Sunday, March 27, 2016

Down the Hatch, Orrin!

I think it was in a movie that I first heard the expression 'keep your friends close and your enemies closer'. The wisdom was clear, and I filed it away in the grey matter beneath my hair.

This explains why I even bothered with Senator Orrin Hatch's (R-UT) op-ed piece, which attempts to justify congressional intransigence over presidential Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. 

It's always good to know what the enemy is thinking.

Since it was written in Republican, I had a difficult time making sense of it. (But then, I usually do with such things.) I held it up to a mirror in hopes its backwards, inside-out logic would suddenly appear well-ordered and sensible.

It didn't.

Hatch repeatedly makes the point that the next Supreme Court nominee must be made by a representative of the people, and after exhaustive study of both the 2008 and 2012 election returns, I can confirm that Barack Obama was indeed elected by people. Specifically, Americans.

This must be news to the addled senator from Utah, who evidently believes Obama was elected by a mix of crustaceans, canned fruit and small appliances.

Regrettably, Hatch goes on.

He maintains that by naming a successor to Antonin Scalia, President Obama is attempting to politicize the Supreme Court, thereby engaging in the most wanton, divisive and destructive politicking ever seen on Capitol Hill.

But by delaying a confirmation until the next (and presumably, Republican) president is elected, congressional Republicans are acting in the best interests of a fair and balanced court, with no thought whatsoever given to the well-being of their party.

(I couldn't stop laughing, either. Am I alone in thinking that cable TV is missing a real comedic talent here?)

In the depths of the Great Recession, Congress debated the extension of unemployment benefits for the tens of millions of people upended by that financial cataclysm. Typically, Orrin Hatch opposed it, stating the unemployed would just use the money to buy drugs.

Six years later, the truth is obvious. 

Given the complete lack of coherence in Hatch's piece (and by extension, his thinking), it is clear the reason Hatch opposed funding for the unemployed was that he feared competition for the drugs with which he is so obviously smitten.

With this in mind, I want to reach out to poor, addicted Orrin. 

I propose the formation of a law which makes it illegal to legislate under the influence. Call it LUI. Going one step further, I'll suggest mandatory blood testing before Republican congressmen are allowed to speak, write or legislate.

To honor the legacy of recently departed Republican princess Nancy Reagan, we'll call it Just Say No. (That ought to be easy for Republicans to remember, eh?)

Not only will this heighten the level of our national discourse—it should work wonders for our politics.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

It's a Good Thing They Didn't Hire Me

Neither the telecommunications behemoth incapable of delivering a reliable cable TV signal to my home, the computer software giant unable to supply my computer with a functional operating system nor the business services firm staggered by the prospect of processing a rebate in less than six months would dream of hiring me.

I mean, as a long-term unemployed old guy, I'd just screw everything up.

The latest example of an enterprise able to remain at peak operating efficiency through its careful and judicious hiring is Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois.

A little backstory: after extracting myself from the morass of HFS and their redeterminations and being elevated to an income strata which precluded Medicaid, I signed up with a Blue Cross Blue Shield PPO late last year.

All was fine until the health care insurer announced the plan wouldn't be offered in 2016. Okay, that's not quite right. Technically it would, but in a highly-altered form which would cost 354% more.

Grateful that my health care wasn't veering into simplicity and ease-of-use, and fairly sure that my income wouldn't see a similar increase, I began a search for a replacement after enjoying the PPO for exactly one month.

Affordable options were scarce. I scoured the offerings repeatedly just to make sure I wasn't missing anything. Visions of Helen Hunt in As Good As It Gets nonwithstanding, I swallowed hard and enrolled in a Blue Cross Blue Shield HMO.

(That it cost three times more than the original PPO, offered fewer providers and covered less was just a bonus.)

After clicking the 'submit' button, I exhaled. I thought the fun was over. 

But what did I know?

Predictably, the bill arrived first. Besiged by e-mails warning of the plagues and locusts that would ensue if I didn't enroll and then remit promptly, I hustled my payment off to the mail box and waited for my membership ID card.

I received notices advising me that my PPO would not be offered in 2016. I received notices stating that I needed to select another plan immediately or face government-imposed fines. I received notices detailing the coverage of the revamped PPO.

I received notices about everything except my new HMO and the whereabouts of my membership ID card.


Wanting to continue medical treatment begun under the PPO, I desired urgently to set-up a PCP and locate a specialist who could pick-up where my previous specialist had left off.

Silly me.

Not that I was the only person cast into this healthcare hell by Blue Crosses decision to pull the plug on their PPO. A quarter-million of my fellow Illinoisans were forced to change their plans simultaneously, stretching many Blue Cross Blue Shield resources to their breaking point.

Phone lines were jammed night and day. Provider information was nearly impossible to get. When it was available, it was listed on outdated web sites and it invariably took until the day before an appointment to discover the listings were obsolete.

E-mails to Blue Cross Blue Shield yielded responses which hid behind procedure and protocol. None acknowledged their colossal screw-up.

I was, however, able to print a temporary copy of my plan's ID card. Because of the repeated delays in discovering exactly who was and who wasn't included in my plan, I actually consider myself fortunate that I never attempted to use it.

The lowlight arrived in late-January, when I again attempted to learn who my providers were. My joy at having a call answered was, regrettably, short-lived. A carefully-modulated voice on the other end of the line informed me that I wasn't in their database. 

I snapped. I unleashed a torrent of four-letter words. Compound words. Bad words. I took the Lord's name in vain. I was screaming.

"That must explain the bills I'm getting, huh?"

I inhaled. The fresh oxygen provoked a second explosion, the details of which are better left unspoken.

While my health care remained on hold, Blue Cross Blue Shield bills arrived like clockwork. While I was amused to realize they resembled one of my favorite drummers and like him never missed a beat, I also found this highly irksome.

I pondered it at length. What did it mean? What did it signify? I eventually arrived at two possible conclusions.

Either this was incontrovertible proof that despite the warm, fuzzy marketing that depicts a caring and nurturing collective of medical professionals, Blue Cross Blue Shield is a hard-core, show-me-the-money business as mercenary as any found on Wall Street.

That getting the money is job number-one.

Or, that the folks staffing Blue Cross Blue Shield's billing department were geniuses. They were the only employees able to cope with this giant shift, and by virtue of their unwavering performance, ought to be running the whole show.

That said, it remains a good thing they never hired a long-term unemployed old fart like me. I would've just screwed everything up. 

Not that you could tell.