Monday, 22 December 2014

The Cost of Healthcare for Elders and Others

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Remember last week when I told you about Dave Delaney and linked to the podcast we did together? Now Dave has taken a part of our conversation about time speeding up and slowing down, and turned it into a story for his hometown paper, The Nashville Tennesseean. You can read it here.]


According to a recent poll from Gallup, Americans' satisfaction with the cost of their healthcare has remained about the same over the past five years – 57 percent.

However, when the poll is broken down by age group, the most satisfied demographic are people 65 and older – 77 percent. Here is the chart:

GallupHealthcare

Gallup explains further:

”U.S. adults holding health insurance via a private insurance plan are about as likely to rate their coverage positively (77%) as Americans holding either Medicare or Medicaid (75%), suggesting both groups are about equally happy with their plans.

“But, as noted earlier, Medicare and Medicaid holders are far more satisfied with the cost of their plan.”

No kidding. The price is reasonable for most people and it is predictable year to year. And the reason, I suspect, for elders' positive rating overall of their healthcare is that there are not dozens of choices. Medicare coverage is medicare coverage - the same for everyone with traditional coverage and not much difference for Advantage plans.

Unlike private insurance where coverage and premiums that can change dramatically year-to-year leaving customers scrambling to maintain the kind of coverage they want at a price they can afford, Medicare beneficiaries have only Part D changes to keep up with each year.

Well, that is true only after the initial decisions, when joining Medicare, about Advantage plans versus traditional Medicare along with supplemental plans, etc.

Not that understanding Medicare is easy in the beginning, but once done, it is mostly behind us except for the dreaded annual Part D (prescription drugs) for those with traditional Medicare.

Of course, it doesn't have to be this complicated. Healthcare in other developed countries is considered not a commercial enterprise as it is in the U.S., but a human right for people of all ages all their lives. Certainly, there are problems; no system is perfect. But there is universal availability.

In the U.S., even though the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) has helped reduce the uninsured rate to 14.5 percent, that's still one-seventh of the population with no coverage.

As I explained here a couple of months ago, I am in the early stages of two years of dental work for which I have no insurance coverage. When I allow myself to think about the five-figure cost estimate, I have trouble breathing.

And what about people who cannot afford health coverage of any kind - for themselves and worse, for their children. I have trouble breathing when I think of them too. How do we allow this to continue in this country?


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Wendl Kornfeld: What the Palm Reader Knew

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Sunday, 21 December 2014

ELDER MUSIC: Christmas 14

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.


ChristmasOz65

Well, the weather is warming up. Indeed, it's getting quite hot. That means that Christmas must be near. As the Christmas song doesn't go -

Later on we'll perspire
As the temperature gets higher
We're living in a summer wonderland

I had hoped that Christmas would slide past me this year (as I hope every year) but that's not to be, so here is some appropriate music for your delectation.

I'll start the column the way I wish to continue it. So here we have PADDY ROBERTS with Merry Christmas You Suckers.

Paddy Roberts

I don't think that this is the version of the song I remember from my youth but I don't have that one (and can't remember who performed it), so you're stuck with Paddy, who actually wrote the song.

Also, I haven't found any reference to another version on the intertube so maybe it really is the one from back then and my memory is playing its usual tricks.

♫ Paddy Roberts - Merry Christmas You Suckers

The only white Christmas I've ever experienced was when I spent Christmas in New Mexico. Actually that happened several times, so I've had more than one white Christmas. That was in Albuquerque.

JERRY DEAN sings of that experience in his song Christmas in New Mexico. Well, not my specific experience, I think his was different.

Jerry Dean

I thought at the time(s) that the snow at Christmas was just wrong and what's with all that cold? The weather should be hot when Santa comes a'calling. Christmas means sitting around in the shade or at the beach drinking chilled white wine. However, I was impressed by the luminaria.

Luminaria

♫ Jerry Dean - Christmas in New Mexico

PEARL BAILEY has the Christmas spirit down pat.

Pearl Bailey

Her song is Five Pound Box of Money, a tune reminiscent of the attitude of Eartha Kitt's song we've featured in past years called Santa Baby. Pearl is a bit more focused on what she wants.

♫ Pearl Bailey - Five Pound Box Of Money

Alas, CHARLIE HADEN won't hear his tune as he died earlier this year. He performs it with HANK JONES.

Charlie Haden & Hank Jones

They play the old song It Came Upon the Midnight Clear rather nicely. Charlie played bass and Hank, the piano.

♫ Charlie Haden & Hank Jones - It Came Upon The Midnight Clear

LEON REDBONE asks us "How'd you like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island?"

Leon Redbone

There seem to be two Christmas Islands, one in the Pacific and another in the Indian Ocean. The Pacific one was used by the British and later the Americans to test hydrogen bombs.

Now, from my undergraduate physics studies, I know about the half-lives of the various radioactive by-products of such events so I'll give that one a miss.

The other is an Australian dependency not far from Indonesia. This is one of the places that our current appalling government sends refugees for processing in "facilities" that resemble maximum security prisons.

So in answer to Leon's question, "I wouldn't." That's the polite reply. It's a pleasant sounding song though, Christmas Island.

♫ Leon Redbone - Christmas Island

I've served it up to the Australian government, now it's the American's turn. I'll let RY COODER do that with this cheerful ditty.

Ry Cooder

Actually, it's about the previous government but would probably be appropriate for any for the last 50 years. The song is Christmas Time This Year.

♫ Ry Cooder - Christmas Time This Year

I would think twice about spending the yule time season with the EVERLY BROTHERS (or Everly Brother nowadays) as they sing that Christmas Eve Can Kill You.

The Everly Brothers

That would really put you off your eggnog (or chilled chardonnay, depending on where you live).

♫ The Everly Brothers - Christmas Eve Can Kill You

This column is not to be taken seriously. You might have noticed that already. If I say that we have ELLA FITZGERALD next you might think that that's good, she'll bring a bit of quality to today's proceedings.

I don't want to dissuade you of that thought, but -

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella's song is not one that's like her usual ones, it's called Santa Claus Got Stuck In My Chimney. What was she thinking when she agreed to record this one?

♫ Ella Fitzgerald - Santa Claus Got Stuck In My Chimney

TRUCKSTOP HONEYMOON are husband and wife duo Mike and Katie West.

Truckstop Honeymoon

They met when they were both busking on the streets of New Orleans. After a court house wedding they went touring and spent their wedding night at a truck stop somewhere in Louisiana, thus the name.

They now have four kids who travel with them whenever they tour and about whom they write songs (as well as about each other). Their house and recording studio in New Orleans were destroyed by Katrina's aftermath and they left for Kansas.

That produced this song, House of Love.. Incidentally, Mike is the son of renowned author Morris West.

Truckstop Honeymoon - House of Love

For your moment of couth, I must apologise as I'm afraid I've made a serious lapse into good taste. I hope you won't hold that against me. I won't apologise for including Mr HANDEL though, for he's one of my favorite composers.

Handel

I've taken a piece from his best known work, The Messiah, something we hear every year around this time, but if you listen with fresh ears and it's really well done it's always worth listening to.

The tune is For Unto Us A Child Is Born by the choir of King's College, Cambridge.

♫ Handel - For unto us a child is born

Well, there's another year shot to pieces.

ChristmasOz49

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Saturday, 20 December 2014

INTERESTING STUFF – 20 December 2014


THE GREAT ELIZABETH WARREN SPEECH

It was Friday evening before the great Congress shutdown vote - 12 December. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren took to the microphones that evening to speak for we the people against Wall Street overreach – specifically, Citigroup. And what a speech it was.

Watch this. If you've already seen it, watch it again. Memorize it. Apply it to every political act you take.


AT A GERMAN SUPERMARKET CHECKOUT COUNTER

A weird and wonderful Christmas surprise. Thank Darlene Costner for this.


BOOKSHOPS OFF THE BEATEN PATH

Abebooks is one of the great alternatives to Amazon and it has sellers from more than 50 countries. Some of the shops are in big cities; others survive in astonishly remote locations.

This one, Pendlebury's is in Porthyrhyd, Carmarthenshire, Wales is 60 miles from Cardiff, Abebooks tells us, and a four-hour, 206-mile drive from London:

Pendleburys

The Old Inlet Shop is in Homer, Alaska, 221 miles from Anchorage and a 52-hour drive of 2,485 miles from Seattle, Washington:

Old-inlet

You can see more images of the these two shops and others at Abebooks.


SIMON'S CAT CHRISTMAS

Bev Carney keeps me up to date with Simon's Cat. Here is this year's Christmas episode.


OH MY GOD. I WANT ONE. RIGHT NOW

I spend my days using not much more than five percent of my smartphone. I don't like to do much of anything on it that I can do on my laptop because it's way too small. Talking, check the time, the weather – that's about it.

Now, as of this video from Darlene, I have officially changed my mind. I want one of these and I want it right now. Unfortunately, it is still in development, a long way from production. But please god, let me live long enough to have one. Take a look.

You can find out more about the Cicret Bracelet at the website.


STEPHEN COLBERT'S AMAZING GOODBYE

On Thursday night, Steven Colbert ended his nine-year run on Comedy Central in the caricature of a monumentally doofus and pompous right wing pundit. It was brilliant satirical persona and he never made a false character move.

In the finale of the last show, Colbert brought on what felt like every guest he ever interviewed - an amazing assortment of politicians, entertainers, writers, pundits and more - all singing We'll Meet Again.

If you pay attention to the lyric, it's a really sad song - I got a bit teary knowing one of my top four or five TV programs has ended. Take a look:

In May 2015, Colbert will be back as the permanent host of the CBS Late Show after David Letterman retires. It will be a Colbert we've hardly ever seen, no longer in that character so many of us have come to love and learn from.


I'M NOT HANGING NOODLES ON YOUR EARS

That's the name of a book about idioms from around the world by someone named Jag Bhalla. Atlantic magazine has turned some of the idioms into a quiz to see if we know what they mean.

Phrases like “In the mouth of the wolf” (Italian) and “Jumped over his bellybutton” (Hebrew) and, oh yes, that one about noodles on your ears (Russian) in the headline.

You can take the quiz here and find out if you know what they mean.


REALLY CUTE FLASH MOB IN PARIS

Darlene's been busy this past week. Here's another from her with a bunch of talented kids in a vertical mall in Paris. (Any French speakers here, maybe you will translate the note at YouTube. The most I can manage is XXX in three categories – dance, music, song.”


PUPPY GIFTS

Alan Goldsmith send this compilation video of a whole lot of people reacting to receiving a puppy for Christmas. They all cried and I suspect you will too.

MERRY CHRISTMAS WEEK, EVERYONE


Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” in the upper left corner of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I probably won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog IF you include the name of the blog and its URL.

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Friday, 19 December 2014

The Pleasures of Comfort Food

PROGRAMMING REMINDER: Repeating an announcement I made a couple of days ago:

Back in 2008, I made a presentation about web design for elders at the Gnomedex Conference in Seattle. I met a lot of young, interesting and engaged tech workers there and one of the them was Dave Delaney.

Dave is an expert on digital marketing, social media strategy and business networking, and he hosts a regular podcast, New Business Networking. Yesterday, we recorded an interview about age, blogging and networking online and off.

Dave is smart, knowledgeable and loads of fun to talk with. You can listen to the podcast here at Dave's website. I'm sure you will enjoy it.


A couple of days ago, the Well blog at The New York Times reported on a new study that suggests comfort foods don't work – they don't lift your mood or, at least, not for long.

I'll quote The Times reporter, Jan Hoffman, who is far more readable than the research abstract is:

”True, your mood will probably improve shortly after you eat your favorite high-carb hug, but no more so than if you’d eaten a granola bar — a pleasant enough choice, but hardly a fixture in that calorically elevated 'comfort food' category.”

I can't resist interrupting Hoffman for a moment to note that granola bars, like granola itself, are hardly a low-calorie, low-carb food even if it's not in the writer's comfort category. Continuing from The Times:

“In a study published in the journal Health Psychology, researchers at the University of Minnesota found that even when you don’t soothe yourself with food, your mood will probably bounce back on its own.”

Once again, I am dumbfounded at what research money is spent on. There is not a reader here who couldn't tell us the same thing. After all, there are all kinds of occasions in our lives when we haven't had the time, opportunity or even the inclination to indulge a craving and we feel better later anyway.

(According to the story, the research was funded by NASA that is interested in finding more attractive foods for astronauts who lose weight when traveling in space. Here's a free clue for NASA: invent a way to feed them real food instead of the goop they squeeze out of plastic bags.)

Further, the study started out with the assumption that comfort food involves lots of carbohydrates and calories. Really?

Macaroni and cheese is yummy, so is ice cream. But when I'm craving something I know makes me feel good, it can just as easily be Dungeness crab where I live now, was often lobster when I lived in Maine and when rainbow trout or certain salmon are available, I could gorge on them every day.

But maybe I'm not average about food. Just in case that's so, let's stipulate that in general, comfort food means high calorie. But it can't be just any version of a favorite, can it? Doesn't even a common dish like macaroni and cheese need to be a specific recipe or product each individual craves?

I've never eaten commercially made mac and cheese I could finish – it is universally awful, glu-ey stuff. Instead, it must be – wait for it – my recipe that involves four kinds of cheese and produces instant heart attack – or Kraft. (My taste in many things – food and otherwise – frequently falls into both ends of the value or price spectrum.)

In truth, I'm not really interested in the research study that I think is ill-conceived and doesn't prove anything useful. It was the phrase “comfort food” that caught my attention and made me think it would be a good topic in a week where there have been a lot of posts here that were heavy going.

And, it is the time of year when two food-related issues emerge:

  1. We tend to eat and overeat all kinds of things that aren't good for us
  2. Families often cause a lot of tension. Tension calls for relief. And that can mean the craving for comfort food

Maybe yours is already on the menu. In my case, I really, really like leftover turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, especially the next day either piled on a plate or shoved between two pieces of bread. And I certainly don't need to be in a bad mood to want it.

It seems to me that peanut butter is a near-perfect food. Nice in a sandwich but why bother. I just spoon it straight from the jar into my mouth. I'm not even a grownup about it - I can do half a jar at a sitting (or standing) which is why it's not allowed in my home.

What about you and comfort food?


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Fritzy Dean: Pajama Day

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Thursday, 18 December 2014

Sometimes Elders Trouble Me

Every election year, I am puzzled, and troubled too, that “my tribe” - elders – reliably votes in large numbers against its own best interests, electing Republican politicians who, almost to a person, want to cut Social Security and Medicare.

Enough elders vote the GOP party ticket that it can't be just the obscenely rich oligarchy. Many old people of moderate and modest means apparently are willing to lose their Social Security and Medicare benefits even though they bought it for themselves by paying into the system all their working lives.

Certainly there are times when sacrifice for the greater good is important but we would have heard about it if that were what's going on with these voters. Are they ignorant or do they really identify with the wealthy as some people tell me or are they just stupid?

It is a painful mystery and now there is another issue where elders grieve me.

Last week, from 11-14 December, The Pew Research Center polled 1001 Americans about the Torture Report right after it was released by Congress. Specifically, respondents were asked if they believe CIA “interrogation methods” (ahem – that would be “torture” according to a number of international agreements the U.S. is signatory to) were justified.

Astonishingly (to me), the country overall is divided right down the middle: 51 percent answered yes. Here's the chart (DK means don't know):

TortureJustified

Of course, the numbers are different when the survey is broken down into demographic units. I wasn't surprised to read that men more than women believe torture is justified; that whites more than blacks or Hispanics do so; Republicans more than Democrats; those with less education than those with more.

But then there is this: People aged 50 to 64 and those 65 and older believe torture to be justified by 59 percent and 62 percent respectively. Now that surprised me. And it distresses me.

Here is the chart:

TortureSurveyAge

I am left speechless and have no way to understand.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Arlene Corwin: The Synapse Murders

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Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Pension Theft

IMPORTANT PROGRAMMING NOTE: Back in 2008, I made a presentation about web design for elders at the Gnomedex Conference in Seattle. I met a lot of young, interesting and engaged tech workers there and one of the them was Dave Delaney.

Dave is an expert on digital marketing, social media strategy and business networking, and he hosts a regular podcast, New Business Networking. Yesterday, we recorded an interview about age, blogging and networking online and off.

Dave is smart, knowledgeable and loads of fun to talk with. You can listen to the podcast here at Dave's website. I'm sure you will enjoy it.


Pensions are disappearing from American business. Each year, fewer companies offer them but if that's the case when you take a job, at least you can make other plans for your old age.

But there is something awful happening to people already retired: benefits are being cut and even lost.

That happens in different ways – some legal, some questionable. Pension plans can be underfunded and so run out of enough money to pay all of what's owed to retirees. Bankruptcy can end pensions altogether. The Enron scandal is a famous example - employees have never seen a penny.

Think about that: you planned reasonably well and with a combination of personal savings, Social Security and a pension plan you paid into during your working years, you get by. That combined income might be modest, maybe it doesn't allow luxuries, but you can afford your home, your car and other necessities.

Until one day, you get an announcement that your pension is being cut by – oh, maybe 50 percent. Or perhaps it won't be paid at all anymore.

Now what? Will you lose your home? Will you still be able to afford co-pays for prescription drugs you and your partner need? You scramble to figure out your new financial reality.

This is no small or occasional screwup. It is so common that a couple of years ago, Ellen E. Schultz wrote a highly acclaimed and frightening book about it titled, Retirement Heist, subtitled How Companies Plunder and Profit from the Nest Eggs of American Workers.

Consider what is happening today to state employee pensions in Kansas.

You will recall that the state's governor, Sam Brownbeck, slashed taxes for businesses and high income earners so that now, two years later, tax revenues have plummeted by a quarter of a billion (with a B) dollars leaving gigantic bills that need to be paid and not enough money to do so. Brownback's solution:

”Slash the state’s required pension contribution by $40 million to balance the state budget. But Kansas already has one of the worst-funded pension systems in the nation. The state was also recently sanctioned by the Securities and Exchange Commission for not accurately disclosing the shortfalls,” reports International Business Times.

“Brownback, an icon of tea party economics who was re-elected in 2014, defended his proposal to divert money from the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS), telling the Wichita Eagle: 'It’s kind of, uh, well where are you going to go for the funds?'”

Oh, of course. Why didn't I think of that: those old people don't need the pensions they paid into. Who cares if they can't afford to eat.

Just when you think nothing else can go wrong, it does. Remember all that noise last weekend about Congress staying in session overtime to pass the $1.1 trillion spending bill so the government wouldn't shut down this week? The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) explains what else is in that bill that is now law.

"[It] reversed 40 years of federal law protecting retirees’ pensions. The change will allow benefit cuts for up to 10 million workers, many of them part of a shrinking middle-class workforce in businesses such as construction and trucking. There wasn’t a single Congressional hearing on the plan before it was slipped into the spending bill...”

Bad enough, right? Now read the interpretation of that change from the Wall Street Journal. The emphasis is mine:

”Lawmakers and experts, while divided over the merits of the change, largely agreed that it could well be the first of many.

"The measure 'would set a terrible precedent,' said Karen Friedman, executive vice president of the Pension Rights Center, a group that advocates for wider pension coverage and opposes benefit cuts. The bill could encourage similar cutbacks in troubled state and local pension plans, and possibly even Social Security and Medicare, she said.”

It sometimes happens that way with legislation; a limited exception (as bad as it is) is used to grease the skids for expansion to areas where it was not intended.

I'm sure you'll feel much better about about that possibility when you read this, from the same Wall Street Journal story:

“'Facing up to the insolvency is healthy,' said Alex Pollock, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. While it is difficult to consider cutting retiree benefits, it is often better than taking the money from other people, such as taxpayers, he said.”

It is a foregone conclusion that the next Congress, which convenes in January and is entirely controlled by the Republicans, will try to cut Social Security and Medicare one way or another. We cannot trust President Barack Obama not to go along. I hope you will be with me, ready to fight back as hard as we can.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henry Lowenstern: Memories of a German Childhood

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Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Hanukkah 5775

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Usually, on big holidays, I post a photo or video, something short as a celebration and let us otherwise have a day off from the blog. This year, a contributor to The Elder Storytelling Place sent a Hanukkah story for that blog but it seems a good fit here today. Happy Hanukkah, everyone.]



MY MOTHER'S MENORAH

By Trudi Kappel

More than half a century ago, my mother received a birthday present of a Hanukkah menorah from her father. It is sterling silver, of a modern design and, unusual, burns oil not candles. When my Mother died, 23 years ago, I inherited it.

image

I identify as an ethnic but not a religious Jew. The times I have visited a synagogue can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Yet, each December I polish my menorah, re-wick it and light it. The first night two lights, the following night three until on the last night all nine glow. It is very beautiful and the tradition continues.

I wonder who will light this menorah when I am gone.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Trudi Kappel: 500 Words

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