Friday, March 21, 2014

USPS and Affordable Health Care

These are two separate topics that I would like to discuss.  I will try and stick to the facts and not insert too much personal opinion.

First, the United States Postal Service, or USPS and some changes that have been implemented that have recently been brought to my attention.

I have had a PO Box for over a decade.  I have found it to be a secure location to receive my mail, and later as I entered the world wide web, a way to maintain some anonymity. I have come across some pretty scary individuals both in real life and on the internet.  Some of the latter have shown they had every ability to get into my computer systems and I really didn't want them finding out my physical address.

Having a POBox means I have to show up at the Post Office periodically to collect my mail and drop outgoing mail in the slot on the wall.  There have always been two slots, one for Local Mail, and one for Out of Town mail.  The local mail is for stuff sharing that zip code, and the postmistress could just take that box and give it to the driver to sort for deliveries.  In recent years, the Out of Town Box has had various hubs that it goes to and then is directed from there.  Now I think there is only one hub, in the state, at least to the best of my knowledge.

Then a couple of months ago I noticed a change.  The slot wall had been rebuilt.  There was one slot, reading, "ALL MAIL".

I stopped in my tracks.  I craned my head around the corner and commented on the change to the postmistress.  To me, this meant one thing, loopholes were being closed.

The postmistress just shrugged and said if someone had something going local they could just give it to her and she would give it to the driver, because it really didn't make any sense to have the mail delayed several days to make the trip to the hub and back when it was going to someone down the road.

So, a few weeks went by.  Sometimes when I am expecting something in the mail, instead of making the trip I would call and ask her if the specific item was in my box yet.  She was quite cheery about this request, and oftentimes would keep an eye out for something so she wouldn't even have to go peep in the box if I called.

I made a call, and got a different person.  He was quite offical sounding and took a few minutes riffling through all my junk mail to come back with a negative reply.  The next day I called again, and received the same person and response.  Hmmm.  I hoped that my regular postmistress was just on vacation because, although this new individual was not unfriendly, I was starting to dread calling to check if something was in my box.

Finally the expected mail arrived (I gave up calling and just waiting a few more days and drove over to check).

That was a month or so ago, and I haven't made the trip since.  But then I started worrying because I pay the fee for the box twice a year, and if you don't pay in two weeks from the due date the notice says they will start returning your mail, so I called to see if the notice was in my box.  Same new person.  I was all set for now, but the notice was coming out this month and would be due the end of the month.

Now, when I first rented the box, the fee was something like $10 a year.  That wasn't too bad.  After all, I was saving them a lot of work driving my mail around town and stopping to put it in my box- rain, snowbanks or shine. Then the cost started going up. And up. And up.  I now have to pay $28 twice a year, or $56 annually for the smallest box.

Usually I just grit my teeth and cough up the money.  But everything else is going up too-taxes are due, car needs work, gasoline prices are through the roof; heating costs have been exorbitant this winter.

So I decided that was that, I will close the box and have the mail forwarded to my tin can at the end of the road.

I stopped at a Post Office yesterday to pick up a change of address form.  I have filled a lot of these out over the years.  You put your name, current address, your name, new address, and mail it to your old post office so they can forward your mail.  It's good for a year, but in the old days postmasters would continue to forward the mail if there were any stragglers. 

Once I got a piece of mail that had gone to four different post offices and was still delivered.  I thought that was amazing!

Instead of a little postcard in the postoffice, there was a bulky glossy envelope, encouraging me in big letters to change my address online.  Inside was chock full of coupons for homeowners insurance, and satellite Tv among others.  Hidden in between was the card I was looking for.  I looked it over, and on the back, where you used to fill in the post office you wanted your mail forwarded from, was Postmaster, USA.

Wow Uncle Sam is getting a pretty long arm!

Moving on, (pardon the pun), next topic, Affordable Health Care.

Basically I just want to discuss health insurance.

One woman I know told me she had been sick before Thanksgiving with an upper respiratory infection.  She pays, for herself, $400, yes four hundred dollars, a month for health insurance. Her deductible is $2500 a year.  Yes, two thousand, five hundred dollars a year.  Meaning, she has to spend that much before her insurance will pay a dime.

She couldn't afford to go to the doctor.  She suffered for months, finally spending several days in bed.  A neighbor brought her some soup.  Finally she went to the local clinic, and got a script for an inexpensive antibiotic. ($40 for the meds plus probably $100 to get the script).  She felt better and after the script ran out she was sick again.  And last I heard she was still sick.

I read that our president was holding a meeting promoting affordable health care, and read an email from a young couple.  The husband earned about 30,000 a year, and the lowest premium they could find was $300 a month for husband wife, and one child.  They wanted to know how they were supposed to afford $300 a month on that income.

Supposedly (I heard this second hand) the president's response was that he was sure if they cut back on their cell phones and TV packages they could come up with enough for the premium. What would they do if husband got sick? The comments I read from folks regarding this were mostly (over 90%) aghast at the response.

Most of them argued that in this day and age a cell phone was mandatory to find and keep a job.  And most of them had already cancelled their cable TV packages.

My personal opinion is that, in this struggling economy, if folks are forced to pay 8% or more of their income for insurance, they are not going to have that money to spend bailing out the economy. And if they do get sick, they won't be able to afford to pay out of pocket until they meet the deductible.

One woman said (I just read this on the wire today) she couldn't afford to buy glasses for her daughter, because either it was not covered or she had to meet the deductible first. The answer was some long winded response about minimum income and percentages and subsidations and medicare expansions.

 By the way, medicare is not free, they WILL make a claim on your estate after you die for both premiums and recovering costs of any healthcare you receive.

So let's see, so far, from what I understand, people can't afford to go to the doctor if they have insurance. What will this do to doctor's incomes? If they are salaried with a group, like a hospital, then logic dictates that at some points positions will be cut due to lack of demand, meaning less doctors available.

And that brings me to my last point.  Health insurance companies can dictate what doctor or hospital you can go to.  There are a number of cancer centers that insurance providers are not including in their list of places you can go. 

So, you get that expensive insurance with the high deductible figuring if something major happens, like cancer or heart trouble, you'll be covered (as long as you can pay that deductible first).  Well, that's nice.  Now it turns out that your insurance can tells you which doctor you can go see. 

I don't think you have to be genius to see where that could lead.  Doctors who are proactive, prescribe expensive surgeries and top of the line medications could be quickly earmarked and shut out.  Doctors that shrug their shoulders, do nothing, and tell you to make your final arrangements will be a gold mine.

Pray it's not so.

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