July 4th seems like a good time for an optimistic post. I’ve been experiencing the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) first hand, as I work in the health care industry, and here’s a little update about how that’s been going….

The start of this year was complete insanity, as the insurance company I work for scrambled to deal with a steep increase in business. And no, the fact that we weren’t *quite* as prepared as we should be was not the government’s fault… Thankfully, things have stabilized now and my days are no longer crazy and overwhelming. However, we still have a lot more customers and a lot more work, so there is still overtime available. And this, of course, means fatter paychecks for me. Sheesh, thanks a lot, Obama! 😉

At home, my mother finally has health insurance, after years of going without. Now it’s just a matter of talking her into going for a check-up…but that’s not an issue of cost anymore, just her dislike of going to the doctor!

So far, the effects of the Affordable Care Act on my life and the lives of my loved ones have been positive. Could things have been better? Sure. A friend of mine recently received some very bad news about her health, and this has been a blow to all of us who know and care about her. The one silver lining? She is very grateful that she made the decision to move to Canada shortly before she was diagnosed with her illness. In her Facebook posts, she almost always mentions how thankful she is to be part of the Canadian health care system. She has more than enough to deal with right now, but at least she doesn’t have to worry about going into debt or not being able to afford her treatment. And that’s a relief.

So yes, single payer would be even better. But, since that doesn’t seem like a realistic option in the States anytime soon, I’ll take the health care reform we’ve had over nothing. Here’s to our beautiful country reaching even higher in the years to come. And remember, you don’t have to believe the anti-ACA propaganda–Happy Independence Day!

Dear Portland…our relationship has been difficult lately.

There was the time when we went for a gallery walk on First Thursday and none of the art galleries were open, because it turns out you shut everything down super early.  The same thing happened when my friends and I decided to go out on a Wednesday evening.  The night was still young, but you were a ghost town.  As my mother so aptly put it, “Portlanders go to bed with the chickens…except that here, the chickens are wearing hand-knitted sweaters.”  Portland, you’re a city.  Part of the deal is that you’re supposed to entertain me after it gets dark.

And do I even have to bring up Cover Oregon?  You had such big plans–our health insurance exchange was going to be the most ambitious in the country.  Obviously, it did not work out that way.  It’s embarrassing when Kentucky does a better job at socialist health care than we do.  And now, the FBI might be investigating Cover Oregon to see where all that money went.  Portland, please leave corruption to the big boys like Chicago.  You are inept at it.

But in spite of it all, I still love you.  Even though you try way too hard to impress me with your weirdness–were the bearded men in tutus really necessary?  Even though you’re not very wealthy, not very good at sports or business.  Every time I think about walking away into the arms of New York City, I end up staying.  You’re just so damn pretty and intelligent.  And like you, I’m a failing dreamer.  Yeah, we’re stuck with each other.  I’m even willing to forgive you for that Unipiper guy.

Like any long-time lover in a worn relationship, all I ask for anymore are the simple things.  Please, would you give me sunny weather for my week off?  I know late May is when you bring back the rain, but will you make an exception for me?  I won’t complain when it rains in June, I promise.  I’ll post pictures of you on my Facebook and talk about how beautiful you are.  I know how much you like being flattered.

P.S. —  I’m also planning to see an art exhibit this Sunday.  I’m sure it will be empty and closed.

xoxo, Karolina

At work, I have been going through a few weeks of…well, if I can’t call it Hell, it can at least be described as Purgatory.  I work for a health insurance company which is participating in the Oregon insurance exchange, and we have been flooded by calls from new members.  Almost everyone in the company has been on the phones, talking to people who are frustrated about having to deal with Cover Oregon (the state exchange) and frustrated about having to deal with us.

Which leaves me with some questions.  Yes, the Cover Oregon website and phone line have been a fiasco, sort of like the federal healthcare.gov operation was when it first started.  But–and I can’t get into too many details here, because it’s a public blog and this is my employer I’m talking about–the company I work for was not exactly prepared for all the new business coming our way, either.  We were understaffed, so customers have been on hold for long times, often only to have the phone system hang up on them.  We’re not always sure where the applications of the new members are, or what their status is.  And yes, our website has been so overwhelmed by the amount of people trying to use it that it has experienced–can I use the word?–glitches. 

If we were a government agency, the conservatives would be all over us.  Healthcare.gov was bashed for the exact same things that are happening to us, by the usual suspects who say government can’t do anything right.  Yet I’m not hearing any commentary from our local talkers about the problems at the insurance providers.  It’s as if our mistakes somehow don’t count because our company is run for private profit.

It makes no sense to me.  But I know that our glitches are not going to be talked about the same way the government glitches were, because they can’t be used for a political purpose.  And it doesn’t make a difference to my daily life.  I’ll keep taking the angry calls, anyway.

So at least one new poll shows that Mitt Romney would win the presidential election if it were being held today.  There is obvious frustration with the healthcare.gov mess, and rightly so.

I have a slightly different take.  I still wouldn’t vote for Mitt–I don’t like his policy positions any more now than I did back then–but couldn’t we put him to work helping with Obamacare?  After all, he was in charge of the same plan in Massachusetts.  He should be great at helping iron out the glitches.  And what is he doing with himself these days, anyway?  Earning more unnecessary billions?  Taking rides on his car elevator?

Okay, so the above proposal isn’t serious, and I realize it’s for the best that it won’t happen.  But it was so nice to imagine Mitt being useful to this country…for once.

It has been a little surreal watching the conservative reaction to Obamacare problems over the past few weeks.  I have never before seen conservatives get this upset over people not having insurance coverage.  The hand wringing as they read the letters from their constituents who have lost their insurance plans…the fiery anger as they ask, what will those poor families do now??  As I watch them cry their crocodile tears, I feel the urge to ask a couple questions–

Where were you guys when many of us were suffering under the existing health care system?  Where were you when people were being refused insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions, or kicked off their insurance plan because it was discovered that they had a doctor’s visit somewhere in their past?  I don’t remember your sadness then–in fact, it seemed that you didn’t care at all.  Okay, I get it.  The website isn’t working and that’s embarrassing.  And it is frustrating for people to lose an insurance plan they happened to like, even if it wasn’t a very good quality plan.  But at least there is a website, and the people who lose their coverage can go to shop on the exchange.  Before, if you were rejected by an insurance company for whatever reason, you were likely to be rejected by other insurance companies as well, and there was nowhere else for you to go.  Did you have anything to say about that?

We know, we know, you’re against Obamacare.  So what is your solution, your alternative?  And please don’t say it’s to leave the health care system as it is now–that’s not an acceptable answer.  If you have a much better idea for fixing health care, what is it, and why didn’t you present it earlier, back when the system badly needed reforming?  You’re whining about it now, but it is too little, too late. 

Where have you been?

Ohhhhkay…so as everyone knows by now, the Obamacare website isn’t working so well.  And sadly, neither is the local insurance exchange website for my state, even though I live in one of those states which were eager to participate in Obamacare, and did not have to be dragged kicking and screaming into it.

I’ve listened to Jon Stewart make fun of the problems.  I’ve heard President Obama quipping about how frustrated he is, in his usual suave way.  Conservatives have been mocking the situation, and rightly so.  It’s an embarrassing mess.  Although their solution would be to scrap the whole thing and go back to the old, badly functioning health care system, so I don’t know how seriously I can take their point of view. 

Thing is, this is no humorous matter to me.  I’m not laughing, I’m a little anxious.  As I’ve written before, I have family members who are uninsured and need access to the exchange.  I agree with President Obama–I think the Obamacare product itself is good.  And I love the hippie trippy psychedelic commercials Oregon is running for its CareOregon site.  But what’s the point of cool advertisements if you’re not able to purchase the goods?  As always, my home state is better at creative expression than it is at being practical 🙂

My family is going to give it a couple more weeks, as we hope that all the “glitches” will get worked out with time.  Worst case scenario, we’ll just fill out one of the paper applications.  We need this and are determined to get it.  But there could be an easier way.

So c’mon, President Obama.  We want to buy the product you’re selling.  Let us be your customers!

As I sit here working away at my desk, I hear your voice shouting in my headphones.  “We need to stop Obamacare…we have to defund it…the American people must be defended…”

Psssst….hey you…health care reform is already here.  Our state exchange website is open, and in the next few days, I will be helping my parents to sign up on it.  My mother, who was previously turned down by insurance companies–not for any serious pre-existing conditions, mind you–only for a single visit to the doctor in her past–she will finally be able to get insurance.  So will my father, who recently found contract employment which does not offer health benefits.  At his age, it is difficult for him to find a job which isn’t contract or temporary.  Some of my friends who were uninsured will also be getting coverage.  If being able to breathe easier about their well-being means that I’m selling out to big government, I’m okay with that.

And here’s another thing–the medical insurance company I work for is already enrolling new members for our exchange plans.  My employers are doing what any normal business would do–competing for customers.  We are expecting tens of thousands of new members.  So what do you think is going to happen now?  Do you think that if you lie on the ground and kick your feet and scream, my company is going to turn around and drop all those people it just signed up?  Or do you think my bosses would prefer to see those premium payments come in?

And yes, this is why I’m still at my desk so late, listening to you.  I’ve been working long hours because of health care reform.  In the real world in which I reside, this law is a done deal.  But I can understand what you’re doing, you over there on the Congress floor.  Hey, I like a bit of good drama just as much as the next person.  And that’s all this is–drama.  Whether it’s being done for votes from your base, or prestige, or whatever else.  All that huffing and puffing of righteous anger is only for show.  And you know that as well as I do.

All day long, I’ve been listening to conservatives accusing Obama of looking weak over Syria.  He has been too indecisive, he has changed his mind…  If only he was a stronger leader, then they might be able to respect him.

Yeah, right.  What complete bullshit.  I can only imagine the hysterical outcry that would be happening right now if Obama had been a Bush-style, more decisive leader on this.  For instance, if he had not consulted Congress over Syria and had just gone in.  We would be hearing discussions all day long about Obama being a dictator and about FEMA camps.  How dare he not consult Congress!  He is trampling on the Constitution yet again!  It would be another one of those days when, if you’re a right-wing radio listener, you retreat to your basement to polish your guns.

One of the dilemmas this President has to deal with is that he cannot appear to be too strong.  He’s already considered a dictator for passing the moderate Republican health care plan.  I’m no fan of military involvement in Syria, but I suppose at least I can be grateful that the President hasn’t been too much of a “decider”.  There is only so much right-wing hysteria I can take.

Okay, here is one of those situations which makes me question if our health care system is really the “best in the world”.  The Wall Street Journal reports today that UnitedHealth announced a 5.5% rise in its profits, higher than expected.  This is reported as very good news for the economy, as UnitedHealth is the first medical insurance company to reveal its profits this quarter, and is a good indicator of how other insurance companies are doing.

The reason UnitedHealth’s profits are higher than expected?  Due to the recession, people have been avoiding hospitals and doctors in order to save money.

This right there is a problem.  We have a system in which patients and insurance companies are on opposing sides.  Patients have to use as few services as possible if the insurance company is to make a profit.  The criticism we always hear of a government-run system is that it would deny people services, but it sure seems to me like the private insurance company would also want to find ways to deny its customers services, otherwise, where is the profit?  This, of course, is why we need Medicare–the elderly get sick too often to be profitable.  The article states that as the economy gradually improves, the use of medical services is expected to pick up again–but will that not be bad news for the insurance industry, and thus bad news for a large sector of our economy?  This sounds like a lose-lose situation.

Granted, there are inefficiences and abuses in the health care system, and the population of our country could stand to lead a healthier lifestyle, which would cut down on health care costs.  But the thing about medical care is, it’s not always a choice.  Sometimes you simply need to be able to use it.  And if people are foregoing preventive care which could avoid more serious problems later so that they can save money, the results of that cannot possibly be good.

Naturally, the irony of all this is that the Affordable Care Act does not scrap the private insurance industry.  Rather, it expands the customer base for it.  So this blog is by no means meant to sing the praises of recent health care reform.  It is just meant to express yet again the serious doubts I have about our current system.  If there is any way to read the above news about UnitedHealth and take away something positive from it, I would love to hear it.

 

Yes, to all of the people mourning the Supreme Court decision today:  it’s true, your liberty has died.  As someone who grew up under a universal health care system, I can tell you that it’s just complete tyranny.  They forced you to go to the hospital!  They forced you to take an ambulance!  Even if you weren’t sick!

Actually, no such thing happened, of course.  When we lived in Holland, we went to the doctor and got the same treatment for our problems as we do here, except that over there, we didn’t have to worry about the financial aspect of the situation.  The people we know in Europe who get a serious illness only have to stress about the illness, which is bad enough in itself.  They don’t also have to stress about going bankrupt.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure I’ve already mentioned all this in previous blogs, but it bears repeating, since people continue to tell fables about how in a single payer system, you will no longer have “freedom” when it comes to your health care.  The only loss of freedom which I will freely acknowledge happens under a single payer system is that you may end up paying higher taxes.  Speaking of which, I’m thinking of taking the train to the library tomorrow–yet more terrible impositions from my local government which I will have to suffer under.

On a small added note, I’m so glad I was wrong about how this decision went today.  For once, my pessimism was proven incorrect.  But I’m still feeling pessimistic about the election in Nov…hope I’m just as wrong about that one!