Saturday, August 25, 2012

Living Without the Net

I wrote and posted this blog (but not on Facebook) originally because I was so outraged and upset by what had happened to us (and doubtless, many many others). I debated long and hard about broadening the scope beyond the handful of subscribers I have to this blog, because talking about money stuff is like throwing one's underdrawers out in the street.

I decided to go on and post it. I hope it will put a real face on this dilemma for some of my friends who are lucky enough not to have to worry about this, and maybe can't imagine that people they do know are wrestling with this.   

When my husband was unemployed for several months at the beginning of 2011 we were able to take advantage of COBRA. You know about COBRA, right? It's frightfully expensive health insurance gap coverage, one to which you become entitled under federal law in the event you lose or leave your job and find yourself uninsured and unemployed all at once. It's frightfully expensive: monthly premiums are in  legal excess of 100% of your previous rate.  In our case, that amounted to roughly $1,000.00 a month, an amount that an unemployed person really can ill afford, but as we learned all too soon, it's a necessary expense.

While he was unemployed Henry had a "significant cardiac event," and had to have emergency surgery to implant 3 stents. It was, his cardiologist said, a true fluke: one of those instances when all the arteries are just ducky one day and with no warning become acutely blocked by rogue plaque. The fact that he had had a heart attack back in 2003 had no bearing on this event, and, as the surgeon told us, this happens to people with no history of heart troubles, some of whom had received clean bills of health just days before, as was the case with Henry. Our COBRA coverage, while it still left us with a substantial deductible to pay, meant we did not have to consider bankruptcy.

Henry finally found a job late last spring. We were very excited about the new challenge, but things there just didn't pan out. Citing the poor economy, his employer reneged on the contract they had for Henry's pay. With no other prospects we were forced to make do, rob from Peter to pay Paul, and otherwise scramble to make sure we could keep our home. At the very least, the employer was covering insurance, and the rest was just the way of sorry things.

Recently, my husband was offered a job with a much larger operation, in a salaried position. Bonuses are possible, but the salary itself is the first time in his entire working life that it will be sufficient to cover our fixed living expenses, and a little to begin to rebuild our cushion, which was utterly depleted since his unemployment in 2011 owing to the COBRA payments, and the gaps in coverage for his hospitalization and surgery that we were left owing.

The downside? Henry's new employer does not offer their health coverage to anyone in their employ for a full three months. That means we cannot even apply for coverage with their provider until late November. Irritating, but hey -- we figured we could COBRA again, right?

Nope. Unbeknownst to us -- and to most Americans, it would seem -- COBRA only applies if a company employs 20 or more people. Henry's last employer did not, so no COBRA.

But there's now this pretty cool option called temporary coverage, offered by most of the large insurance companies, and all the marketing suggests that it's perfect for people waiting for new or first-time coverage to kick in. So, we applied. My application went through like grease through a goose. (More about this in a second.) Henry's was turned down today.

Why? Pre-exisiting conditions, which I could understand if the policy for which he applied were going to cover those. But it would not -- we knew it wouldn't when we applied.The policy for which we had to apply would only have covered accidents or illnesses unrelated to these two conditions.

If his coverage with the new boss were going to kick in during the next 2 months we would just hold our breath and wrap him in cotton, but insurance regulations require that a person has not had a gap of more than 63 days to keep them from having to go through an extended waiting period.

We have one option left, AHIP, which is offered through the state, and administered by the very company that has just denied him coverage, which happens to be the same company from which we have had coverage since 2010. AHIP coverage is not guaranteed: one can be denied, although none of the material I've read tells you what the criteria for denial of coverage might be.  **see update below

In 2013, this pre-existing exclusion will no longer be allowed for adults over 19. The only thing wrong with this part of Obamacare is that it didn't happen soon enough for us, and we are facing a scary future in which one illness could send us into bankruptcy, and I am not blowing smoke when I tell you it is a distinct possibility.

It is such irony that I avoid doctors at all costs, haven't had a physical in 3 years, have no clue what timebomb could be lurking in my body and I get covered -- completely, and for a pittance -- in less than 24 hours of applying for an temporary individual policy with UHC. My husband, on the other hand, who has had 2 physicals in less than a year (cardiac and general), both of which he passed with flying colors, cannot be covered, and if he breaks an arm here at home, or an uninsured driver hits him at a red light, we will lose everything.

Also ironic is that I had scheduled myself for a physical on the last day of this month, the day our existing coverage ends. The gentleman with whom I spoke from the insurance company to which I was applying for coverage advised me NOT to, because if something were to be found, or suspected, tested for, and later found to be a problem, my coverage would be cancelled. So. I could be fixin' to explode, but at least I won't know I need to worry about it, I suppose.

I don't care what your political leaning is, this situation is just dead wrong, and not just because it is happening to us. It is a problem that is surely sending a lot of good, honest, hardworking folks into foreclosure, bankruptcy, or early graves.

I'm not sharing this because I want your pity. I'm sharing this because Henry and I share this very real dilemma with more people than you can imagine, and most Americans do not know that these loopholes exist.

We are just praying the loophole doesn't become a noose.


We spent several days trying to slay this dragon. The first hopeful call went to an agency to which we'd been referred for folks who were not eligible for COBRA. That didn't work -- they required that you be uncovered by any policy for a full 90 days before applying with them. 

My last ditch attempt was a trip back to Google, wherein I typed in a string of words something like this: no cobra temporary coverage preexisting condition high deductible. There may have been other words, too, words I spoke loudly in my head but maybe didn't quite make it onto virtual paper. 

I came up with a website that sounds and looks all the world like a portal for State Employees only.  Since nothing else was consuming my every neuron, I started digging around, and clicked on a link that said AHIP. 

AHIP, as in Alabama Health Insurance Plan. I studied it carefully -- saw no fine print that this was just a program for State Employees, made a call, talked to one of 3 women (all my best friends, now) to see if what sounded too good to be true was too good to be true, and after faxing certificates of creditable coverage, a few health-related questions, and a copy of Henry's driver's license, plus one short phone interview with him -- bam. Covered. 

This is a last gasp coverage. Here are the basic criteria:  you have to have been under a group policy for 18 months. (We nearly got tossed out on this one, since he'd only been with the previous employer for 15 months. Thank goodness the COBRA we took out when he lost his job back in 2011 counted toward the 18 month period!) This is not available to folks who are eligible for other insurance through Medicare, Medicaid, or through their or their spouse's employer. (We will surrender this in November, when we will be covered by PepBoy's program.) Here's the kicker - Henry's pre-existing conditions are covered fully covered, after hefty deductible is met, of course. 

And here's the upshot -- it is well less than half of what we paid for COBRA coverage, and although our deductible is sky high, we at least have something in place to keep a complete economic disaster from happening in the event of a health emergency or accident.

What I want to know is -- why is this information so hard to find? Not a single insurer or agent or agency with whom I spoke even suggested this to me. At a time when I know full well there are surely hundreds of people who are riding in this same boat against a crushing tide, why are there only 3 women working in an office (each of whom were incredibly helpful, thoughtful, and speedy with every single bit of correspondence and phone call) that appears to be tucked away in a corner of what seems to be an agency that exists only to benefit state employees (when that is obviously not the case)?  

We have a happy ending to our story, or at least this chapter closes well for us this time. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Getting It Right

Late last fall, after I had begun developing a late bloomer interest in actually, you know, cooking, I decided to replace the cumbersome food processor/mixer/blender combo we'd been given back in 1979 with a new food processor. I shopped around a bit, and the one that I could afford that had a feature in which I was particularly interested was this KitchenAid.

No big bells, no loud whistles, all I wanted was one that would chop, grate, slice, and provide me with two sizes of bowls. This one was perfect.

Usually I am very, very good about sending in warranty information straight away, and then promptly losing all paperwork and forgetting when I bought something anyway, and of course, using an appliance with no trouble until the day after it's out of warranty. In this case I departed my own well-written text, and just never got around to sending in the warranty information.

I'd had it about a month -- it was just after Christmas, I think -- when I finally decided to use the thing. I attempted to shred a block of cheese, and nothing happened. Nothing good, anyway. Nothing I could do would make the thing work again for more than about 15 seconds. At that point I should have contacted the manufacturer immediately, right?

But nope. I was busy with Christmas retail season. I had just gone back to work after being out for six weeks during my mother's illness and the weeks after her death. My siblings and I had a system worked out to provide care for my father that we executed for 6 months, taking turns staying with him for the 24 hour a day care he needed. Then he was hospitalized, then he went to a nursing home, then he went to an assisted living facility were we all felt good about not being in constant attendance, so here I was all these months later, staring at a useless food processor, knowing I'd thrown money I didn't have to waste down the toilet.

Winning, right? But with a little time on my hands now, here's what happened.

Me, to KitchenAid, 7/28/2012: I bought this food processor several months ago, and it has never worked correctly: my husband believes that there is a problem with the contact that needs to be made when you put the top on in order to lock it so it will operate safely. It will allow the processor to work for a couple of seconds, but then appears to lose the connection and it shuts down.  We should have contacted you when the problem first happened, of course, but it happened during a time when our family was undergoing some significant upheavals, and it just wasn't the most important item on the list. We are in the process of throwing things out, and I really hate to ditch the processor, but frankly I don't remember whether we registered it!

What I'm hoping, I guess, is that this is a problem that is not unique to my unit, and that perhaps you can help me figure out how we can fix the issue. I have always had very good use from KitchenAid products, and expect that if this problem is fixed the same will hold true this time.

KitchenAid, to Me, 7/31/2012:  I am sorry to hear that you have had a problem with your food processor.  If you put the bowl, lid and food pusher together while it is not on the unit, does you see the little "finger" that pops out of the base of the handle?  If this broken, that could cause the problem that you are having.  If that does not solve the problem, Please let me know and I will go ahead and replace the bowl under warranty to see if that helps.  I apologize for any inconvenience this has caused.

Me, to KA, 8/5/2102:  We do see that little finger pop out. What happens when I use it is that the lid assembly comes loose. It will not attract "locked.". When THIS happens the unit shuts down. 
We actually filed a video of this for you. Here is the YouTube link, which is viewable only to those who have the link.

Please watch to the end.  Thank you!

KA, to Me, 8/6/2012:  Dear Ms. Lucas, Thank you for providing that video.  I have placed an order for a new work bowl cover to be sent to you at no charge to see if that helps.  If it does not, I will send out a new bowl.  You video indicates that a new lid may be the correct fix.

Me, to KA, 8/16/2012: I received the replacement top for my food processor and I am happy to say that, while it did not completely fix the problem, at least the processor is usable now! Experimenting over the weekend revealed that when the grating/slicing blades are used for anything with any "heft" (cheese, potato, carrots, etc.) the problem repeats itself almost every time. For less dense things, it works fine, and the mechanism can be adjusted manually (with a screwdriver) to enable the top to do it's safety job and allow us to use chopping, blending features, at least. That's a big improvement! Am I 100% happy? No. But you went above and beyond, and for well more than half of the things I wanted a processor for, we will make do. We just won't be using it for grating/shredding some things.  

I appreciate so much your helpfulness, and your willing to work with me on this issue.


KA, to Me, 8/20/2012:  Dear Ms. Lucas, While I am happy that the lid has made the processor functional, we want you to be able use all of the functions.  Therefore, I have placed an order for a new processor to be sent to you under warranty. You should receive your replacement unit within the next 7 to 10 business days via FedEx. Once it arrives, we do require that the original processor be returned to KitchenAid.  If you no longer have the box that your original unit came in, you may use the box and packing materials that your replacement comes in to return your original unit. A pre-paid label will be included with your replacement food processor.

And yesterday, this was on my front porch. 

It's so very easy to complain about shoddily made merchandise and poor customer service these days. And in our current culture, people tend to lap it up. Kvetching as entertainment. I'm as guilty of that as the next person. 

I just wanted to share this story about a company that did not have to do any of this, but chose to do the right thing by me, and the right thing for their business. 

Thank you, KitchenAid, and thank you Janine, KitchenAid's e-Solutions Specialist!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Wisdom for the Age, from an Angel.

Let me tell you about Estell Wilson King.

She was born in Union Springs, Alabama on August 14, 1911. Her parents had eight children, and Estell was the sixth of these. 

Her favorite scripture is Galatians 6:7.  "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps as he sows."

She is one of the founding members of Starr Baptist Church here in Montgomery: it was given birth in her home in 1962.The years of service and prayer she has poured into that congregation long ago entitled her to be referred to formally as a Mother of the Church.

Estell  worked as a nurse for 40 years, 30 of which were spent as a private nurse for members of my Upchurch family. Her path and my family's crossed when my great-grandparents, Austin and Samuella Roche, required nursing care in the last years of their lives. After their deaths, she cared tenderly, in turn, for my grandfather and grandmother, my great-uncle and great-aunt, and my father's sister

When she celebrated her 100th birthday last year, her son Roy compiled a book about her that included commendations from Governor Bentley, Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange, the Montgomery County commission, and even NBC Today celebrity Willard Scott. 

That book also included these notes about her life:

"She was active during the Montgomery Civil Rights Movement and purposefully participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. She provided room and board to out of state clergy in town for the Selma to Montgomery March. And she volunteered her nursing skills to assist those in need of first aid as marchers arrived on the Saint Jude Campus on March 24, 1965. In 2004, she was selected as one of Montgomery's Seniors of Achievement." 

She is a woman of many remarkable gifts. The one she most generously bestowed on us, and which we still feel, was love. The booklet from that party last year included not only that list of accomplishments and commendations, but showcased this letter from my mother, written on behalf of the whole Upchurch family. 

"We first came to know you in the early 1950's and our love and admiration have grown stronger and stronger with each passing year. You have cared for three generations of our family. Estell, you became a friend and confidant to all the children and grandchildren and even the great grandchildren.  

We shared many good times, lots of laughs and many tears. You held the hand of many as they passed 'through the valley of the shadow of death.' I know that their final moments were made more comfortable knowing that you were close by to hold a hand or wipe a brow. 

How do you thank someone for that kind of love and care? There is no way. We will each try to make our own lives better, remembering that we have traveled many miles with Estell King. We have all come in contact with one of God's Angels on Earth. 

Happy Birthday to you from all the Upchurch Family. The mere mention of your name brings smiles from all of us."

Estell Wilson King and Jean McCord Upchurch
August 13, 2011

When Sally and I went with Mama last year to Estell's home on Holt Street to spend her birthday eve with her, the two of them spent most of the time lost in stories together, stories about the funny things that happened (and there were many) over the many years Estell cared for Grandmama. They commiserated over the passage of time, the ravages of age, the goodness of God, and there was so much love that flowed between the two of them in that place I could almost have held it in my hand. When we left that day, we were sure we had just seen Estell for the last time, that the visit was our opportunity to see her again before she'd most certainly be gone. 

We were sure of so many things that day that turned out not to be true in the way we thought they would be.  Mama was gone from us just over two months later. 


Sally and I went to see Estell today, on her 101st birthday. Her son Roy had told her that she was to have company, but not who the company might be. She has recently suffered a stroke, and dementia has a light finger on her shoulder, but she knew who we were, she remembered our visit with Mama last year. 

She grabbed hold of our hands right away, and would not turn loose for love nor money. I lost count of the kisses, wish I had a dime for every time she looked hard in our faces and said, tenderly, "So pretty. So, so pretty," and wouldn't take a million dollars for even one of the hundred times she said, "I loves you. I loves you." 

Eleanor, Estell, Sally
August 13, 2011

When it was time for us to go, we asked Roy to take a picture of us together. He'd been kind enough to do that last year, and we joked with him and Estell that we wanted this one as a reminder of how much we had aged and how little she had. As we tried to get ourselves into the same position, sister Sally said, "Estell? I'm not sure we're going to be able to get back up once we get down! How do we do that?" 

Eleanor, Estell, Sally
August 14, 2012

Estell said, "You just gets up."

A whole lot of people spend a whole lot of energy trying to get to the truth of life, when all we really need to do is look to Estell:  You reap what you sow, and you just gets up."

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fill in the Blank Friday

(This is not an original idea - one of the bloggers I follow posted this today, and it sounded like fun. At least once.)

1. The age I will be on my upcoming birthday is: 55. 

2. The best birthday present ever would be:  a weekend in New Orleans with my husband, all expenses paid. 

3. My favorite birthday to date was: my 16th. It's when my parents gave me my piano, and when I received my first diamond (from my grandmother). Music and jewelry -- what's not to love?

4. Birthdays make me feel: relieved. It could always be otherwise.

5. The worst birthday I ever had was: 54. The first without my mother.

6. When I was born: it messed up my brother's 7th birthday party. He's never entirely forgiven me for that, I don't think.

7. So far my favorite age has been: right now. 

All this seemed a little bit appropriate at least because although my own next birthday is not until spring, my amazing daughter-in-law is celebrating her 30th one today!   I will be forever grateful to her parents for raising such a loving, funny, wise, generous person. My husband always wanted a girl, and we got one finally -- full grown!  

She has added so much to our lives, and I can't remember what we were like before she was part of us.