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Health care for all?

It’s been a while since I’ve had time to write in this space. Several times over the last months I have begun and then discarded my inadequate attempts to make sense of the increasingly wacked out world in which we live.

But then other stuff got in the way, like parenting and cooking dinner and laundry and celebrating birthdays and, you know, life, and the days melted into months.

So now, here we are, creeping up on six months since all hell broke loose in Washington, D.C. And I find myself alone in my house, as my children and spouse are otherwise engaged in the pursuit of summertime pleasures, with nothing to do but watch MSNBC and/or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt OR write a blog post. And since I watched a couple Kimmys last night and ate my lunch while watching MSNBC, I thought I’d write.

Just joshing. I’m giving it more thought than that. I’ve actually been struggling with how to wrap my head around this whole health care nightmare.

Not sure what’s going to happen, but I know that it’s not going to benefit me or anyone I know. How do I know this? Because from what I can tell, the only winners in this whole debacle are the ultrawealthy who will gain a large tax break with the death of the Affordable Care Act tax, which subsidized Medicaid expansion and access for others to the health care system.

And no one in my circle of trust or life or what-have-you will be accessing any of that cash.
Repubican-Patience-CAre-plan

So my thoughts, naturally, go to my children and those with whom I work. Most of those guys are covered by Medicaid under the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Their parents can seek out yearly physicals and mental health services for their kids through their managed Medicaid health plans. My own kids always have been fortunate their parents’ jobs include the option to buy health insurance, and so they’ve never gone without.

But my oldest two children are 21 and 19. They’ve got one foot out of the nest. And, like my father before me, I worry about whether they’ll be able to find jobs once they’re finished with college that will provide health insurance. This will be especially important for them because they each, along with their younger brother, have what insurance companies will consider pre-existing conditions.

My oldest child has asthma, a condition he developed after contracting RSV as an infant. His brother and sister both have celiac disease, an inherited autoimmune condition. These conditions are mild, as far as health issues go. But they are chronic and lifelong.

I remember my parents telling me, when I was nearing the end of college, that I needed to aim to get a job that provided health insurance. And I didn’t really even have a pre-existing condition.

Except, as it turns out, that I did. I had a big one.

I’m a woman.

Yes, that was a shocker to the 23-year-old me, figuring out that my very identity made me a risk to my health insurer.

And to think that I’d lived all those years and never realized how risky I was. What a waste. To think of what I could have accomplished had I known. I was oblivious.

But one day, shortly into my tenure at my first newspaper job and after the prescribed waiting period, my health insurance took effect. Yay! I was excited. I had Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Kansas, because my employer was a newspaper owned by Stauffer Communications, based in Topeka, Kan. (This is only mildly interesting, but I must point out that Mary Stauffer, granddaughter of the company’s founder, is married to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.)

My hubs and I had been married about six months, and for part of that time I’d been covered on his insurance through the Boy Scouts of America, where he worked. But with an actual full-time job, I would qualify for my own coverage. And at that point in my life, about the only thing I needed was access to birth control pills.

We’d been married less than a year. We were 23. And we were in no way, shape or form ready to be parents. Under the Boy Scouts’ health insurance plan, my birth control pills were covered, except for a reasonable co-pay. And I assumed it would be the same under my new Blue Cross plan.

But when I went to pick up my prescription that month, I found out otherwise when I had to fork over $50 for the 30-day pack.

It was 1992. I made less than $16,000 a year. The hubs made not a lot more. And that $50 was a big hunk of money. Much less than raising a child, to be sure, but still, it was ginormous for a couple of kids who sometimes went to the grocery store on a Saturday and feasted on samples to save a few bucks. There must have been a mistake, I figured, so I called the insurance company.

Nope, they said. Your policy doesn’t cover birth control pills. Or birth control in any form.

“Gosh,” I said to the customer service representative. “What about maternity care? Is that covered?”

“Oh, yes, there is coverage,” the woman on the line said.

I remember sitting in silence.

“So,” I said, “if I get pregnant, go to the doctor for nine months and have the baby in a hospital, all that is covered?”

“Yes,” she said, as if speaking to a small child.

“But the birth control pills aren’t covered,” I said.

“No,” she said.

“So nine months of maternity care and the birth and a short hospital stay is covered,” I said. “But $400 or so yearly to keep from getting pregnant is not covered.”

“No,” she said.

I remember asking, “Does that make sense to you?”

But I don’t remember her final answer.

So I worry. I worry about all my kids and their current and future health needs. I worry about my daughter, who because she is a woman will be penalized under the health care bills put forth by both the U.S. House and Senate. I am concerned about both my parents and my in-laws, who are in their 70s and on Medicare.

And I worry about my clients, many of whom couldn’t afford to be able to see doctors regularly for preventive health care without Medicaid.

I worry.

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Step outside your bubble

It’s only been about a month since the inauguration, but some days, it feels like it’s been a year.

Maybe it’s because many of our fears about what a Trump presidency could mean for the country are coming to fruition.

Reinterpreting Title IX to exclude students who are transgendered. Actively hunting down illegal aliens. Working to take away healthcare from millions of Americans.

It’s overwhelming. Disheartening. Frightening.

And much of the time, I feel somewhat alone in my fear bubble. It’s just me, a handful of friends and family and Rachel Maddow.

bubbles

At least that’s my perception.

Except we’re not alone. There are lots of us out there – I mean, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million votes. So why do some of us feel lonely?

Personally, I think it’s because I am living in a kind of echo chamber, despite my best efforts. Sure, I’m making my daily calls, thanks to Daily Action. I’m in the process of getting vetted to volunteer for Jewish Vocational Services’ refugee relocation program. Yet it generally feels like I’m doing these things without benefit of ever seeing a familiar face.

And then, within the last two weeks, my bubble burst in a good way.

First, a friend I’ve known for several years mentioned she’d been at a local Progressive Social Network meeting. I didn’t realize she was involved. She’d never mentioned it, and I hadn’t asked.

Then a couple weeks ago, I got an e-mail asking for last-minute volunteers at JVS.

With the stay keeping the immigration ban at bay for a bit, JVS learned that more than 40 refugees would be arriving in Kansas City the week of Feb. 13. They needed people who could help put together basic supplies to help the refugees get set up in their new homes.

So early on a Monday morning, I headed to a warehouse in Midtown to bundle together donated sheets, towels, kitchen supplies and toiletries.

I didn’t know a soul there. I was a little late (because I usually am,) so I joined two women who were just getting started. One was in her 20s, and the other in her late 40s. They’re friends who work together at Southwest Airlines. I asked how they found JVS. I thought maybe Southwest had a volunteer program such as Kohl’s Care for Kids.

Nope, they said. They were working the Sunday that folks gathered at the airport to protest against Trump’s executive order effectively banning travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations. They decided that day they wanted to do something to help refugees, so the older woman found out about JVS’s work through her church.

They never spoke of politics or the election or even mentioned Donald Trump’s name. They just wanted to help other humans. We worked together for two hours, counting sheets and blankets and pots and pans and toothbrushes.

Then on Wednesday, after a long day at work, I stopped by the local meeting of the Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus. I was late, this time because of work, so I slipped in, signed in and headed for a seat. I tried to make myself smaller so as not to draw attention to myself.

But I felt eyes on me, so I looked over at the next table. There was a woman I knew through my job, smiling at me knowingly. I flashed her a grin.

Just then, the door to the room opened, and another woman walked in late. After a few minutes, I realized it was a woman I see at my gym. After the meeting, I reminded her that we take Zumba together.

I was starting to feel like part of a club.

And on Thursday after work, I stopped by Jo-Ann Fabrics to pick up something. As I grabbed a cart, a woman came up to me.

“Excuse me,” she said, leaning in.

She looked around and lowered her voice.

“I like your bumper sticker,” she said.

I paused.

“My Clinton-Kaine sticker?” I asked.

“Yep!” she said. “I just had to say something to you. I feel so alone that when I see people I know feel the same way I do, I have to reach out.”

I smiled and offered my hand. Then I told her about the Progressive Social Network group and the women’s political caucus meeting. She didn’t know about either. I told her about Daily Action – she’d been trying to make calls on her own.

I dug in my purse and pulled out a business card and wrote all that on the back.

She thanked me, and I thanked her for stopping me. And then we went on our ways.

And the world felt a little smaller.

Miss Invisibility

Last week, while we were on vacation, my young adult niece jokingly told me she doesn’t think she’ll live past 30.

Now, I think her comment was mostly aimed at inspiring shock, but I think there’s a little bit of truth in it – as in, she can’t imagine what it’ll be like to be 30, which seems half-way to dead to her.  I mean, she’s just echoing her grandparents’ generation, in which youngsters vowed to never trust anyone over 30.

And she made me think, because I’m decidedly over 30. Way over.

And then I was reading this book during our trip, and a middle-aged character described herself as reaching the age of invisibility – she’s there, but no one notices. She’s not young and beautiful anymore, and she doesn’t inspire the awe that the longevity of senescence does. She’s just…there.

That’s how I feel much of the time these days.

Not that I was ever a raving beauty. And I’ve certainly not reached hag stage (unless you talk with my teen-age daughter.) But I’m definitely feeling invisible.

The week before vacation, I had a bunch of errands to run. And one of these was partaking of a sale at a well-known store that specializes in ladies’ unmentionables, if you know what I mean. Victoria’s Secret, if you don’t.

I’m definitely not the VS type – maybe if I were, I wouldn’t be so invisible. But they do have really nice underwear that is a particularly good buy when they’re on sale. So I dashed in there between trips to Old Navy and Bath and Body Works to grab the 5 for $26.50 panties.

I was the store’s sole customer that Monday night. I wandered for a bit, looking for the aforementioned panties. All I saw wherever I looked were various other items of lingerie at ever-increasing price points. Not a salesperson in sight.

Finally, I happened upon a couple of VS clerks near the PINK merchandise , deep in a discussion about the finer distinctions between 54th Street Grill and Bar and Chili’s. I cleared my throat and looked appealingly toward them. Nothing.

In another room, I found another young clerk, humming to herself as she straightened out a table of thongs (not the sandal kind.) She never looked my way as I, the store’s only customer, walked past on my way to the table of 5-for-$26.50 panties I’d finally spotted.

For a good 10 minutes, I pondered my choices – patterned or plain? Hip-huggers or high-waisted? Regular bikini or low-rise bikini? No one bothered me.

Finally, selection made, I headed for the cash register. A tall blond in her early 20s glided over. Never making eye contact, she asked me if I’d found everything I was looking for. I assured her I had. Then she asked – again, never looking at me – whether anyone had helped me.

“Not a flipping person” was what I wanted to say.

“Nope” was what I ended up responding.  And that sealed my fate as an invisible person as Miss Congeniality put my receipt in my little pink-striped bag and pushed it toward me.

It might not be all bad, this invisibility thing. Today, I saw a young woman, the daughter of an acquaintance, in a store with her new husband – the one she dumped her previous husband for. For some reason – I just like watching train wrecks, OK? – I wanted to know what they were buying. So I began perusing the items on their aisle. And they never noticed me. Never even looked my way. It was awesome.

So, yeah. Middle age sucks in so many ways. Stuff is starting to sag. I will never, ever be able to eat an entire medium pepperoni pizza ever again. I have to measure everything I ingest – even my wine – in order to attempt to maintain my weight. Don’t even get me started on why it is always SO FLIPPING HOT in here.

But this invisibility thing…I definitely could use this to my advantage. Stay tuned.