received for 2014.) Out-of-pocket expenses (not including premiums) range from $5000 to a high of $13,000. I could probably find a lower cost plan, but I’d have to be really careful when shopping. The plans all have different co-pays, deductibles, and maximum out-of-pocket expenses. And not only that, but all of the plans have their own networks of doctors and hospitals. Not all plans accept all healthcare providers. Like I said, bewildering.

The problem I have right now is that I may require surgery for my tarsal tunnel syndrome. It is an in-hospital, out-patient procedure. I asked the podiatrist how much the surgery would cost. He didn’t know, but guessed $25-30k in total. His portion of that would be $1750. He gave me the procedure code and the number to call at Swedish to get their costs. Their charges are approximately $24,000, so the doc’s guess was right on. So in renewing my insurance, I’d want to minimize my out-of-pocket and monthly premium expenses. I started poking around and could find cheaper insurance, but then had to do more poking around to make sure the new plan would cover my current doctors. All that poking around was getting painful, so I figured I’d probably do nothing and stick with the plan I have. Things would just auto-renew, I’d get a new bill, and that would be that. Right?

Wrong! I called the Washington Health Plan today to get my home address changed because their still-sucky website wouldn’t allow me to do it on line. After going through all the phone menus and the requisite perma-hold time, they told me that my address was correct, even though it displayed incorrectly on my home page. OK, nothing more to be done. Not so fast, she said. You have to complete the application. What application, I said. Apparently when I tried to change my address, the website thought I was applying for a new plan. So I went through it all with the person on the line and finally got it all done. That’s when I asked her about auto-renewal. She said there was no such thing, and that I’d have to apply all over again for 2015.

It shouldn’t be this way. I shouldn’t have to choose from 65 plans to meet my needs. I shouldn’t have to spend hours on line and on the phone to make it all happen. The average person without healthcare doesn’t have the time or the energy to go through this process year after year. I shouldn’t have to base my plan choice on my current medical needs and current financial condition, and do it year after year. I just want health insurance at a reasonable cost and minimum hassle.

I think the Washington Health Plan is going to lose a lot of their clients when it comes time to renew. I think a lot of people are going to throw up their hands (after they finish throwing up) and say, “Screw it, I’ll take my chances.”

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First Snow at the CITW

first snow2And no, the tree in the yard is not on fire. That’s the reflection of a very cozy fire in the window.

I hope we get lots of snow this winter (Buffalo could send some our way). The winters around here are hard to predict. There’s usually quite a lot of snow, but snow conditions often aren’t that dependable. Snow can be late in coming or unseasonably warm weather and rain can wreck the snow that does fall. I was only out on the snowmobiles twice last winter. And as for downhill skiing, I didn’t get out at all last year. I think the folks running the Stevens Pass ski area a half hour from here spend a lot of time pulling their hair out. They had a late start last year, and then got a bunch of snow when the season was almost over.

I came up to the cabin a couple of days ago to take care of a few things. #1 on the agenda was to brew another batch of beer for the holidays. I chose to do a farmhouse ale, a style of beer I’ve never done before. The other night I dropped by the Urban Family brewery just down the street from us in Magnolia. They’ve just opened a tasting room, and I wanted to see what they had. I chose their Citron Noir, and was blown away by it. So I got the brewmaster’s email address and asked him for the recipe. He was kind enough to reply with enough information for me to give it a try. It’s a dark beer, not very hoppy but with some citrus notes, and a bit of the sour flavor characteristic of Belgian Saison beers. The brew day went reasonably well, and now the beer is happily bubbling away in the Fermenator.

Another thing I wanted to do was to change the water in the hot tub. The tub gets used a lot more in the winter than any other time of year, so I tend to start the season off with a clean tub and fresh water. There’s nothing better than relaxing in the hot tub with a glass of the adult beverage of your choice after a hard day of playing in the snow .

But wait, my chores aren’t over yet. Megan is on her way here today to do some master bedroom renovations. It seems everyone but me hates the wallpaper trim. So this weekend it’s coming off and some paint will be put in its place.IMAG080loons4It’s not THAT ugly, is it?

 

 

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One piece of good news in a Democratic rout

Democrats had their asses kicked all across America last week. They lost the Senate, lost seats in the House, lost several governships and several state legislatures. In my mind, they deserved it. They ran a campaign without passion or conviction. But I won’t dwell on why they lost, but instead on at least one area where common sense won – gun control.

Here in Washington State, ballot measure 594, a basic background check gun control measure, won 59-41 in spite of the money the NRA and other groups spent. In Colorado, pro gun control Governor Hickenlooper,  won re-election as did two state senators who had been recalled for their votes on Colorado’s gun control law last year. In Connecticut, Governor Dan Malloy, who pushed through tighter gun regulation after the Sandy Hook shooting, won re-election in spite of the strong opposition of the gun lobby.

The Democrats lost last Tuesday, but so did the NRA.

As an expatriate Canadian (and gun owner), I’ve always been amazed at the American attitude towards guns. The common refrain is that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Well, let’s see about that.

Here are some statistics (per 100,000 population):

USA murders –                        4.7

Canada murders –                   1.6

USA firearm murders –           3.6

Canada firearm murders –      .51

USA non-firearm murders –       1.1

Canada non-firearm murders – 1.1

I think most of us can agree that the USA and Canada are similar societies. We’re at least first cousins in the world family. What makes the difference in the murder rates? It’s the availability of guns.

Take away the guns, and the murder rates are identical!

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Ankle Update

Yesterday I went and had an MRI of my ankle. I have had x-rays and CT scans for various ailments over the years, but until yesterday I was an MRI virgin. It was an odd experience, lying motionless for over a half hour while things whirled and clanked and clunked around the giant donut hole that half my body had been sucked into. To mask all the noise, they gave me headphones and asked for my music preference. I said “classic rock” and ended up with a half hour of Steve Miller Band. The only real complaint I had was that they could have had music that was in time with the clanking of the machine. I can see how some people can get claustrophobic having a MRI. I’m glad my head wasn’t in the machine, and I’m glad I’m not fatter than I am.

But before I had the fun of an MRI, I had to do battle with the medical-industrial establishment. Before they let you near one of these monster magnets, they ask a whole lot of questions about metal in your body. My replacement knee presented no problem, but I told them I had wires in my face from a car wreck back in ’87. The dollar signs popped up and they insisted I get a CT scan to locate those wires. I said I had dental x-rays, that showed exactly where they are, but that wasn’t good enough. Only several hundred dollars spent on a CT scan would protect me from having these wires sucked into my brain. I have high-deductible insurance, and I didn’t want to waste $600 or whatever on an unecessary procedure. What could they tell from a CT scan that an x-ray wouldn’t tell them? Finally my podiatrist intervened on my side, and they agreed to do a simple x-ray of my skull. Here is the result:

P1050705Those bright white things are the caps on my front teeth. The squiggly things up by my eye sockets are the wires that the surgeons put in all those years ago to hold my skull together. Pretty cool, eh!

And here’s one of the hundreds of views of my ankle they took:

P1050706I don’t know what I’m looking at, but the wonders of modern technology never cease to amaze me.

So next week, it’s back to the podiatrist to see what’s next. I’ll keep you posted.

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So much for hope and change

Looking back over the last ten years of American politics, I am totally amazed at how things can go from bad to worse to hope and change and back again. In 2004, I couldn’t believe that a shallow callow frat-boy douchebag like George W. Bush could be re-elected. He was “elected” in 2000 by the weirdest Supreme Court decision ever, but OK, shit sometimes happens. Then he lied the country into the dumbest wars ever, sanctioned torture, ran roughshod over civil rights, and presided over a soon-to-be-burst economic bubble. And he got re-elected?!

In 2006, voters turned on him with a vengeance and gave power in both the House of Representatives and the Senate to the Democrats. Finally the electorate seemed to be waking up. Then Barack Obama came along in 2008 promising something different in Washington, It was the first US election I voted in, and I was stoked. Maybe he could actually turn things around. But he was dealt a terrible hand and left to clean up the frat-boy’s mess. He stopped the use of torture and vowed to close Guantanamo. He pushed through a stimulus bill, and started working on universal health care. I think his biggest mistake at the time was not prosecuting the Wall Street warriors who damn near brought down the world economy. His second-biggest mistake was not prosecuting any of the Bush officials who lied and tortured their way into never-ending wars.

For far too long, he thought that he could work with Republicans. In any other democracy in the world, Obama’s 2008 election mandate would have given him the power to implement his agenda. But not in the USA. The American political system of checks and balances check-mated him. His endless efforts to compromise on universal healthcare almost doomed the plan, but he managed to squeak it through even though he lost his six-month=old filibuster-proof majority when Scott Brown won a Senate seat in January 2010. (Democrats only had a 60 seat majority from the time Al Franken was finally declared the winner in June 2009 until Scott Brown was elected in 2010.)

After that it was nothing but GOP obstructionism and government shutdowns.

Obama did his best to keep the economy from tanking totally, and he largely succeeded without any help from the Republicans. In spite of the terrible roll-out of Obamacare, and even though Republican state governments blocked medicare expansion in many states, Obamacare succeeded in bringing health care to millions of Americans who were previously uninsured.

Obama has had some successes, but he gets no credit. Why is that? The Republicans have succeeded in blocking so many initiatives that they made it seem like the problems those initiatives would have addressed are Obama’s fault. In 2010 they succeeded in gerrymandering enough Congressional districts to control of the House of Representatives even though more people vote for Democrats than for Republicans. Other than being against Obama, and afraid of ISIS and Ebola, the Republicans ran an agenda-free election, and they won.

I guess Republicans are smarter than I give them credit for, and Americans are dumber.

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This is getting ridiculous

Ebola! Ebola! Terrorist in Canada! Ebola! Another Terrorist in Canada! Ebola! Hatchet-wielding terrorist in New York! Ebola! School shooting in Marysville! Ebola! Highway patrol officer shooting in California! Ebola!

I’ve often thought that the media here wants everyone trembling under their beds, clinging to their guns and religion. The media here are in full panic mode.

I watched a bit of Fox News today, and they had people calling for increased security on the American-Canadian border!

And of course, it’s all Obama’s fault.

Fellow citizens – GET A GRIP!!!

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I’m still alive and kicking

I didn’t fall off the face of the earth. I’ve been lazy about posting, but I did take a 10 day trip to the Old Country. As for the kicking part of the title, I’ve still got the big black contraption on my foot, but I’ve got an appointment with the podiatrist this morning. The nerve and muscle testing has all been done, so I hope the doc has an easy quick solution to my foot issues. Actually any solution would be good. This foot business is getting really annoying.

But back to the trip up North – I thought I’d share a few photos of things not often seen in the USA.

prairieAs much as I love the mountains and the water, the prairie boy in me can really appreciate scenes like this.

elevatorThe once ubiquitous grain elevators are disappearing, but a few are still standing.

And the wildlife -

bullelk

I was hoping to get a picture of a moose, but this spectacular bull elk will have to do.

buffaloThese aren’t cattle. They’re buffalo. Yes, buffalo. Oddly enough, the buffalo here at Elk Island National Park (just outside of Edmonton) are descendants of American plains bison from Montana.

beaverAnd what montage of Canadian wildlife would be complete without that iconic Canadian symbol, the beaver! There are no beavers visible in this photo, but their lodges are.

It was a great trip to see family and friends, but as much as I like the prairie, it was good to get back to more familiar terrain.

mountains

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