Monday, March 20, 2006

Can one person make a difference?

Let's hope so.

Buried halfway down page two of the letter I got from Kaiser Permanente informing me that I was ineligible for coverage lurked a sentence stating that, if I was currently covered by a KP group plan and was turned down for an individual plan upon conversion, I might be eligible for a "portability plan." This, apparently, is a special type of coverage offered to those in my situation, i.e., folks who were worthy of coverage under a group plan but who are now suddenly UNWORTHY of coverage when attempting to convert that plan to individual coverage.

During the course of trying to figure all this out, I talked to five or six KP employees who had that certain tone in their voice -- you know, the one that indicates clearly that they're making it up as they go along: "Uh, yeah. Yeah! Sure. Um. I think we can help you. I think you should be accepted. I, uh, don't see any reason why not." (Beware that last statement, the statement of the truly false prophet.) Fortunately, I wrote down the name of the one Kaiser employee who actually seemed to know what he was talking about. So I called "Steven M" -- who I'd dealt with a few weeks ago -- and updated him on my situation. He assured me that, yes, the forms I'd sent in were the correct ones and that, in fact, I was eligible for the portability plan, that I was currently covered and would be covered for the foreseeable future.

Three cheers and a tiger for me!

My relief is muted, however, because Kaiser has yet to bill me. And I suspect that, if were hit by an out-of-control snowboarder tomorrow and needed treatment of "board burn" to my tender bits, KP would try to figure out some way to gong me, say, because I hadn't made a payment yet under the portability plan.

Am I being too untrusting? I can tell my your snorts of derision that you don't think so.

Anyway, I have been assured by someone who sounds knowledgeable that I'm covered. However, in tracking him down, I found out that he was a relatively new employee. So does that mean that he doesn't yet know that he's not supposed to be helpful, or merely that he's not yet jaded. I don't know, but let's hope that I was fortunate enough to find one person who can make a difference for the better.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

"I clean out public lavatories"

I know two great people who work at Kaiser Permanente, a large HMO that operates here in the western states. I really feel sorry for them.

Because given how many people I've met who fucking hate KP, I wonder if, when KP employees are at parties and a stranger asks, "so what do you do for a living?" they concoct some lie. I mean, would you want to own up to working for an organization that provides such an important service, yet so thoroughly annoys and frustrates so many people on such a regular basis? Do KPers fear saying, "I work for Kaiser Permanente," because they fully expect the questioner to recoil as if bitten by a black mamba, or to go off on a rant about how bad Kaiser screwed over a friend or several friends, or, worst of all, to simply shudder mildly as if they've just smelled something horrible and mutter "Oh. How nice."

I wonder if some KP employees just opt to lie and say they work in a humble but honorable profession that benefits the common good.
"So, what do you do for a living?"
"I clean out public lavatories."
"Really? Any chance for promotion there?"
"Oh yes, after a year, they'll give me a brush."*

Why this sudden annoyance with KP? you ask. A valid question. The answer is that I just got rejected by them today.

But perhaps I should start at the beginning. I worked at a lovely communications writing firm, Alling Henning and Associates, for a few months in 2004, long enough to qualify for their health plan. But then the calamity settlement came in and I decided I'd try to write for a living. So I left AHA and, as a result, I've been insured by AHA's health care plan, the aforementioned Kaiser Permanente, through COBRA. For 18 months. I've gotten check-ups from KP and never asked them for so much as an aspirin.

When COBRA was running out, I applied for a KP individual plan, since they already had my history and I'd been with them for nearly two years. No dice. The problem: "Hip replacement less than five years, and an unfavorable brain condition."

Ouch. That brain condition thing really hurt.

Now I like to think I'm a reasonable person. If KP wanted me to have a full check-up to make sure I was in good shape before insuring me, fine. I'm healthier than probably 90% of 44-50 year-olds in America. I don't smoke, exercise regularly, am not overweight, have low cholesterol, eat healthy meals(mostly) and have no history of chronic illness. Hell, I've never even had a cavity!

These things don't enter into the equation, however. And equation is the operative word here, I'm sure. They've got their tables and stats, and regardless of your history with them or the reality of your situation, the stats rule the day. "So long, low-maintenance but statistically unattractive gimp!"

Kaiser currently has a public relations campaign going here (gee, think they need it?) that features the slogan, "thrive." I've had fantasies of striking their billboards and bus placards by night, replacing the "thr" in thrive with a "j."

But as the lawn mower said, "I de-grass."

KP isn't the only villain here, I should mention. During the calamity, I was insured by Lifewise, another HMO in the area. They niggled on some stuff but overall I was satisfied with them. So I approached them first as my COBRA expiration approached. But they also turned me down for the same reason -- a hip replacement less than five years old. But at least they gave me an alternative: Oregon Medical Insurance Pool, which is the court of last resort for those of us who are healthier than 90% of the U.S. population but are cursed with pre-existing conditions from which we've been recovered for two years. That and unfavorable brain conditions.

I'm glad that I don't have anything really wrong with me, because, well, Jesus! What would you do? I guess what most Americans do: go without. Then if something really bad happens -- like cancer or the like -- you're not only up shit creek, but buried beneath the spring from whence shit creek issues.

It also makes me wonder why having a joint replacement within the last five years seems tantamount to having leprosy, gout, lupus and the mange. I'd do some research on the subject, but I'm afraid to.

Anyway, I'm sending my Oregon Insurance Pool application in tomorrow. Wish me luck. And those pagans among you (you know who you are), please work up an extra special nasty hex on Kaiser Permanente managers for the upcoming Vernal Equinox. But not that they all become cleaners of public lavatories. That's too good for 'em.

*Gag courtesy of Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

"Valentine's Day" plus odds and ends

The final cut of "Valentine's Day" is completed. It has its deficiencies, but overall I'm happy with it. I'm particularly proud of the story I wrote for it, which comes through despite rudimentary equipment, amateur acting and a bumbling crew (meaning me and my co-director).

For those of you who wish to view it, I've posted two different versions, in Windows Video Format, which I believe should also play in QuickTime. First is a large but high quality version that's about 11.4 MG with a bit transfer rate of 512 kbps. So I wouldn't try that one if you don't have a couple minutes of download time and a broadband connection. The second is a small but lower quality version that's only 2 MG and a bit rate of 87 kpbs. It's a bit blurry, but you can get the gist.

The third and final film we are to do is to be an atmospheric piece based on a song, poem or other moody art thang. I have an idea of what I want to do, but I have to ask the instructor if it's technically possible, or foolhardy to even attempt.

Other odds and ends:

Last night, Argotnaut and I attended a gathering of linguists that meets every first Friday of the month for snacks, drinks and generally linguistic geekery. I posed a question that's been on my mind on and off ever since the calamity. In English, we have short-hand words to describe the condition of not being able to see (blind), not being able to hear (deaf) and not being able to speak (mute). But what about a similar word for not being able to smell? Or to taste? ("Tasteless" doesn't work very well to describe the latter!)

The linguists left me high and dry on this one. Any suggestions from readers? Argotnaut offhandedly tossed out "blind in the nose" but I think we can do better.

I don't talk like a Portlander yet, but I'm sure it's creeping in my accent around the edges.

Here's a quote I saw in the paper recently that I think will be exactly how historians will sum up George W's administration. This comes from Robert Hutchings, the chairman of the National Intelligence Council from 2003 to 2005: "Frankly, senior officials simply weren't ready to pay attention to analysis that didn't conform to their own optimistic scenarios."

I think that pretty much hits the nail on the head. Hutchings was talking about how the administration poo-pooed the idea that the insurgency in Iraq was intensifying and expanding, but really, I think it succinctly explains why W's administration has become "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight."

Movies on tap for this weekend: "Night of the Hunter" and "Don't Look Now." I might get around to watching part of the Oscar telecast tomorrow, but probably not all of it. The electronica band in which Argotnaut and I participate usually rehearses on Sunday evenings, and rather than spend time watching other people celebrate other people's art, I prefer to try to make some of my own. Although "art" is probably giving our little band far too much credit!