Michael Moore’s SiCKO

I’m not sure how appropriate of a Christmas Eve movie selection it was (I’m Jewish, so what do I know?), but my boyfriend and I cuddled up on his couch and watched Michael Moore’s SiCKO last night. As you all likely know, I’m dealing with being one of the millions of Americans that can’t get health insurance for one reason or another. So I thought perhaps SiCKO would help enlighten me a bit about the American health system and perhaps help me figure out a way to get around it.

While I’m not the biggest Michael Moore fan (and that says a lot, since I’m pretty much a socialist), I think that the film is worth watching. As with any Moore film, you can’t expect it to be journalism because it doesn’t present an unbiased cover of the issue. Instead, Moore uses the stories that best make his argument. Lucky for him, his base argument – that the American healthcare system is f’d up – is one that many people would agree with, regardless of political leaning. However, he uses the movie to show how wonderful the healthcare systems are in places like Canada, England, France and yes, even Cuba. It turns out that getting free healthcare in these countries is a piece of cake, or so he’d like us to believe. While I’m sure that’s not always the case, the fact remains that in America, people like me, suffering from pre-existing conditions, can’t get low-cost (or any) healthcare in our country, while in other countries, these “evil” liberal societies, getting healthcare – at least basic healthcare – would not be an issue for me. It would be covered by the government.

The most shocking part of SiCKO was not how great the healthcare in these other countries is… because it all seemed too perfect, and I wanted to know the other side that Mr. Moore was so carefully hiding to make his argument.

The part that really made me cry was the story of one mother who had an infant who got sick. Her baby had a 104 fever and was burning up fast. What’s saddest of all is that this mother was insured. She had Kaiser – which is apparently a health insurance company that requires all its patients to go to its hospital and its hospital alone, regardless of how serious the emergency. Unfortunately, the Kaiser hospital was not extremely close to her house, so the ambulance that came when she called 911 took her and her child to the local hospital… which then refused to accept her because Kaiser wanted them to go to the Kaiser Hospital.

Long story short, by the time she drove her kid to Kaiser, the kid was basically DOA (dead on arrival.) That story really made me mad.

There’s really no denying that our healthcare system is terribly messed up in this country. The question is, how can we fix it? I think socialized medicine works in countries like Cuba, England and France because they are all much smaller than America. Obviously Cuba is struggling with some things, but healthcare? Well, all of its citizens seem to be pretty damn healthy, thanks for cheap meds and a hospital on nearly every block.

Moore is apparently in deep doo doo for going to Cuba without permission (he brings with him a few 9/11 rescue volunteers who are ill from lung conditions but not able to get healthcare to cover their health problems). But that part of the movie is a fascinating look into Cuba… this country that we’re all told is hell on earth (as he so humorously illustrates.) It might not be the best place to live (why else would Cubans try to get to Florida by swimming across the ocean?) but at least there the citizens can get proper healthcare.

I wonder what would work for America. It seems so anti-American to have a system that provides fair and equal coverage to every citizen. Isn’t our country built on the premise that the poor must get poorer for the rich to get richer? With that backing our democracy, how can healthcare be fixed? Isn’t America working BECAUSE the poor people are too sick to fight the system? Too busy working three jobs a day to vote?

That’s America.

On the same topic, I recently read that fellow PF blogger LuluGal of “How to Save Money” had to have an emergency hospital stay earlier this month that set her back $500. You can read all about how she suddenly took ill, passed out, and ended up needing surgery. The $500 must be her bill after insurance paid (it would be much more than that without insurance), but that’s still a hefty bill to pay when you’re in debt or trying to save money.

Since it is the season of giving, how about everyone who reads my blog consider donating a few bucks to Lulu? I don’t know this gal, but I think it would be nice for us to help her out. I just sent her 2 bucks. She has a PayPal donation account set up for her page, which is attached to the bottom of every entry. You can click on this text link to donate also.

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You Lose Some, You Win Some…

I’ve been “playing” this weird Bluefly.com sweepstakes game that involves… well, I’m not even sure what it involves really, but the point is that you can win “shopping sprees” on the site or the grande prize of a trip to the Project Runway finale. I admit, my initial interest in the contest was the main prize, but the thought of winning one of the smaller prizes intrigued me.

So I played the game. I clicked on the silly banner link they e-mailed to me every day for the past month (well, almost) and that took me to a flash game that made absolutely no sense and pretty much was a waste of my time. Well, today, I clicked on the link and… I didn’t even get to the “game”… I just saw a screen that said “Congratulations, You Won a $100 Bluefly Shopping Spree.”

According to the contest rules, I won “second prize.” Over the entire period of the contest, “NINETY (90) SECOND PRIZES (two (2) per day)” would be awarded. Not too shabby, and a nice ending to a rough day…

Awesome, I thought, but what’s the catch? (There’s ALWAYS a catch, right?)

It turns out there isn’t a catch, or at least I didn’t let myself fall for it. The majority of items on the site are well over the $100 I won, and it’s easy to want to buy multiple items because the shipping is “$7.65 for an order” of as many things as you want to buy. It seems this contest was rigged to give out this “prize” right after the Christmas shopping frenzy ended. Why not use this as a way to try to get shoppers to buy more of the items on the site?

Surely, I was tempted. After browsing through the site for a month I’m practically on a first-name basis with all the left-over designer items waiting the day when they will be adopted by fashion-forward savings feens. So it was tough to force myself to add just one item to my shopping cart and click purchase.

I settled on a fairly basic black cashmere shirt…

It’s cute, right? A little interesting poof on the sleeve so I felt like I was getting something a little unique for my “prize” money, but without buying something that I’m never going to wear just because I had the extra cash to spend. I really hate shopping online for clothes because it takes me hours to find things that fit in the store, and it’s a crap shoot at guessing what sizes in each designers specific measurements will fit my… uh… Rubenesque figure.

In the end, I spent an extra $26 that I didn’t expect to be spending this evening. On one hand, that’s kind of a dumb move, because I just spent $125 on Christmas gifts. But… it does feel good to get a $275 cashmere shirt for $26 (that’s including shipping). Here’s to hoping the shirt actually fits when it shows up!

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Things are Never Ever As Simple as They Seem

1. ING Direct
Frustration Level: AH!
I’m trying to set up an ING Orange Direct account. The sign up process seems simple enough. Except after filling out all the information, I get an e-mail saying I have to give them a call to complete the process. Fine, that’s easy enough. So I call them. And apparently they have my social security number wrong on the account. Did I type it in wrong? Probably. That’s my fault entirely, but instead of being able to just go online and fix it, I need to wait for them to mail me a form, then I need to sign that form, then I need to mail (or fax) that form back in order for the account to be officially set up.

2. AT&T
Frustration Level: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!AH!AHHHH!AHH!

A couple of days ago I notice a $106.41 charge from AT&T on my bank statement. “What is this charge from AT&T,” I think to myself, “I don’t have an AT&T account… anymore.” For my last job, I made the mistake of agreeing to sign up for a cell phone plan for work with my credit card. My company reimbursed me for the phone and my monthly payments, but I knew the situation wouldn’t be pretty if I ever had to leave the company.

Fast forward a few months and the job isn’t working out. Tying up loose ends isn’t too hard, except for figuring out what to do with the phone… that has a two year contract existing as a parasite on my bank account. That last day of work was awkward to say the least, as it took forever to go through AT&T customer service and have them transfer my number and account to my boss’s main AT&T account.

What was supposed to happen? The account would be transferred to his collection of AT&T numbers, and he would pay the lowest monthly rate possible for the additional line from then on out, or until he hired another employee who would use the phone.

The customer service rep tried to convince us to hold off on the transfer, since the $100 rebate on the phone was still processing. My boss decided to just transfer the account then and there (without the rebate.) The customer service rep agreed and said that the account would be transferred with the next billing cycle. That would be the end of it, right?

Well, that would be the end of it for anyone else on this earth. But for me, that was only the beginning.

Fast forward another couple of months, until today. I call up AT&T to try to figure out what this mysterious charge on my statement is. Of course I can’t remember the old phone number off the top of my head (eventually I digg it out of my brain), and the first few minutes of the call are fruitless as they tell me my name doesn’t seem to exist within the system. Great. Finally I remember the number and viola, my account does exist and… oh look, they’re still billing me for auto payments. What else? They have no record of the conversation I had with their customer service department and my boss in October. Ok, now what?

I talk to one guy who is a complete waste of time. He basically says since they have no record of this conversation taking place, I have to get my old boss to talk to them again in order to transfer the account. I also have to be on the phone at the same time for all of this to work, because I need to give permission with him on the phone… nevermind that I did this in October.

But wait, 15 minutes more of my bitching brings out the fact that my account indeed has the conversation about the transfer noted on it. It says something about how the transfer didn’t go through because we were waiting on the rebate. That’s wrong, I inform him, but he doesn’t seem to care what I say.

Finally he transfers me to “transfer services” where they basically give me the same spiel. Oh, but here’s the best part, they find all of the proper authorization on the account to transfer it over, BUT, here’s the big BUT, it’s more than 60 days old so it’s no longer valid. WHAT? At this point, I’m ready to punch something. And I rarely get this pissed off. But this is just ridiculous.

So they get my old boss on the phone. Great. He’s a busy guy. He’s a VERY busy guy. He doesn’t have time for this BS. His time is money. And this stupid phone is already costing him enough money.

Hopefully the transfer went through this time. I hung up because my personal cell phone, on Verizon, was blasting through my monthly minutes (heck, I may have gone over on this annoying call), I hung up before the entire process was completed. I figured the rest of the transfer had to be done on my boss’s end, so there was no point waiting on hold for another hour.

Now, after all of this trouble, wouldn’t it be nice for AT&T to just refund us the money for the past two months when the account should have been on the lowest plan ($39.99 a month or less) and instead charged me (and ultimately him) $108 a month? Nah. He noted my account, but I have to call another number and argue with them for hours until maybe they’ll refund me the money. Now, ultimately this will be my bosses’ money, but because the account was in my name at the time, I have to be the one to call up and complain about this and try to get the monthly bills changed.

You know what, I felt bad about it so I did call back up and tried to do this. I was sent to the wrong representative and then when she forwarded me to the “right” rep, I was put on hold for seven minutes. The first few minutes I had some lovely make-me-want-to-go-hunting-for-large-animals-and-cut-open-their-flesh wait music, but then there was silence. Eventually, I hung up.

So now….? Well, I need to file a reimbursement form with my old company after putting them through all of this trouble. If they were a big company I wouldn’t feel that bad, but they’re a small startup and I really don’t want to make them have to deal with this crap.

Well, that’s my frustrations of the day.

Merry Christmas to all, from the Frustrated Jew.

The Cost of Being Healthy

I recently decided that in order to be happy and healthy, I need to revamp my entire life. No more starving myself all day (out of laziness, not anorexia) and eating giant meals at night… or paying for a $46.99 a month gym membership that I used once a year.

In order to be healthy in the coming year, I signed up for another gym membership. This one is at a gym a bit closer to my house, and it’s only $27 a month. That’s still a lot of money if I never use the gym, but I’m going to force myself to go at least three times a week in order to make sure I get as much bang for my buck as logistically possible.

The gym membership isn’t what is going to cost me the most, though. That would be the cost of buying fresh produce and healthier options when I eat out. Since I don’t eat red meat or chicken, my health options are usually fish dishes, often the most expensive at a restaurant. I’ve been to the grocery store about three times in the past month to purchase apples, kiwis, cauliflower, and so on. I keep finding these great healthy (yet expensive) alternatives to things I might eat… like Flax Jacks instead of pancakes (their delicious, easy to make (just add water) and pretty damn healthy) — but cost-wise, Bisquick is the better option.

Now, I’m also focusing on actually eating what I buy, instead of letting it go to waste. Living alone, it’s so easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of food purchased or made. Most recipes just assume you live with a family full of hungry people, and help you make 3-6 servings of food. If I make 3-6 servings of food either I’ll eat it all (not healthy) or it will just end up in the trash – or worse, stinking up my refrigerator.

Last week I started tracking my diet closely on SparkPeople.com, that site I found when searching for free workout videos on YouTube. It’s actually pretty cool – it’s free (always a plus) and it helps you track everything you’ve eaten and figure out how many calories and other nutrients are making it to your digestive tract.

What I learned this week is how fast calories add up when you’re eating out, and how slowly they add up when you’re eating a small, healthy meal or snack every two hours.

My goal is 1200 calories a day. I’m 157lbs right now, which at 5’3 is not acceptable. I’ve also let myself get so out of shape. I’ve never been the fitness type, but I also tended to weigh in at 145 to 150 without any extra work. Two years ago I was down to 127lbs, my lowest since I was a kid, and I did that by biking to work five days a week (30 minutes each way) and then, well, getting depressed and eating very few calories per day. I don’t want to do that again, exactly, but I’d like to learn how to live a healthy lifestyle for good.

That means I have to throw emotional eating out the door. I haven’t been that bad lately — I don’t think I’ve downed an entire box of Oreos in one sitting since college. Still, I was shocked to find out just how many calories is in one Baja Fresh Nachoes meal — (1890!!!). That’s probably with meat, but still. That’s way more than I’m supposed to eat in a day, let alone one meal.

Another typical meal I’d eat in my “old days” (aka, last month) would be what I’d pick up on a trip to Taco Bell…

$3.14 for…

-A Bean Burrito (370 calories)
-A vegetarian taco (unclear how many calories since I get beans instead of meat, but the reg. crunchy taco is 170 calories)
-The cheesy fiesta potatoes (290)
-A Large Pepsi (100 calories per 8oz, large = 32oz, so that’s 400 calories, maybe a little less given that they put a lot of ice in there, I’ll say 350 calories)

So that $3.14 meal didn’t cost me much in the piggy bank, but it cost me a good 1150 calories. That’s about how much I’m supposed to eat in a day.

Which makes me think that it’s good I generally ate only one meal a day in my, uh, past life, because otherwise I’d be a balloon right now.

The thing is, healthy eating is no longer an option for me, it’s something I have to do. I’m at high risk for so many different problems later in life due to having PCOS, and I’d rather eat healthy now than have to deal with everything down the line. Meanwhile, like any other girl, I just want to feel beautiful and desirable. I don’t have unrealistic expectations, I don’t want to be skin and bones, but… I’d give anything, ANYTHING, to be able to wear a bikini and feel proud of my body.

How much will it cost me? I can’t do fast food anymore, apparently (or — I could do Taco Bell, I just need to get ONE of those items instead of all of them. But it’s probably better I stick to healthier foods that are more filling and avoid the fast food altogether.) The good news is, I’ll be saving money here and there on drinks, since I’m cutting drinks besides water and milk out of my diet for now. I’ll have an occasional glass of red wine with dinner, but no more beer, or cocktails, or soda or juice. All of that has got to go if I want to be able to fit into those size 6 jeans I bought the last time I lost weight!

But the cost of buying healthy food is going to add up too. The vitamins alone are pricey, but I know my body needs them. I wish health insurance would take into consideration my diet, and perhaps accept me as long as I keep eating healthy. It seems I’d be of higher risk to them if I wasn’t do anything about my diet or lifestyle. Well, that would only make sense, and as we all know, the health insurance system in this country doesn’t make any sense at all.

With that, it’s time for my mid-morning kiwi. Did you know that you can eat the skin of the kiwifruit? In fact, the skin is the healthiest part of the fruit, with tons of fiber! Amazing, right? I was always afraid of kiwi skin. It is kind of fuzzy and brown, but if you close your eyes it just seems like the skin of a peach or something. It doesn’t have much flavor, and it’s a total waste to not eat that part of the kiwi.

Health Insurance – The Options

1. Go without health insurance
2. Pay $405 a month for COBRA
3. Lie on my application and pray no one will find out later on
4. Take 6 or more units of credit at a community college to be eligible for the student plan (that’s two classes, I think – which will end up costing more than the $405 a month? And require time I don’t have.)
5. Get a job with benefits (and give up the job I have now that I really like.)
6. Get married to someone with health insurance
7. Apply to the California High Risk Pool, wait 6-12 months to be approved, then pay at least $200 a month for health insurance
8. Successful Suicide. (*note – I don’t mean to make light of suicide, I’m just noting this since I cannot get health insurance due to being diagnosed with major depression.)

Thoughts?

Will Short Term Health Insurance Help?

I just applied for a short term health insurance plan. I put down that I want coverage for 72 days until March 1. I figure if I get approved, that will buy me some time to figure out how to get “real” health insurance. Ie – how I’m going to have to lie in order to get insured. I’m not sure if they’ll approve me for this short term insurance, but basically it’s $133 for those 72 days, and it will help me extend my period of continuous coverage for a while so I have some time to sort things out. I just wonder if HealthNet will approve me. Chances are I won’t even go to the doctor in the next 72 days, so they can just take my $133 and run with it.

I Can’t Get Affordable Health Insurance

Do I really need healthcare?

Well, apparently I was denied coverage from PacifiCare due to my pre-existing conditions. That’s not good, since my health insurance agent basically told me that they’re the most lenient when it comes to this stuff, and I didn’t even note on my application that I have “major depression.” I just put down that I have anxiety/depression and took Lexapro and Xanax for this problem for one month each. To be honest, I’m done with meds for anxiety forever. I don’t like them, they don’t help, they make me feel sick, and they cost too much, even with insurance. I also noted that I have irregular periods, but I didn’t label it as “PCOS” because I thought that might get me denied. Oh, and I mentioned that I did have a ruptured cyst on my ovary last year. Yea, so I was pretty honest, minus fibbing a bit on my mental health diagnosis.

Anyway, fuck, I wasn’t approved. Now what? Well, my options, according to my agent, are signing up for a state plan where I’d be pre-approved but it would cost more. $240 a month for Kaiser, or $290 for Blue Cross. I’m pretty sure these are high deductable plans too. Yea right. I don’t make enough for those plans.

In short, it looks like I’m going to have to go without health insurance for the next ten years. I think that’s when I can wipe my mental health problems off my record. Let’s hope I don’t get into any near-fatal accidents between now and then.

Gosh this makes me sad.

Free Workout of the Day: 8 Minute Abs (from 1994)

Can it get any cheesier than this? I remember the infomercials for this 90s exercise classic. The good news is that this video is now “free” and it works. The main guy is motivational, and the bad music (that could fit in a 90s porn as well) for some reason makes me want to work out even harder.

I kind of like how each move in 45 seconds. But by the end of eight minutes, I’m in pain.

Free Workout of the Day: Butt Blaster

Now that I’ve pulled the plug on my gym membership (that I never used), I’ve decided to seek out free fitness videos online. My boyfriend swears by 8 Minute Abs (circa 1994). If you want, you can find that easily for your dated enjoyment on YouTube. Yes, I did 8 Minute Abs today and I’m going to try to do it everyday for the foreseeable future. However, today’s “Free Workout of the Day” takes us to a slightly lower region – our butts.

I just did this six minute butt blaster workout that I found on YouTube, and boy does my butt feel blasted. Check back every day for a new Free Workout of the Day video or tutorial from another fitness website. All workouts will use body weight and cardio alone and require no additional equipment, therefore actually being free!

Is "Mystery Shopping" Worth the Stress?

For the past few years, I’ve done a few “mystery shopping” meals through the firm Coyle Hospitality. While many mystery shopping companies are scams, Coyle is an actual legit business that is decent to do work for.

They only do restaurants, hotels and spas. The hotel shops are generally during the week (when I have work) and spa shops are, not surprisingly, difficult to get. However, every once in a while I’ll sign up and get assigned a shop at a restaurant.

I always drag a guest along… usually my boyfriend… and we try really hard to pay attention during the meal and memorize the majority of important interactions made between us and the staff. In the end, though, we both spend upwards of five hours on the report, and yet we still manage to make mistakes (both due to confusing instructions and error in consistency — you have to note the exact time dishes were served and taken away, etc, in numerous locations on the report) and my scorecard is only in the average range.

So I wonder if mystery shopping is really worth it. Sure, we get a free expensive meal ($100+), but the dining experience is not all that pleasant due to being paranoid the whole time about paying attention to the details. The actual “shop” takes about two hours to complete, or more if the restaurant happens to have slow service. You usually have to do a shop at the bar first, where you go and spy on the bartender(s) and “wait” for your guest to arrive.

The meal, however, is the “pay.” Well, that, and a $15 “fee” you get with each shop, which basically covers the cost of gas or a train ticket to get to the restaurant for two people.

Currently, as a freelance writer, I charge $25 an hour for my services. My boyfriend, who is also a writer and editor, makes about $15 an hour. So figure that, given our current wages, our time would be worth about $40 per hour… maybe $30 with taxes taken out.

On the last assignment, we spent two hours dining, and then five hours filling out the report. That’s seven hours… and at our ‘after tax’ rate, that would still be $210. The total reimbursement I’ll be seeing for the lunch shop will be $112, including the $15 fee.

I don’t mind the pay difference, though, as I’d never spend money frivolously on ordering a three-course meal at a supposed fine dining establishment, but what really irks me is that regardless of how much time I spend proofreading my report, I still manage to make mistakes.

My earlier report scores have disappeared from my account for some reason. They score out of 20, and I’ve scored 18 and 19 in the past. But this recent report (which, due to the extremely slow timing of the restaurant, caused my boyfriend to miss his $80 voice lesson that afternoon) we scored a measly 16 on.

While I agree that the report should follow their style and be consistent, I also wonder what kind of scores other people are getting reporting for this company. After all, my boyfriend and I are professional writers and editors. The report submission system does not make it easy to compare notes between different pages and to proofread for inconsistencies.

Meanwhile, I feel like I could pretty much make up the entire report, and as long as I followed their guidelines, they’d give me a great score. But instead, I include material that I believe is of value to their client. Apparently, I’m over-thinking the job. Maybe their client just wants to hear that their restaurant is perfect, and they’ll be satisfied.

I’ve requested another shop, but I’m not sure I’ll get it. I’d like to do a spa shop, as it would be nice to experience a spa without having to feel wasteful spending money on a massage and other treatments. But I doubt they’ll assign someone with a “16” score one of their precious spa reviews. Oh well.

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