Tuesday, November 10, 2015

United Health Care: What a Mess!

©2015 by LeeZard

This is a rant, a well-deserved rant.

My younger readers – both of them – may think this piece doesn’t apply. Take it as a cautionary tale, however; sooner or later our screwed up health care system will jump up and bite you in the ass. As for my fellow Medicare inmates, read it and weep.

It started simply enough on the early September day when I went to pick up a couple of prescription renewals. For years I’d enjoyed my Medicare Complete Plan through AARP and United Health Care (UHC) with great benefits and a more than reasonable premium. For a brief 18-month period, I utilized my employee benefits through Starbucks and Premera Blue Cross. That ended when I left the company in July 2015. I simply assumed my UHC plan would revert and become my primary carrier. Assumptions – always dangerous.
On that day, I went to co-pay for my prescriptions and I received a whopping bill for more than $300.00! “Your insurance lapsed on August 31st,” the pharmacist informed me. I was shocked. Unable to pay, I returned home and placed a call to United Health Care’s customer service department. And thus my Medicare nightmare unfolded.
Until this point, I never dealt by phone with United Health Care, never had a problem. I would soon learn that “customer service” at UHC is a misnomer; it is non-existent. Oh, let me count the ways.

After verifying my existence to the so-called customer service rep, I explained my quandary. There was silence at the other end as I heard the clackety-clack of computer keyboard typing. After a moment or two she said, “Can I put you on a brief hold while I check this out?”

Five minutes passed, then ten, 15 and more. Thirty minutes later the woman came back on the line. “I’m sorry, but it looks like ‘they’ failed to move your plan from Washington to Colorado when you phoned in your change of address.”
“Okay,” I replied, “that’s easy enough. Just move my plan to Colorado.”

“Well,” exaggerated pause, “it’s not that simple. First, you have to re-enroll in a Colorado plan. Then, there’s an outstanding bill of $440.00 on your Washington plan.”

“What?” The word exploded from my mouth. “Why should I pay an erroneous bill because your system screwed up?” A reasonable question, right? Wrong!

“Well,” she replied, “you can always appeal it but our computer says you owe $440.00 and that is unlikely to change.” Now there’s a hopeful statement.

“Well, let me re-enroll in the meantime.”

After another 30-minute hold I was passed to a sales representative who put me through the lengthy enrollment procedure – another 30-minutes worth. When we were done she informed me, “Your new plan will take affect October 1st and you will receive your new membership card shortly before then.” Right.

On October 2nd I reluctantly called UHC again; no new card. “Let me place you on a brief hold,” the rep told me. Ouch.
Forty minutes later she returned, “I’m sorry but we can’t find any record of your enrollment.” By that time I’d spent one hour and 40 minutes on the phone and the result was I had no Medicare Complete and its benefits that far outstrip those of Medicare. My frustration was beginning to boil.

“Wait, she offered, “let me have one of my colleagues try to find your record. She has more access than I do (Whatever that means). Let me put you on a brief hold.” You know the drill. I opened my laptop and began playing Backgammon.

No longer bothering to time the “brief hold,” I waited. Eventually a new voice came on the phone, “Sir, I did find your record. Do you live at blah blah blah?” It was my address from seven years previous. Holy guacamole; the left hand doesn’t even know there’s a right hand!

“Can I talk to your supervisor, please?”

“Sure, let me put you on a brief hold.” Noooooooo!!!

More than thirty minutes later, a conservative estimate, I connected with the supervisor. I calmly explained my dilemma and urged her to look for my record; it had to be in there. “Let me put you on a brief hold,” she said. Sheesh.

Upon her return – another lengthy wait – she informed me, “I did find your enrollment application but it’s been denied because you owe $440.00 in premiums for your Washington plan.”

“That was billed while I was in Colorado,” I explained, “it was an error on your part and I am not paying.”

“Well, then I’m afraid we can’t re-enroll you.”
My frustration was now anger, pure and simple. Luckily I learned a long time ago that displaying anger by getting excited, yelling, threatening, etc. is counter-productive. So, in my calmest voice, but clearly displaying my dissatisfaction, I asked, “Can I please talk to your supervisor?”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” came the reply.

“What? Why not? I’m not getting any help here and I need to talk to someone who can make a decision.”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” she repeated.

“What? Are you guys the CIA? Why can’t I talk to your supervisor?”

“I can’t tell you that,” was her astonishing answer. I hung up.

The next day I thought I’d try again and I did hit some sort of shallow pay dirt. After laboriously explaining the problem yet again, this representative said, “You know, you can complain directly to Medicare; they have complete control over what we do.”

“Funny, nobody mentioned that to me before.”

I’ll spare you any more details; I’m already bored writing and reading this. It took another two and a half weeks but, after investigating, Medicare, to their credit, made UHC move my plan cancellation retroactive to the date I began benefits under Starbucks plan, February 1, 2014, in essence erasing my $440.00 debt.
Today, I am enjoying my Colorado plan – with NO monthly premium – and a full menu of benefits. Ironically, I repeatedly get phone calls from United Health Care, which I refuse to answer. Graciously they always leave a message asking me to return their call and let them know how they’re doing. Hah! Now I have them on a very long hold.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Yogi's Place

©2015 by LeeZard

On The Hill, St. Louis, MO, August 2013.

She is sitting and reading a book. I don’t know what I expected but it wasn’t an attractive young woman in shorts and a college sweatshirt lounging on Yogi Berra’s front porch. I glance down and the bronze plaque embedded in the sidewalk tells me I’m at the correct address.
“Excuse me,” I call, “I’m sure you hear this a million times but I’m still another tourist and Yogi Berra fan. Can I take a picture?”
As a youth, Yogi Berra lived here
for 18-years
She smiles brightly, “Sure, go ahead.” I snap away but I’m not done yet. I take a few steps up the short walk, “Listen, I’m sorry to bother you but I’m driving cross country and writing a book on my travels. Can I interview you?”
She marks her place in the book and throws me another killer bright smile, even friendlier than the first, “Sure but I only have a few minutes.” I cannot believe my luck.
She introduces herself as Courtney Brown and then, my luck gets better. “I’m Yogi’s grandniece. I grew up here” she informs me.
“How many tourists like me stop by every week?” I ask her.
“Oh, hundreds. We get tour buses.”
“How often do you talk to Uncle…..,” I hesitate. “”Do you call him Uncle Larry or Uncle Yogi?”
“We call him Uncle Yogi,” she says laughing.
“How often do you speak with him?”
“We used to talk to him a lot more; he used to come visit at least twice a year. It’s not as much since he got older and my grandma passed away. Grandma was Uncle Yogi’s sister.”
A horn honks behind me and Courtney says, “That’s my sister, I have to go.”
Grandniece Courtney Brown
“One last question, please?” My mind is racing, searching for a good one. I can only come up with, “Uncle Yogi is iconic as a slow thinking guy who never paid his syntax. I know he’s not dumb; you can’t be and catch for those great Yankee teams. What’s he really like?”
“He’s a very nice guy, very funny, he’s always got a comment to make about something. He likes to talk a lot. He never minded getting bothered by people for autographs and whatnot. Uncle Yogi now lives in New Jersey. He is a healthy 88-years old (May 12, 1925) and just opened the new Yogi Berra Museum.”
As Courtney gets up to leave I can’t help but ask, “Are you a baseball fan?”
“Of course!” Big smile.
So much for family loyalty.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Donald

©2015 by LeeZard
Donald Trump scares the hell out of me and I'm not just talking about his hair.

When “The Donald” first announced his presidential aspirations I, like a lot of people, laughed him off as a joke, a sideshow. Well, the circus has come to town and The Donald is its ringmaster. 
His rise and staying power in the Republican Party’s polls is simply beyond my imagination and, yet, the more I look at America today, the more I understand why his campaign is not merely a flash-in-the-pan. Let’s count the ways in which he scares me more and more every day.

It’s not just about his billions. Not everyone can “buy” an election. As a journalist, I’ve covered countless campaigns and, as a communications professional, I’ve managed media for countless others. The winner is not always the candidate with the most money. It is more often the candidate who taps into the major blood vessels of the body politic. Sadly it is often the candidate who taps into the fear in that body. Hence, The Donald.

The most common phrase I see when people explain why they support Trump is, “He speaks his mind.” Really? My uncle is a blithering alcoholic but he speaks his mind. Does that mean my uncle is qualified to be president? What about knowledge of the political and legislative process or the ability to achieve consensus among those with differing agendas and ideologies? What about restraint of pen and tongue (I think it’s called diplomacy)? Gawd, can you see The Donald at an international summit meeting? My brain starts to melt at the thought.

Others cite Trump’s phenomenal success in business and real estate. They ignore the fact that his success is most certainly built on the backs of the poor. This is the man who wants to build The Great Wall along the Mexican-American border; we have to keep those rapists, pimps and druggies out. Yet, I have to wonder how many illegal aliens work at his resorts, casinos and golf courses. And, he may not want them, but White supremacist leaders around the country are falling into Trump’s line because of his outrageous stance on immigration. Shivers run up and down my spine.

Trump reminds me of the man in a picture I viewed on Facebook. The man was wearing a t-shirt that proclaimed “NO More Taxes” and decried government interference in peoples’ lives. At the same time he was shaking the hand of soot-blackened firefighter who’d just saved the man’s home in the perilous wildfires in Washington State. Hey buddy, guess who pays that firefighter? You and your taxes, that’s who!

So, let’s get back to those billions. It’s a scary and powerful mix with the intravenous line Trump has injected into the body politic. What’s in that line? Fear.

Here’s what I fear; the American public is gullible and cares very little to dig deeper than the surface pap doled out by traditional media. Please see the histories of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George “Dubya” Bush (and his vice-thug Dick Cheney). Trump’s outlandish public persona, his blatant racism and sexism and his disdain for the political process should and could be his Kryptonite. On the other hand, it is those very same things that fuel his support. And, that’s why Donald Trump scares the hell out of me.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Some People Will Hate This

©2015 by LeeZard

I’m glad I live in America; it could be a helluva lot worse. I could be living in Haiti, Nepal, an African nation ravaged by Aids and/or Ebola or even Russia. But I don’t. The fact is, though, I don’t think America is the best country in the world anymore, far from it. Yeah, this is the part that will piss people off. So it goes.
Blind patriotism, like anything in the extreme, is dangerous. There’s a reason the word ‘blind’ is there; it means you don’t see anything beyond your nationalism. It means you don’t see the racism, the violence, the poverty or the perpetually hungry. It means you think we don’t live in a dictatorship when, in fact, ours is a dictatorship of the wealthy. OMG, he’s talking like a fucking Communist! Really? Let’s compare.

We are no longer the economic engine that drives the world. According to Bloomberg Business:
 “Emerging markets in Asia and Africa reign supreme: They're at the top of global growth projections over the next two years.

The world is expected to grow 3.2 percent in 2015 and 3.7 percent next year after expanding 3.3 percent in each of the past two years, according to a Bloomberg survey of economists. China, the Philippines, Kenya, India and Indonesia, which together make up about 16 percent of global gross domestic product, are all forecast to grow more than 5 percent in 2015.

By comparison, the U.S. and U.K., which combined account for about a quarter of global growth, are expected to grow 3.1 percent and 2.6 percent this year, respectively. “
Dictatorship of the wealthy? The gap between the rich and the rest of America has been much in the news recently. Here’s why. According to The Pew Research Center:
“The U.S. has one of the most unequal income distributions in the developed world, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — even after taxes and social-welfare policies are taken into account.
 Before accounting for taxes and transfers, the U.S. ranked 10th in income inequality; among the countries with more unequal income distributions were France, the U.K. and Ireland. But after taking taxes and transfers into account, the U.S. had the second-highest level of inequality, behind only Chile.”
According to AlterNet.org:
“Two-thirds of American college students graduate with college debt, and that debt now tops $1.2 trillion. By every indication, college is now more expensive than it has ever been, out of reach for not only poor Americans but even middle class ones. While various reforms made in the past few years may have helped slow the growth of college costs, they continue to outpace Americans’ ability to pay.”

A Google search for countries in which higher education is “free,” reveals at least these six:
  • Germany 
  • France does charge tuition – but normally around $200.00 at public universities, a far cry from what you’d pay in the United States, even in a state school.
  • Finland
  • Brazil
  • Norway
  •  Sweden

Hmmmm, there’s not a communist country on the list.

According to Forbes.com:
“Few major nations have the right to bear arms configured in their Constitution. Even fewer (as in we are the only one) have gun control legislation as a hot button political issue.  The U.S. is the most violent core economy in terms of gun related deaths. It is also the leader in gun violence at school campuses. Yet, the U.S. does not lead the world in firearms related deaths.”

But, if you look at Forbes’ list of countries with the most handgun-related crimes, 12th ranked America embarrassingly finds itself in the company of third-world countries:

  1. El Salvador
  2. Jamaica
  3. Honduras 
  4. Guatemala 
  5.  Swaziland
  6. Colombia 
  7.  Brazil 
  8.  Panama
  9. Mexico
  10. The Philippines
  11. South Africa 
  12. United States


 Oh boy, have we got ‘em (And we glorify them!):
“Serial Killers by Country
  • United States - 2,625
  • England - 142
  • S. Africa - 101
  • Italy - 100
  • Japan - 88
  • Germany - 75
  • Canada - 74
  • Australia - 72
  • Russia - 64
  • India - 57
  • France - 52
  • China - 41
  • Mexico - 23
  • Austria - 17
  • Brazil - 15
  • Poland - 15
  • Scotland - 13
  • Spain - 13
  • Netherlands - 11
  • Sweden - 10 
(Note: Serial killers operating in multiple countries are not includedSource: Radford University/FGCU Serial Killer Database
September 6, 2014)

According to the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center, The United States had relatively few executions in 2013 but, once again, we find ourselves in some dubious company:

Countries with the Most 
Confirmed Executions in 2013
1. China (estimated in the thousands)
4. Saudi Arabia (79+)
2. Iran (369+)
5. United States (39)
3. Iraq (169+)
6. Somalia (34+)

The U.S is Number One with the most prisoners in the world. The American Psychological Association reported in October 2014:

“While the United States has only 5 percent of the world's population, it has nearly 25 percent of its prisoners — about 2.2 million people.
Over the past four decades, the nation's get-tough-on-crime policies have packed prisons and jails to the bursting point, largely with poor, uneducated people of color, about half of whom suffer from mental health problems.
 This startling reality has cost U.S. society in many ways, concludes a sweeping National Research Council (NRC) report produced by an interdisciplinary committee of researchers.
‘We reached a broad consensus on what negative impacts these policies have had on individuals, on families, on communities and on the nation,’ says Craig Haney, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, a report co-author and member of a committee that in July briefed the White House on the report's findings.
One out of every 100 American adults is incarcerated, a per capita rate five to 10 times higher than that in Western Europe or other democracies, the report found. Though the trend has slowed in recent years — from 2006 to 2011, more than half of states trimmed their prison populations — in 2012 the United States still stood as the world leader in incarceration by a substantial margin.
While the United States has 707 incarcerated people per 100,000 citizens, for example, China has 124 to 172 per 100,000 people and Iran 284 per 100,000. North Korea is perhaps the closest, but reliable numbers are hard to find; some estimates suggest 600 to 800 per 100,000.” 
 That same NRC report came up with shocking numbers for the cost of imprisoning our citizens:
“State spending on corrections increased by 400 percent, adjusted for inflation, between 1980 and 2009 (over the same time, state prison populations increased by 475 percent). The rise in corrections spending at the federal and local level has been similarly steep.

As a result, the report points out, the criminal justice system in many states has increasingly become the main provider of health care, substance abuse treatment, mental health services, job training and education for the most disadvantaged populations in America.
Finally, the report quantifies what we already know:
“Today, minorities constitute 60 percent of the U.S. prison population. Men under the age of 40, the poorly educated, people with mental illness and drug and alcohol addicts are also over-represented.”

So, as I look over to the right side of the room, I see many super-patriots reaching for their handguns. Hold on boys! I’m not writing this to bash America. What I am doing is pointing out that we are not that shining light in the world anymore and we cannot be blinded by our patriotism. I write this because I love my country, I really do. I also write this because I am very concerned about my country.

On the one hand, we are THE singular superpower playing both good and bad cop on the international stage. I can't think of any other country where I could feel safer from any enemy attacking us, terrorists notwithstanding.

What troubles me, what really troubles me, is what we do to ourselves. Look at all the data I’ve presented. Look at the protests and race riots across the country. This is 20-fucking-15 people. If we are supposed to be the greatest country in the world, why haven’t we figured this shit out?

One of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s most famous quotes is, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” 

With apologies to FDR, I say, “The only thing we have to fear is ourselves.”

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Oldies for Oldies

©2015 by LeeZard

An old high school pal recently re-posted on Facebook, “Some of the artists of the 60's (or their estates) are revising their hits with new lyrics to accommodate aging baby boomers.” She proceeded to add a pretty funny list from the original post, along with a few of her own (and from other friends).

Of course LeeZard jumped right in and kept on swimming. Below is my random list. Feel free to comment and add your own.

·       ABBA --- Aching Queen
·       Beatles --- I Don’t Feel Fine/I Saw Her Lying There/I Wanna Hold Your Gland/Yellow Hematoma
·       Johnny Nash --- I Can Cialis Now

·       Rolling Stones --- Let's Spend Social Security Together/Sympathy for the Surgeon
·       Bette Midler --- Wind Beneath My Jeans/I’m Wrinkled Dammit/Do You Wanna Limp
·       Mamas & Papas --- I Forgot Your Name
·       Queen --- Crazy Little Thing Called Arthritis
·       Three Dog Night --- Easy to be Sick/Doctor's Comin'
Billy Joel --- Making a Scene at an Italian Restaurant/A Matter of No Lust/River of Pee
·       Jackson Browne --- Takin' It Queazy
·       Bob Seger --- Night Chills/Against Passing Wind
·       Sonny & Cher --- Baby Please Don’t Go (To the Bathroom Again)
·       Crosby, Stills & Nash --- Move in With Your Children/Sweat for Judy Blue Eyes/Wooden Legs
·       Ten Years After --- I'm Going Into a Home
·       Shirelles --- Will You Still Hear Me Tomorrow
·       Moody Blues --- Nights With No Statins/ I'm Just a Singer in the Coroner's Van
·       Smokey Robinson & The Miracles --- It Was Just My Indigestion/Flop Around
·       Four Tops --- Can't Feed Myself
·       Creedence Clearwater Revival --- Bad Bile Rising/Limping out my Back Door
·       Bruce Springsteen --- Pink Cataracts/Cataract Ranch/Human Crutch/Raise Your Pants/Tenth Avenue Pharmacy/Throwin’ Up
·       Sam Cooke --- Pain Gang
·       Derek and the Dominos --- Fat Bottom Blues
·       Boxtops --- Pee Like a Baby
·       Van Morrisson --- One Eyed Girl
·       Lloyd Price --- Staggerin’ Me
·       Ricky Nelson --- Poor Little Stool Sample
·       Simon & Garfunkle --- Bridge Over Troubled Bladder/I am in Shock
·       Mason Williams --- Classic Gas
·       Danny & the Juniors --- At the Emergency Room/Kidney Stones are Here to Stay
·       The Monkees --- Wrinkle Cream Believer
·       Elvis Presley --- Shake, Rattle & Crawl/Old Folks Hotel
·       Beach Boys --- Don't Hurry Baby/Let’s go Burping/Little Dark Poop
·       The Doors --- Fight My Piles/Roadhouse Restrooms
·       Ray Charles --- Here We Go (To the Hospital) Again
·       Dave "Baby" Cortez --- The Unhappy Organ
·       Harry Nillson - Jump Into the Pyre/Everybody’s Dyin’
  Bob Dylan --- Positively False Teeth/I Can’t Stand Maggie’s Farts No More
·       Chambers Bros --- I Can't Turn You Over
·       Tom Petty --- I Won't Black Out
·       Fats Domino --- I'm In Pain Again/Blueberry Pill
·       The Rascals --- I've Been Constipated Too Long/Poopin’
·       Ramsey Lewis Trio ---- The Old Crowd
·       The Kingsmen --- Gooey Gooey
·       Steven Stills --- Find the One You're With
·       Bobby Darin --- Under the Knife
·       Rod Stewart --- Maggie May Not /Every Scar Tells a Story
·       Delaney & Bonnie --- Never Ending Transfusion For You
·       The Crystals --- Then He Pissed on Me
·       Chuck Berry --- Johnny Be Old
·       Jackson Browne --- Doctor My Eyes!!
Guess Who This Is
·       Warren Zevon --- Johnny Fucks Up a Gland
·       Jerry Butler --- He Can’t See You
·       Jerry Lee Lewis --- Great Balls On Fire/Too Much Shakin’ Goin On
·       Johnny Cash --- Ring of Fire: My Piles are Killin’ Me
·       The Dovells --- You Can’t Sit Down; Your Piles are Killing You
·       Johnny Mathis --- It’s Not For Me to Decay
·       Mamas & Papas --- I Call Your Doctor
·       Pointer Sisters --- I’m So Bloated
·       Supremes --- Where Did Our Kids Go
·       Little Anthony and the Imperials --- Teeth on My Pillow