Going to the dentist, paying the bill and feeling the pain; thoughts on dental and health coverage…

November 27, 2012

Went to the dentist to get a crown yesterday. I had already maxed out my dental insurance for the year but I have considerable dental work coming up so waiting a month or so until my insurance kicks in for the year would not actually save me money in the long run — that is unless I don’t get all that dental work or I am no longer at my job through which I have the dental plan.

Also, the tooth was broken and the dentist said it was important to get it fixed as soon as possible. I already had to get an implant this year, so that convinced me I ought to act now.

But anyway, the bill was, in round numbers, about $1,400, which I paid on the spot. And that included a $65 discount for paying cash.

My dental plan only allows me a total or $1,000 a year, that is that is the total it will pay out. Just read an article by a dentist that says that is about standard for dental insurance. He said that dental insurance began back in the 60s and coverage has pretty much stayed at that level. It seems that dental insurance is not a big profit maker for insurance companies because it is usually maxed out in a year and they cannot get enough premium to cover the costs and make a big enough profit.

I know I recently read (within the past few years at least) that dentists were concerned that patients were neglecting their services due to the Great Recession. I have always wondered why dentists don’t push for better insurance coverage. Maybe some do, but I guess the answer is what I just wrote about that type of coverage not being a profit maker for insurance companies.

But all of what I just wrote is really a lead into what I really wanted to say and that is this:

Personally I can’t get past the notion that what we really need is single-payer nationalized health care. But I will quickly note that such just does not seem viable in this nation. When you talk national health care or socialized medicine or single payer or universal coverage or whatever you want to call it, you might as well be calling for the implementation of communism (and I would bet that most people younger than me, that is younger than 63, probably don’t even know what communism is except that it is bad).

Never mind that all of the other industrialized nations with democratic (small d) governments have some form of national health care, it just does not seem to fly her in the good old USA.

So, as an alternative I would offer this:

For the truly needy and the unemployed we offer essentially what we do now, health coverage (notwithstanding the lack of dental coverage) via government programs, such as Medicaid.

We of course maintain Medicare for the retired and disabled.

Everyone else is on his or her own with the option of buying coverage on the open market or taking advantage of coverage through work. But with that there is more:

For those of us on our own we would need more disposable income and that means reducing or keeping the tax burden down. We should scrap the income tax and possibly replace it with some form of a national sales tax.

What I am getting at is that people have different needs and preferences when it comes to spending money. If they had more money in their hand they would have more latitude to make decisions on how that money might be spent.

Some people will be careful and prudent and will save money back for contingencies, some will not. Hey, it’s a free country.

I think one of the reasons — albeit just one reason — health care costs are so high is that people don’t take finances enough into consideration on health care, they just hand over their insurance card.

Believe me, when I handed that almost $1,400 over for my dental work I felt the pain, so to speak. But I had made a conscious decision as to priorities. 

And I will end this post here, knowing that I only touched the surface on this topic

P.s.

One more thing. I did not address Obamacare. I just read another article attempting to explain or summarize it and I still can’t get past, yes, but how does that affect me? I have to note here, though, that the young dental assistant told me after the dentist had left the room that she is studying to be a registered nurse but she was concerned that Obamacare would have a detrimental effect on the health care field, particularly private practice. But I also have a relative who works at a hospital tell me that the hospital is having trouble covering its costs from both private and public insurance. I don’t know what all this means, except the need to make a profit does not always mix with the need to maintain good health among the public.

P.s. P.s.

And if I had life to do over again, I would go at it with this in mind: the best insurance one can have is to make as much money as one can and hold onto it.

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America exported its dangerous garment industry working conditions overseas; what we we need are ‘safe trade’ agreements…

November 26, 2012

So as you buy your clothes for yourself or for presents this Christmas season think about the poor workers and their unsafe working conditions in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the third world.

You just must have those bargains, who cares about the living and work and safety conditions of those workers who make your clothes?

Shades of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City in 1911, where some 146 people died when they could not safely escape the flames of a burning multi-story building — exit doors were locked — some of those who did not perish in the flames jumped to their deaths — such tragedy is happening today.

Yes, fast forward 101 years later and in an eerily similar scenario more than a 100 workers died in a multi-story clothing factory fire in Bangladesh over the weekend.

Escape routes in the Bangladesh factory were narrow and crowded and there were not enough of them, according to reports. To make matters worse, approaches to the building were difficult for fire and rescue equipment to maneuver. Some panicked workers jumped from upper story windows, according to at least one story.

I guess we made safety progress here in the United States — of course the Republicans and others hate cumbersome safety regulations — they stifle business.

And maybe they are right — when the going gets tough business people get going — to somewhere else that is. Most of the garment industry is overseas these days. Even our cowboy boots and jeans are made south of the border and elsewhere.

And I should not be so tough on people buying clothing from the third world — a look at my own clothes shows I am among those who do — but what choice do I have or does anyone have? That is where clothes are made (for the most part), no matter what the label.

I feel guilty about all of this nonetheless.

I know there are those what is it? fair trade? labels for some food products that are supposed to guarantee that the small producers or small farmers and workers in foreign, third world nations are given a fair shake in pricing and working conditions (I think that is what that is all about).

Well, a quick web search indicates there is no one agency that certifies fair trade practices and it is not a government function, but I think there are movements to promote fair trade for both food and other products. But I think it needs the force of law — unfortunately that is what such things usually take.

We need laws that require American importers to demand better safety regulations and wages for workers. We could call it ‘Safe Trade’.

This is not an isolated incident in Bangladesh. There have been 500 deaths in factory fires in Bangladesh since 2006. And work and safety conditions in the apparel industry are abysmal elsewhere beyond our borders.

This is something worth writing your senators and congress people about.

Maybe this does not bother your conscience. But it does mine. And write my lawmakers (well email) is about all I can do.

A link to a story on the fire at the Bangladesh factory: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/26/world/asia/bangladesh-fire-kills-more-than-100-and-injures-many.html?ref=todayspaper

P.s.

If you’ve shopped at Walmart, you will probably recognize the label “Faded Glory”. Documents and logos found in the debris of that fire indicated the factory produced that brand, along with others.

—————

CORRECTION/CLARIFICATION:

In my original post on this I stated several hundred had died in factory fires already this year in Bangladesh. I meant to refer to the reported 500 deaths since 2006.


The family unit might be what stands between you and homelessness; give thanks on this Thanksgiving

November 21, 2012

Please Note:

I realize not everyone who might read this is going to be able to enjoy Thanksgiving and that some people may not have family or at least not close to them (by proximity or otherwise) — there are always some generalizations in such essays.

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Just having finished my Trader Joe’s instant frozen Chinese dinner and with my stomach full, I’m feeling pretty thankful on the eve before this 2012 Thanksgiving.

As I arrived in town last night from a road trip in my big truck it was raining hard, so hard I did not want to get out of the vehicle to drop the trailer as I needed to and to even bother transferring some stuff to my car to go home for some days off. Fortunately the rain let up a little, long enough to get all that accomplished, but it resumed and rained hard through the night.

At my place of work rivers of water streamed through the parking lot, so much so that even though I was on pavement I got water up into my work shoes.

And as I drove home through the adjacent neighborhood where the local homeless hang out, I thought how rough it must be to live out in the elements in such weather.

I had just a day or so before been chatting with my sister about the plight of the homeless. I said that as far as I was concerned no one should have to be homeless. There ought to be public shelters offered. It would be a good use of tax money, I thought. But I know such has been tried in the past. Sometimes it is the homeless who object. They do not want to be told where to live and when to come and go and are often concerned about their own safety and the security of what belongings they might have in such places.

She reminded me that in the old days homeless people (mostly men at that time, I think) were picked up as vagrants by the cops and put on county work farms.

I said I realized that if one had no family to go to one could easily find him or herself homeless. And she agreed and said that once dropping to that level one would be so demoralized that it would be hard to ever rise back out of it.

(And how do you show up for a job interview or have clothes to wear for it and what do you say about your current situation and recent work history if you are homeless?)

I don’t know why I seem to see so much more homeless people than I used to (and yes, I keep up on the news and know about the poor economy and so on). I notice that our local homeless — and I really don’t know their personal stories — seem to be a mixture of aimless (and maybe not all that unhappy) young people, drug and alcohol addicts, probably some Vietnam vets, and for sure some out-and-out loonies, and some out-and-out bad actors, and there is a definite mix of age groups. Again, I don’t know their individual stories, but I am afraid (well not afraid; that is just an expression of doubt) that bringing most of these people back into mainstream society would be nearly impossible for a variety of reasons.

I also don’t think we can just say they are homeless because they choose to be but we also cannot say most of them are homeless through no wish or act of their own.

Beyond or notwithstanding the color some of these people bring to the local street scene, I think homelessness is a blight on a community and a threat to public health. I mean where do they go to the toilet (where do you think?). And then there are the dirty drug needles left around, and they are probably spreading communicable diseases.

On that last point, I have to note that a lot of the street people hang out both outside and inside the local library. I hear a lot of hoarse-type coughing in there. I am both concerned for those individuals and for myself — I mean don’t we have a right to be concerned for our own health in public places?

I certainly do not suggest people should be put on county work farms. No I would suggest public shelters be built and counseling be mandatory in an effort to help those who are not beyond help. For the rest, we just have to have human understanding and patience and overall tolerance and just be glad it is not we ourselves who are homeless.

And this reminds me why families are so important to the social structure.

So enjoy your Thanksgiving and put up with those family members and be glad you have them.

P.s.

I was in a community in the LA area the other day and noticed parked cars bunched up nearly bumper to bumper up and down the street and then I saw a line of people snaking around a building — the sign on that building read: “Social Services”.

And that building’s parking lot was also filled with cars. A woman was getting a baby stroller out of the trunk of one of them.

The cycle of poverty continues. And really this is a different subject.

But to the extent that one might assume that most of these people are not homeless, one might almost have to admire the rough and ready and almost self-reliant, live-by-their-wits homeless.


Israel should hear the cry of ‘let my people go’

November 19, 2012

If we could create the modern state of Israel then why cannot we create a full-fledged state of Palestine, not just a Palestinian Authority?

It would seem to me that this is the only way to resolve the ongoing feud between Israel and the Palestinians.

At this point I do not care who is right and who is wrong in all of this or who shot first.

The modern state of Israel began at about the time of my own birth and fighting between the Jews and the Palestinians has been going on ever since, with some major flare-ups, and some full-fledged wars, and at this time they are into a major flare-up headed to possible full-fledged war.

With the other complications in the region, such as the Arab Spring and the Syrian insurgency or whatever you might call that, the instability being experienced in the region right now threatens to throw the whole area into war, and because of oil and other trade, geography, cultural and religious heritage, and so on, it makes trouble for nearly the whole world.

The United States serves as Israel’s main protector and so bears a lot of responsibility for what goes on, like it or not.

I’m thinking it might not have been such a good idea to just up and create a new nation as was done by the Western powers, feeling sorry, and a little guilty for what happened to the Jews during World War II and centuries before that — the persecution, the murder. But what was done is done (creating modern Israel, that is).

I think the United States ought to work with the Arab nations that give support to the Palestinians, at least in the political sense, and create the new nation of Palestine with definite borders. Israel may well have to give up some territory and it will have to give up controlling the lives of Palestinians.

I am not trying to paint a picture of the Palestinians as innocent and blameless in all of this strife. There is plenty of blame to go around. But until there is an unambiguously free Palestine, I can’t see how there can ever be a hope for peace.

The United States needs to put the pressure on Israel to let the Palestinian people go, as in “let my people go”.

All that does not mean the Palestinians or terrorists who work among them would then resolve to live peacefully with their neighbor Israel and quit trying to destroy it. But once the Palestinians have what they claim to want, their own nation, then they have nothing legitimate to complain of and can be dealt with accordingly. Let my people go.

P.s.

I am neither Palestinian nor Jewish. I mean “let my people go” as a, how do we say? literary allusion.


The usual suspects put everyone out of work in the Hostess affair…

November 16, 2012

UPDATE: 11-17-12

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Here is a new lead to my previous blog in an attempt to add to and correct and clarify what I wrote previously:

Hey, I won’t miss Wonder Bread, or even Ding Dongs, not to mention Twinkies (and what does that phrase “not to mention” mean, when you always go ahead and mention whatever you’re not mentioning?). But it is all very sad that so many people will be out of work, some 18,500 with Hostess filing bankruptcy

It seems over the years the company, which was not always called Hostess, was mismanaged, and at the same time consumer preferences changed to seemingly more healthy food.

The maker of bread and various snack foods grew into a conglomerate, even controlling Colombo Bread of the San Francisco Bay area, thus now putting all those people out of work with the bankruptcy (there had been a previous bankruptcy) and the closure of operations.

Management blamed it mostly on the unions. But some top managers got bonuses even as the company was losing money. And I always wonder how the corporate culture apologists explain that.

I don’t know who all was represented by whom in the union things but apparently while those represented by the Teamsters took concessions, realizing the company was losing money, the Bakers’ union (the Bakers’ union, not its full name, represents more than bakers) held its ground.

Involved in all of this as I read it are the usual suspects — the hedge funds and the quick buck artists, all of whom produce no product or service, just profits for themselves, even as companies lose money and go out of business and people are put out of work.

And let’s don’t forget unrealistic unions, who see no connection between supply and demand and the cost of production versus possible income from products or services.

The original blog post:

I don’t know. Maybe the union overplayed its hand. Hostess told the union bakers and other workers either quit your strike or you will have no job to come back to because we will file for bankruptcy and go out of business.

The deadline was yesterday. The union did not blink. And Hostess has filed for bankruptcy and shut things down. It could be bought by someone else, and I don’t know what power the court has, if any, to forestall things.

Hostess had been in trouble for some time. The market for Twinkies and other sweet pastries has been declining, especially since the Great Recession of 2008, I think.

I first got word of this from a nephew who has spent his whole working life (up until recently) either working in grocery stores or as a route driver delivering everything from potato chips, to bread, to tortillas, and to pastries. That pastry route was his last one. It was not Hostess, but another brand (but I think he did work for Hostess for a time). He told me route sales had drastically declined. Should have kept the tortilla route, I would have thought. He tells me the guy who bought it from him loves it. My nephew is working at a local hospital now, doing housekeeping or something like that. He says the money is good, at least. So there is life after Twinkies.

Don’t know what the union was thinking, except possibly they felt they had nothing to lose since the outfit was going down the drain anyway. Or, maybe — just thought of this — they are positioning themselves for bargaining with whoever might take over the Hostess name. It is hard to believe that legendary brand would just die out.

I am of mixed minds on unions. Even though it seems outrageous that a union would go for more pay and benefits (or even restoring cutback pay and benefits) when a company is not making a profit, that never seems to stop management from getting bonuses and golden parachutes.

All things being equal, I would rather be non-union. I want the work relationship to be between me and my employer, but that does not always work in huge operations. And it is obvious that the business world is taking advantage of labor in hard times.

Union labor can be problematic, however. That nephew of mine spent some time as a supervisor, meaning he was in management, for one of the large bread companies (it might have been Hostess — don’t recall). Anyway he said they knew they had a route driver who was goofing off. But he had to spend a lot of time playing like a detective and following the guy to document it all before they were finally able to fire him.

A further complication when it comes to route drivers is that they are not just drivers but salesmen. It does not work if the guy (or gal) just drives and delivers and punches a clock, I imagine. The drivers have to keep sales up and manage their accounts.

Admittedly I know little about all this. But I am a long-haul truck driver and I am sometimes in the environment and I have that nephew who was directly in it too.

So, on the one hand, as a wage earner I am kind of rooting for the union, and on the other hand I am kind of saying you just can’t bite the hand that feeds you.

You can go into another line of work, hopefully, if the one you are in plays out or just does not have the same reward it once had.

P.s.

Yes, I know changing lines of work is not always easy or even possible. Been there, done that, and it was not easy for me, just necessary.


Why don’t we deploy military immediately and in sufficient numbers in natural disasters?

November 13, 2012

I have been wondering why the National Guard as well as other military forces are not automatically sent in to help victims of natural disasters or if they are why it seems there is not enough help or things don’t move quickly enough while people are suffering.

I mean they knew that super storm Sandy was coming. You would think with our vast military we could have had people rescued or maybe warm tents set up and food supplies brought in and emergency generators set up and so forth.

My news comes to me or I get it in a somewhat fragmentary fashion. I read the internet every chance I get and I listen to radio. I even read newspapers when I can get them and when they have any news in them. So while I have read that the National Guard was deployed in Sandy, it seems that help was slow in coming and maybe not enough in some places — I don’t really know.

Just read something about New York City Mayor Bloomberg not allowing deployment in Brooklyn, although the National Guard was deployed in other areas of New York City. What seemed like an anti-Bloomberg site accused him of stating that bringing in the National Guard is like creating a police state. Don’t know if he said anything like that. But when people are suffering they won’t mind if the rescuers are armed (and I don’t know if they work that way).

I recall watching people trapped for a week on television during Katrina. Could not understand it all. Reporters in row boats could get to them. And I think I recall we had at least one Navy vessel in the area (just going on memory here) and for sure all branches of the military have airlift capability. And I recall at that time there was confusion as to whether the governor of the state would authorize federal help.

It just seems that in an emergency someone should take charge. In large-scale ones that cross state lines or just involve so many people and so much property that it may be beyond the capacity of local and state governments to handle, the federal government needs to move in and move fast to help people, to make sure they have a safe place to live and to sleep and have food and so on. I’m talking big time-disasters, not just bad weather here.

I know President Obama made big political points by immediately going to the disaster area and pledging help without needless red tape. I don’t know how all that came out. But day after day I heard that people were without shelter or were cold with no heat.

I noted that after Katrina there was a major earthquake in China. The first thing you saw was the military moving in to rescue people and the government was providing these blue tents. Of course that government was criticized for not providing enough and for corruption and so on, but it seems that there was no hesitation to move in the military.

A lot of our military, to include the National Guard, of course is tied up in war (wars of choice I might add), but not all of it is. And just what is the mission of soldiers we have stationed all over the country? If coming to the aid of the citizenry in disasters is not a part of that mission it should be.

And of course I am not criticizing the soldiers, but instead our leadership.

P.s.

Mentioning the military makes me think about the fact I did not post anything about the now past Veterans’ Day 2012. But I salute all those who served their nation in war, even if I might not have agreed with the policy that put them there in some cases. And any politician who has anything to do with not making all necessary help to those injured in war is a scoundrel. The irony is that some of our chicken hawks routinely vote down funds for veterans.


Why the Republicans lost their chance at regaining the presidency in video…

November 12, 2012

The election is over and it is really almost already old news, but I am still scratching my head trying to figure out how the Republican Party came up with such a cast of goofy characters to run for their presidential candidate, finally having to settle on someone who was maybe not so goofy, but someone they could not fully support and who just did not energize the Republican electorate.

But how goofy was that cast of characters? I think the Chris Matthews Hardball Show today pretty well summed it up with a video montage:

One of the best parts was Texas Governor Rick Perry going brain dead trying to remember one of the many government agencies he thought it so crucial to disband, and really better yet, Herman Cain getting mixed up and straining his brain on what Libya is all about (and probably where it is) and which stock answer he is supposed to give for which subject. After a long silence and then an attempt: no that is the wrong one.

And I don’t even want to go there when it comes to not a presidential candidate but another Republican politician Mitt Romney supported who supports the outcome of rape as what God intended. Romney did, thankfully, reject the view of another who talked of “legitimate rape” and an heretofore unknown medical theory that the female body will reject the product of said “legitimate rape”.

And the Republicans can’t figure out why they lost.

I’m having a hard time getting a direct link to the video, but I think if you call up Hardball and click onto  Side Show on the left margin and then click onto Herman Cain’s photo, it will play after a brief introduction by Matthews:  http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3036697/