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The www.FedPrimeRate.com Personal Finance Blog and Magazine

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

This American Life on The Health Insurance Industry

healthcare and the health insurance industry in the USAMy favorite radio program This American Life recently had two episodes about the American healthcare system in general, and the health insurance industry in particular. Very informative and entertaining, as usual. If you want to understand how we arrived at the crazy system we have today then listen to these shows.

The first part can be found here.

The second part can be found here.

NB: When you visit the above webpages, Look for the Full Episode link to listen to the above programs for free. They'll stream over your live Internet connection and play on your computer.


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Thursday, September 24, 2009

I Spent $125 On A Pair of Sneakers, but I'm OK With It

Running SneakerI am currently without health insurance.

Very recently, I was experiencing some serious pain in my right Achilles tendon whenever I went out running. The pain started weeks ago, and gradually got worse over time. It got so bad that I had to stop running, and a developed a slight limp.

Being without insurance, I tried my best to see if I could fix this problem on my own. I visited webpage after webpage, from high profile sites like WebMD to small forums dedicated to running. I found all kinds of advice, but one recommendation stuck out as the best place for me to start. I found a forum where a doctor recommended to someone with the same symptoms (Achilles Tendonitis) to change his running shoes right away.

So, reluctantly, I went to my local mall to shop around for a pair of running shoes. This was not easy for me, as I go shopping for clothes and shoes once every 5 to 7 years. Moreover, I already had a perfectly fine pair of running sneaks at home.

I tried on countless shoes, but most were made for people who have an arch in their feet so they weren't any good for my extremely flat feet. Eventually, I found a pair of Nike MAXAIR running shoes that were perfect: light, comfy and not even a hint of an arch. They cost $125 plus tax, a price that actually made me sweat a little, but I bought them. The salesman assured me that I could return them if they did not work out.

So, after giving my tendon a few days rest, I was back to running in my new kicks. The pain subsided after a few runs and is now completely gone. I had no problem running with the diminishing pain, as, for me, it's even more painful to be without exercise. I simply don't function right without it. Keeps my body fit and strong and my mind sharp and resilient.

I used to tap into my "internal pharmacy" by biking a lot, but I had to give that up completely after I developed a pinched nerve in my neck. Though I love cycling, it doesn't suit my body type at all. And yes: I've tried lots of different bikes. Eventually, I'll give a recumbent bicycle another try, but for now, I'm sticking with the running.

Run Naturally: Don't Listen to Other People's Bad Advice

Many years ago, when I was a teenager in boarding school, my physical education teacher used to tell me that my running style is no good. When I run, I naturally lean forward, and with each step I land on the balls of my feet. For long distance runs, my gym teacher -- we'll call him Mr. WW -- used to try to get me (and others) to run more upright, which would cause me to land on my heels. I resisted his advise, because I never really trusted him, and his advise just didn't seem to make sense to me. He was from an era when runners would run very upright, and lifting the knees as high into the air as possible was considered good form.

Turns out I was right to trust my instincts.

A few months ago, I caught an excellent broadcast of Radio Times on NPR about running. Marty Moss-Coane interviewed Christopher McDougall, author of the book Born to Run. McDougall spent time with the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s treacherous Copper Canyons, a group with some astounding runners. These natural runners are able to do 100-mile ultramarathons barefoot by running exactly the way I run naturally: leaning forward and landing on the balls of their feet. Of course, these folks run at an easy pace, but I think most would agree that 100 miles is amazing at any pace.

For more on Born to Run, visit this link.

To listen to the Radio Times interview with Christopher McDougall, visit this link (mp3.) Highly recommended!

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

COBRA Subsidy Will Expire On December 31, 2009

COBRA Subsidy via The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA)If you've ever been laid off from a job, then you've probably heard of COBRA. COBRA is short for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, a law that let's a recently unemployed worker extend the group health plan their employer provided for them for up to nine months.

COBRA was a good idea, but it practice it really doesn't help much. That's because the cost of using COBRA is just too high. I remember being asked to pay more than $400 to continue on my former employer's group plan back in 1999. I can only imagine what I'd be asked to pay if I wanted to use COBRA today.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, or ARRA, which was signed into law by president Obama back in February of this year, includes help for those who want to use COBRA, in the form of a 65% premium reduction. 65% is a big deal. It can reduce a $400 COBRA premium down to a far more affordable $140.

Two important things to note about this subsidy:

  • Help comes in the form of a tax credit, so you'll still need to have enough cash available to pay for the full COBRA premium amount if and when you sign up for the program.

  • The subsidy ends on December 31, 2009.

For more info on the COBRA subsidy, visit this webpage.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Poverty Rate Surged During 2008

povertyThe Commerce Department just released stats on poverty and health insurance coverage for 2008. As you might have guessed, the numbers for the wealthiest nation that has ever existed aren't pretty. Poverty rose last year, as did the number of Americans who don't have health insurance. Here's a clip from the U.S. Census Bureau report:

"...The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that real median household income in the United States fell 3.6 percent between 2007 and 2008, from $52,163 to $50,303. This breaks a string of three years of annual income increases and coincides with the recession that started in December 2007.

The nation’s official poverty rate in 2008 was 13.2 percent, up from 12.5 percent in 2007. There were 39.8 million people in poverty in 2008, up from 37.3 million in 2007.

Meanwhile, the number of people without health insurance coverage rose from 45.7 million in 2007 to 46.3 million in 2008, while the percentage remained unchanged at 15.4 percent..."

And how does the Commerce Department define poverty? Here you go:

"...As defined by the Office of Management and Budget and updated for inflation using the Consumer Price Index, the weighted average poverty threshold for a family of four in 2008 was $22,025; for a family of three, $17,163; for a family of two, $14,051; and for unrelated individuals, $10,991..."

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

How Cancer (And A Lack of Health Insurance) Cost My Mother Her Life

cancerWe all know the damage that cancer can do to lives and families. Not one of us has gone untouched in some way by this terrible disease. Almost as terrible, is the fact that a lot of people who have cancer either don't have insurance or cannot afford it. With President Bush and his veto of a bill that would have provided health insurance funding for children in low-income families that make too much to get Medicaid (but not enough to pay for private coverage), I don't see it getting any better. I'm here to tell you my mother's story, because she is no longer here to tell it herself. If, through telling this story, I can keep one person or family from going through what I've been through, then I've done something right.

My mother was a happy, vibrant, great person. At age 40, she had been through her share of struggles- a rocky marriage to my father, and then an abusive relationship with a man who almost beat her to death more than once. She managed to leave him, and rose above her circumstances. She met a wonderful man, who treated her with love and respect. A year after they met, they were married. Life was great, and for a year and a half everything went smoothly.

And then that peace was gone.

It started gradually. My mother would try to act as though nothing was wrong, but I knew something was up. She began to make a lot of trips to the restroom, and began to complain of bleeding and stomach cramps. After a couple of weeks of this, I urged her to see a doctor. She was reluctant to do it, because she didn't have health insurance, and could not afford to buy it. We were hard-pressed to get her the medical care she needed. Tired of seeing her suffer, I took her to the nearest emergency room because I knew that the doctors there are obligated to treat every patient who comes in.

When the doctor finally saw her, he took note of her symptoms, and gave her a (very) cursory examination. All in all, the whole process took less than ten minutes from start to finish. I kept expecting the doctor to order a round of tests, or want to draw blood, or something, anything. I was surprised when she was given a diagnosis of a severe urinary tract infection (UTI), written a prescription for antibiotics, and sent home. I'd been with her since the symptoms started, and I knew from the bottom of my heart that something was really wrong.

After almost six months with her illness getting worse day by day, I found a gynecologist who would be willing to see her, and work with her on a payment plan. I went with her to her first appointment, and I was very impressed with the quality of care that she received. Within a half hour she got a complete exam, and the doctor found that she had a tumor roughly the size of a baseball. He immediately made her an appointment for a biopsy, at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida.

I was both angry and dumbfounded. If the attending physician in the ER had been more thorough in his examination and treatment of her, the tumor would have been found a lot earlier. Looking back, I wonder if the fact that she was uninsured had anything to do with the way her treatment was handled.

She went for a biopsy two days later, and we all prayed and hoped for the best. But, when she got the results, I knew what they were before the doctor even opened his mouth. My mother had cervical cancer, and it had already begun to spread. If she'd been able to afford proper health coverage, she would have received care when the symptoms first started, and she certainly wouldn't have had to wait six months to see a specialist.

"Although cervical cancer used to be one of the most common causes of cancer death among American women, in the past 40 years there has been a 75% decrease in mortality. This is primarily due to routine screening with Pap tests (Pap smear), to identify precancerous and early-invasive stages of cervical cancer. With treatment, these conditions have a cure rate of nearly 100%."

The staff at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center were outstanding. They gave her the care she desperately needed. I was with her through hospital stays, radiation treatments, and daily chemotherapy.

My mother was worried sick about how she and her husband were going to pay the bills. By the time it was all said and done, they added up to almost $200,000. I wasn't concerned about that, I was scared for her. The chemo and radiation took its toll on her, and she was getting sicker every day.

At an appointment in the beginning of October of 2002, her doctor asked me to leave the room so that he could speak to her in private. I excused myself, and went to the waiting room. When she came out, she could barely walk, and was trying not to cry. I asked her what was wrong, and it took a few minutes before she was ready to tell me.

"My doctors told me there's nothing else they can do for me- my cancer is terminal." She was given two months to live. This couldn't be happening! I had so much more to tell her. I'd just found out the same week that I was expecting a baby, but I didn't tell her because I didn't want her to know about a grandchild that she'd never get to see.

We tried our best to pack a lifetime of love, laughter and tears into the next few weeks. Then, three weeks after her 41st birthday, she began to have breathing problems, and I rushed her to the hospital. Her doctors examined her and said that her internal organs were shutting down. I knew it wouldn't be long before she was gone. She passed away on November 4th, 2002. I was inconsolable, and the stress made me so sick that I almost had a miscarriage.

For all the things my mother went through, I wouldn't wish it on anyone. That's why having AFFORDABLE health insurance is so vital. Hopefully, President Barack Obama will remain true to his word, and implement some sorely needed health-care reform.

"According to a U.S. Census Bureau report, the number of uninsured people in America has increased by 1.3 million to 46.6 million, including 400,000 more children." http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/health/july-dec06/insurance_08-30.html

Please, please make sure you and your family are covered. If you cannot afford insurance, look into your state's eligibility requirements for Medicaid. If my mother had done that, she might still be here today, and her husband wouldn't be under a mountain of unpaid medical bills.

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