Articles

System: Broken

In Uncategorized on June 5, 2012 by apbblue Tagged: , , , , , , , , , ,

By this time next week, I will have had four different health insurance companies in two months. Four companies. Four rounds of paperwork. Four separate ID cards. Four different policies, copays, doctor networks and drug formularies.

I enjoyed great coverage through CareFirst through my last employer. But after I left, I lost that coverage — unless I wanted to pay ungodly COBRA costs. Which I didn’t — I mean, come on! I was unemployed! So I got spousal coverage through Eric’s plan.

Eric’s plan was UnitedHealth. I was not impressed. Barely any doctors took it. Eric’s employers were also not impressed. In fact, they were so unimpressed, they decided to change plans — to CareFirst. But not the CareFirst I had. Oh no. That would be too convenient. This is CareFirst HMO, which is different, apparently.

It took them an hour to figure out my insurance coverage this morning at my gastroenterologist’s office. A visit I waited three months for, by the way. They kept looking up CareFirst. It kept showing up as revoked. Which it was — the first CareFirst, that is. The mess was compounded by the fact that the new CareFirst — CareFirst HMO — had my birthdate wrong. So I wasn’t in their system at all.

I finally got into the exam room 90 minutes after my appointment was scheduled. Then someone forgot to tell the doctor I was in there, so I sat (and froze) for 40 minutes.

Apparently, I hadn’t had enough yet, so I went to the pharmacy. I desperately needed a refill of one of my medications. “That will be $112,” they said. “WHAT?!!” I said. Oh yeah. They didn’t have my new insurance information, either. And we haven’t received our insurance cards yet, so neither did I, dammit.

I left the prescription at the counter. No way was I paying cash when we have insurance, supposedly.

So I tried later. I first printed off a form from the CareFirst website that was supposed to work until we receive our insurance cards. I stood in line with that for 15 minutes. Said I needed to pick up a prescription. Showed them my paper certificate. “Oh, sorry.” They said. “You need to stand in the order line, not the pickup line.” I considered kicking over a stand full of vitamins.

After 15 minutes in the order line (dude in front of me really wanted zinc oxide ointment. Pharmacy has to order it. He didn’t seem to understand that) I FINALLY thought I was home free. FINALLY, I would get my prescription.

Nope. Sorry. The certificate doesn’t have the information needed to process a prescription. Something about a bin number. By this time, I’m nearly in tears. I ask if I could please please just pay for four tablets, in the hopes that the stupid insurance cards from CareFirst (the new one, not the old one) arrive by the time I need more. I’m not holding my breath.

And guess what? I got a new job! With new insurance! I get to do this all over again next week!

This, my friends, is not “the best health care system in the world.” This, my friends, is a clusterfuck. I’m damn lucky I didn’t have anything better to do today than spend 4 hours trying to see my  doctor and get my prescription. Not everyone has that ability. And I’m even luckier that I ACTUALLY DO HAVE INSURANCE, supposedly. I got care in the end. I got part of my prescription, even though I had to pay full price.

Why does it have to be this complicated? Why on earth is our insurance tied to our jobs? Why don’t we have a single-payer system by now? Think of all the time and effort and paperwork that would save. Job creators would be free to create jobs. Workers would be free to strike off on their own without worrying about losing their coverage. And people like me wouldn’t have to have four separate health insurance carriers in the span of two months.

People freak out about “socialism” and “death panels.” But I sure don’t hear seniors bitching about Medicare. They love it. And it’s the closest thing we’ve got to single-payer insurance.

Republicans like to say no country has better health care. That might be true — if you’ve got unlimited funding. If you rely on health insurance — or four separate health insurance companies in two months — it’s not. It’s a crapshoot. If you’re lucky, your insurance card will show up in the mail, your birthdate will be right, and the doctors you see will take it. If not, you’re on your own.

We can do better, right? If not, I hear Vancouver is beautiful this time of year.

Articles

Coasting

In Uncategorized on May 3, 2012 by apbblue Tagged: , , ,

Unemployment. It’s a roller coaster. From the other side of the amusement park, it looks intimidating, but promising. You could end up having the ride of your life.

Or you could end up dizzy and puking on your Keds, but I digress.

So you climb aboard (or are forced aboard, depending on the circumstances.) You pull the lap bar down with shaky hands. Some roller coasters start quickly — you’re blasted down the track like a shot. Others build slowly — clack clack clack until there’s no track above you. The sky’s never been quite this blue. The birds have never been quite this close. Extend your arms, and you could touch them. You’re flying.

Until the bottom drops out. Until you’re soaring again. Until you’re not. Exhilarating highs. Soul-crushing lows. Your heart is weightless. Your stomach drops. And again and again.

And unlike most roller coasters, you have no idea when this one will end. You could be on it for a week. Or a year. It’s exhausting.

I’ve never been a big fan of amusement parks myself. This is no exception.

Articles

A Manifesta

In Uncategorized on March 3, 2012 by apbblue Tagged: , , , , , , , , , ,

I have had it.

My anger started out a small puddle of gasoline. Catholic bishops objected to the Obama Administration’s plan to require that American women receive no-cost contraception through their private insurance plans. No surprise there. I am intimately familiar with their views on women. At age 12, they wouldn’t let me serve at the altar because I lacked a penis. At age 23, they told me that they didn’t want me because I had no intention of using “Natural Family Planning” to prevent pregnancy in my impending marriage.

House Republicans added fuel. They held a hearing on the same contraception mandate. No women sat on the first panel. No women who supported contraception sat on the second. Silenced.

Virginia Republicans dumped on more. In the ultimate example of government intrusion, they decided that women who were pregnant and didn’t want to be needed to be vaginally probed by the state — against their will — to access a legal medical procedure. Never mind that the pregnancy might be due to rape. Never mind how the mandated procedure might trigger trauma in a survivor. She’d already been penetrated, whether through choice or chance. She “deserves” to go through it again.

United States Senate Republicans struck a match. The Blunt Amendment — to a surface transportation bill of all things – would let not just religious schools, not just churches, but ANY employer refuse to cover medical care for the dirty parts of my sinful female body. It failed by a mere three votes.

Rush Limbaugh lit my inferno of rage.

Sandra Fluke wasn’t asking for much. She asked that Georgetown students — who pay 100 percent of their own health insurance costs — have contraception covered. Her friend had cysts. Her friend couldn’t afford birth control. Her friend lost her ovary because of a growth the size of a fist. Her friend is now showing signs of premature menopause. Her friend might never be able to follow the bishops’ demands to “be fruitful and multiply.” They stole that choice away from her.

In Rush Limbaugh’s eyes, that makes Sandra Fluke a “prostitute.” If he’s going to pay for her birth control, then she needs to post sex videos online so he can enjoy the fruits of his labors. While Limbaugh has the right to nonprocreative sex with his fourth wife, Fluke – as a woman — doesn’t. And if she partakes, she’s a “slut.”

I am sick of it.

I am sick of being 51 percent of the population and less than 15 percent of Congress.

I am sick of having my management of my reproductive system turned into a “social issue.”

I am sick of having my rights voted upon, trampled upon, spat upon.

I am sick of a bunch of men — who will never feel their heart sink as they look at a “+” on a pregnancy test — tell me what I must do in that situation.

I am sick of a bunch of men — who will never be held hostage by their reproductive tract — demand that I submit to mine.

I am sick of rape culture. She wasn’t asking for it. How dare you suggest it.

I am sick of my body being judged, my worth questioned, my voice silenced.

I am sick of being less than.

I have five beautiful, strong, smart, courageous nieces. I will fight to the death for their right to do everything, become anything and love anyone they choose. I will battle to the end to ensure that nothing holds them back. Generations of women have paved the way. The road will not end here.

Perhaps anger is a good thing. It’s easy to take for granted how far we’ve come. It’s easy to become complacent. We wake up, we go to work, we come home, we go to bed. We marry; we don’t. We have kids; we don’t. I don’t think often enough about what my life would look like if lawmakers tightly circumscribed my rights.

I’ve thought a lot about it this month. I’ve been forced to think a lot about it this month.

I can thank the bishops, Republicans and a radio blowhard for that.

Articles

A “Grave Moral Concern”

In Uncategorized on February 12, 2012 by apbblue Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

President Obama this week proposed a new health care regulation: All women shall have free access to contraceptive services through their insurance plans.

HUZZAH!

I’m not alone in popping the champagne cork. American women (and their male partners, too!) really like birth control. According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than 98% of sexually experienced American women have used or currently use contraception, those brazen hussies.

So the new policy should be broadly embraced, right?

WRONG.

Of course Republicans are crying foul. If President Obama found the cure for the common cold, they’d accuse him off killing jobs at Kleenex factories. Reflexively opposing him is what they do.

More problematic is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In a statement responding to the new policy, the group railed against mandated coverage of “sterilization and contraception,” which raised “a grave moral concern.”

The more I think about that phrase — “a grave moral concern” — the more annoyed I get.

Here’s what contraception does: It allows young women to finish educations and begin careers before becoming mothers. It lets women avoid going through 15 or more body-abusing pregnancies in their reproductive lifetimes. And with family budgets tighter than ever, it helps ensure that parents don’t have more children than they can support.

Contraception also offers health benefits. Giving the body time to rest between pregnancies is healthier for the mom — and the baby, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. One in two American pregnancies is unplanned, and unintended pregnancies lead to poorer health outcomes. Some women have health issues that require them to avoid pregnancy — contraception means they don’t bear the added burden of lifelong celibacy. And other women (ME!) just don’t feel that motherhood is our calling.

And there’s the economic argument. According to ACOG, every dollar Medicaid spends on contraception saves four dollars the next year. It’s not hard to see why. Compare the cost of 12 packs of birth control pills and one uncomplicated labor and delivery. It’s no contest.

But helping women avoid pregnancies they don’t want — and subsequent abortions — is a “grave moral concern”?

Here are a few issues that I would argue are “graver moral concerns” for the bishops’ consideration:

  • AIDS Deaths in Africa. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI dismayed the world’s health care organizations by stubbornly sticking to his teaching that condoms are wrong and should not be used, even to stop the spread of AIDS in Africa. Fidelity and abstinence are the answer, Benedict said. How many people have suffered and died needlessly because the Pope said no go to rubbers?
  • About That Apology … In a magazine interview this week, retired New York Cardinal Edward Egan said he regretted apologizing for a priest abuse scandal while bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Egan said “I don’t think we did anything wrong” in handling abuse cases and said he wasn’t obligated to report abuse to the police. He’s wrong. Under Connecticut law, clergy have been required to report abuse since the 1970s.
  • 8,000 Instances of Abuse Alleged in Wisconsin. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is filing for bankruptcy. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, sealed court documents “identify at least 8,000 instances of child sexual abuse and 100 alleged offenders – 75 of them priests – who have not previously been named by the archdiocese, a victims’ attorney said Thursday.”
  • Kids Need Parents — But Not Gay Ones. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is expected to sign into law a bill that would let religious-based adoption agencies with state contracts discriminate against gay couples by refusing to allow them to adopt. Catholic Charities celebrated the legislation’s passage, saying that it “safeguards our ability to assist those many families who seek  and depend on our help.” Except gay ones, of course. Meanwhile, nearly 5,500 Virginia kids were in the foster care system in December 2010, according to Voices for Virginia’s Children.

But God forbid we allow women who want it access to contraception! You’d think that President Obama was mandating that 9-year-olds eat cupcakes decorated with pink frosting and Yasmin sprinkles.

The bishops say that real issue is religious freedom — that employers shouldn’t be required to pay for coverage they morally oppose. But where does one draw the line? Can Jehovah Witnesses who employ a Baptist janitor refuse to pay for that janitor’s blood transfusion if he gets in a car wreck? Can an environmental organization refuse to pay a worker’s maternity bill because they want the world’s population to decrease? Can Anti-Vaccine Vixen Jenny McCarthy refuse to foot the bill for her secretary’s kid’s MMR jab?

The solution, of course, would be to divorce our health care system from employers entirely, and let those 98% of sexually experienced women who use contraception get it straight from the government. I have a feeling the bishops — and the Republicans — wouldn’t like that plan any better.

Articles

Parenthood is Scary Shit

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2012 by apbblue Tagged: , , , , , ,

Honestly, I don’t know how you parents can handle it.

The other night, I got word (from Twitter, of all places) that Rick Santorum’s 3-year-old daughter, Bella, was rushed to the hospital in critical condition. Bella was born with a genetic condition called Trisomy 18 that — among other issues — makes her particularly susceptible to illnesses, and she’s spent quite a bit of her short life in the hospital.

Regardless of what you think of Rick Santorum — that’s clearly a frothy subject for another time — my heart went out to the Santorum family. What an awful feeling that must be, to have your child struggling for her life while you’re unable to do anything to make her better.

So I decided that parents must be the bravest people in the world. Or the craziest. Maybe both.

Parenthood is scary shit. First, you’re at the mercy of the genetic lottery gods to see if you get a healthy bundle of joy — or one whose life will be full of struggles, like Bella. If you’re lucky and your kid is of the reasonably healthy variety, then there’s all the other awful dangers of childhood to worry about. Avian flu. Kidnappings. Hungry dingoes. Choking on a marshmallow. How you parents make it through the day sane, I don’t know.

And the worries never end! Pretty soon, they start school. Will they be targeted by bullies? They’re in sports. Will they break their neck in a fall off the balance beam? They start driving. Will they send the family Honda through a plate-glass window at high speed? They start dating. Will they find a partner who respect them? And what if they choose to build a life with someone you can’t stand? Horrors.

Maybe for many people, the inner biological longing for a kid anesthetizes the mind against such fears, at least long enough to decide having a baby is a good idea. Or perhaps they just don’t think about it. It’s easy to focus on the cooing and the smiles and the first steps and the graduations.

I’m not one of those people. I seem to have been born without whatever gene makes people want to reproduce — or the ability to handle the overwhelming anxiety such a decision would bring a worrywart like me.

So parents: I’m glad you’re brave. I’m glad our species will continue, either because you’re fearless or have found a way to keep those fears in check. Meanwhile, I’ll appreciate that most of my daily fears are pretty minor by comparison.

But if you ever need anyone to worry about your kids for you, give me a call.

Articles

An Open Letter to RAM Racing

In Uncategorized on December 3, 2011 by apbblue Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

Dear RAM Racing:

I am a patient person. I normally don’t write an entire blog post on a crappy experience I’ve had with a company. I might bitch about it on Twitter, sure. Like the time McDonalds swapped in sweet tea for unsweetened, and the manager told me I was mistaken when I complained. But this morning’s Hot Chocolate 15K (renamed the Hot Mess 15K by some of my friends) deserves more than a handful of cranky tweets.

Perhaps it was my fault. I shouldn’t have trusted that a Chicago company could waltz into D.C. and pull off a race with 20,000 runners. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the bad reviews I’ve seen of your previous events. Perhaps I was lured in by the promise of chocolate at the end (come to think of it, I was. I’ll do just about anything for chocolate.) But really, you need to try much, much harder.

In the interest of offering constructive criticism (along with the bitching,) here are some suggestions for next year. If there is a next year. The amount of venom I’ve seen directed toward you from fellow runners is impressive, as we tend to be a friendly lot:

1. Please don’t make people drive outside the city to pick up race packets. The race was held at National Harbor, which is a 20-minute drive on a good day. So why make people drive out there? Most races offer packet pickup the day of the race, or at a local runnning store a few days before. Not only is this better for the environment, it also is a heck of a lot easier for people who don’t drive. I was lucky — one of my co-workers picked up my packet yesterday. But why make people go through the hassle? I suspect that the plan was to get people to make an extra trip out to National Harbor to spend money at the shops and restaurants, but I’m kind of cynical.

2. If you’re gonna make people drive, please have enough parking. After waiting in a mile-long line of traffic to get to National Harbor, we were early enough to secure a parking spot. Many people did not. Others relied on your hastily thrown together remote parking and shuttle system and never made it to National Harbor. My husband, Eric, spoke to some runners who were aboard a shuttle that was running so far behind, they mutinied, demanded to be let off and walked the rest of the way to the race. Apparently, you blamed some sort of “massive accident” for your shuttle failure — an accident nobody saw.

3. Fences between runners and bathrooms are bad. The thing you quickly learn about road races: Just about everyone has to use the bathroom beforehand. Whether it’s nerves or Gatorade-loading, runners gotta pee. And do other things, too. But this race did everything aside from erect a moat to make it impossible to get to the loo before the starting gun. There were plenty of porta-potties near the start. The problem was, they were on the other side of an 8-foot-tall chain-link fence. Using the bathrooms required one to find a way out of the timed chutes, around 10,000 or so other runners and through the fence, a 15-minute excursion. Some runners just said screw it, and made use of a woody area nearby. I can’t say I blamed them. As for me, I just carried my big bowl of Raisin Bran with me for 9.3 miles.

4. PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, START ON TIME. Due in part to the shuttle mishaps (I guess,) the race started an hour late. AN HOUR. With temperatures in the mid-30s, runners were shivering by the time we were finally moving. My toes took a couple miles to defrost. That’s a recipe for pulled-muscle disasters.

5. Find a better course, or limit the number of people on it. To put it charitably, the course was dangerous. It began on a highway, but the highway wasn’t entirely closed. Course organizers relied on orange cones to keep runners out of the way of traffic (including a steady stream of dump trucks.) And it was tight, especially by the water stops. The crowds were so massive that it was hard to maneuver in places. Part of the course was a dirt trail strewn with golfball-sized rocks — two people around me either tripped or twisted ankles. And toward the end, a 10-foot-wide gravel path next to the Potomac served as the race course. I’m surprised a bunch of people didn’t end up in the drink thanks to their tired legs.

There were a few high points. The volunteers were nice, and I appreciate their efforts. The chocolate fondue was tasty — though I heard that some people didn’t get any. And I was happy with my time of 1 hour 33 minutes, though some people with GPS watches said the 9.3-mile course was actually 9.1. I wouldn’t be surprised given the quality of the rest of the event.

So RAM Racing, I have to say I was not impressed. Next year’s Jingle All the Way 10K, run by a local running company at half the cost to enter, is looking better all the time.

Sincerely,

Amy Phillips Bursch

Articles

Penn State, RAINN and Making a Difference

In Uncategorized on November 23, 2011 by apbblue Tagged: , , , , , ,

When I heard the news about the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State, I felt a number of emotions. I was disgusted. Sad. Angry at the school, the perpetrator, the people who knew and didn’t say anything. I was once again mad at the Catholic church — similarities between the crimes and coverups were simply too numerous to ignore. And I was disgusted at the students who rallied around their coach, Joe Paterno, instead of the survivors.

But one thing I didn’t feel was helpless. I knew that I already was doing my small part to help, through an organization called RAINN.

Never heard of it? Don’t feel bad. I’d never heard of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network until a friend of mine, Annie Lynsen, brought it to my attention. She raised money for RAINN this summer by walking a million steps and soliciting donations. I made a little contribution. But what I got in return was much bigger. I learned about RAINN. I realized what a huge difference the support it offers makes in the lives of rape and sexual abuse survivors. And I decided to get involved. I signed up to be an Online Hotline volunteer. I finished training a couple months ago and have been volunteering a few hours a week from the comfort of my living room couch and laptop.

The Online Hotline is a relatively new service RAINN offers. Rape survivors, people who were abused as children, loved ones, friends, men, women, kids – any and all can visit the RAINN Online Hotline in total anonymity and get unbiased information and support in an instant-messaging format. We chat about options. We help hash out safety plans. We discuss resources like books and websites. Most of all, we just listen. And that’s what seems to help the most.

It’s not easy work. I’ve talked to kids who are being abused by their parents, teachers and siblings. I’ve talked to rape survivors who are still struggling with the experience and are thinking about suicide. I’ve talked to spouses who want to do what they can to help their wife or husband, but don’t know where to start. I’ve talked to friends who are struggling to understand what their classmate is going through.

The best chats are the ones when I know I’ve helped someone find a little bit of hope, or come up with a plan of action he or she didn’t have before. The worst chats are ones when I don’t feel like I’ve had anything to offer. When that happens, I just have to hope that something I mentioned might be helpful later on, or that the survivor will come back to the Hotline when they’re in a better place.

Mostly, I’m just amazed at the bravery of people coming forward. It’s never easy to speak out. This country tends to try survivors in the court of public opinion. Rape survivors are led to believe that if they’d just not had that drink, or not gone to that party, or worn a longer skirt, or avoided that neighborhood, or fought back, then they wouldn’t have been assaulted. They all feel guilty. I tell them it’s not their fault.

I’m not telling you about this to get your thanks — frankly, the useful feeling I get from volunteering is thanks enough. I’m telling you about RAINN in the hope that you’ll do something. If you’re able, you can make a small donation at https://donate.rainn.org/. If this work sounds like something you’d want to do, you can sign up to volunteer here http://www.rainn.org/get-involved/volunteer-for-RAINN. Most important of all, you can just be a friend. If someone tells you they’ve been abused or assaulted, be there for them. Listen. Don’t judge. Ask them what they want to do, and help them do it.

And if you’ve been abused or raped and want to talk about it, visit RAINN’s Online Hotline at http://www.rainn.org/get-help/national-sexual-assault-online-hotline, or call 1-800-656-HOPE. Someone is there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to listen. To be there. To do what they can to help. It doesn’t matter if something bad happend last night, or 50 years ago. You’re not alone, and you never need to be.

 

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