Health Insurance Rip-Off Saga Continues

December 31, 2007

By Karen

After my health insurer hit me with an unconscionable 18% rate hike for 2008, I asked my agent to explore alternatives. Going into this, I knew I’d end up with less coverage. My agent believed that staying with the same company and simply switching to one of their lousier plans could be accomplished with minimal hassle.

That sounded good to me. After all, my present policy, which is considered “really good,” might as well be a lousy policy. This insurer denies claims so I never meet my $750 deductible. In addition to collecting their premium, which is reaching mortgage-size proportions, they stick me with the bulk of all my routine healthcare expenses.

We found a plan for about $110 a month less that’s quite up-front about sticking me with the out-of-pocket bills. What’s weird about it is that the dental portion is TRIPLE what I pay now ($27 a month vs. $9). But what the heck, I’d still save $1,320 a year. Where do I sign?

Not so fast! Today I found out I must “go through underwriting” again. Like I just walked in off the street.

Like they don’t already have a file on me dating back to 1992. (They required 10 years of medical history when I first applied in 2002). Like they don’t have a stack of “Explanations of Benefits” denying some payment on every doctor visit I’ve had since.

They want ANOTHER nine-page application. WHY???!!!

It’s one way they keep the cost of insurance sky-high and discourage all but the heartiest (those with the highest genetic tolerance for bullshit paperwork) out of the risk pool. It’s a significant operating expense to pay underwriters to scrutinize a person’s multiple applications for inconsistencies or omissions. The objective is to find some tiny reason to decline coverage altogether or to bump us into higher risk brackets so we’ll continue paying through the nose for less and less insurance.

This fight has just begun. Stay tuned…


Cats Can’t Bear Trespassers

December 30, 2007

By Adele

We’ve been bragging here lately how fierce cats are with rodents, but how about a housecat who took on a BLACK BEAR – and won? My new American Idol is a feisty, territorial tabby in West Milford, New Jersey, named Jack who doesn’t consider being declawed a handicap.

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This happened back in June 2006 when Jack was 10 years old, but I just heard about it.

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(Photo by neighbor Suzanne Giovanetti. That small orange spot at the bottom of the photo is Jack, all 15 hissing pounds of him.)

It seems this bear was foolhardy enough to wander onto Jack’s turf in the ‘burbs, so Jack did what he had to do. He chased the bear up a tree. When the bear got up enough nerve to climb back down after 10 or 15 minutes, Jack chased him up another tree.

The bear avoided becoming cat chow only after Jack’s owners called Jack inside. Otherwise, it might have become the first bear skeleton ever found in a tree with a terrified look on its skull.

I’m guessing Jack’s house never has mice, either.


New York’s Between a Rat and a Hard Place

December 28, 2007

By Fred

It’s legend that two of my predecessors, Coco and Cleo, both declawed, once tag-teamed a mouse at the kitchen sink. Their kill was so meticulous, the mouse looked like it had died in its sleep.

In 14 years I’ve been on the job here, ably assisted by Yul and Adele, I’m proud to say nothing bigger than a bug has ever infiltrated our happy home.

Rodents know instinctively that anywhere with a cat… or three… is no place to settle down and raise a family.

After Rats Gone Wild in a Greenwich Village KFC/Taco Bell on YouTube highlighted serious vermin issues, deli and bodega owners in New York welcomed cats into their establishments.

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But here’s the rub. Local health codes and state law ban all animals from stores serving human food or beverages. The fines are $300 for a first offense and $2K+ for subsequent offenses.

Which would you rather see, a fastidiously groomed cat sitting on the counter, or rodent footprints and “raisins” on your cheesecake?

Cats make more humane pest controllers than professional exterminators because our methods don’t let our victims have slow, agonizing deaths in inaccessible places where they rot and stink up the joint. We believe nothing says “I love you” more eloquently than the gift of a dead rat at our owners’ feet.

So I hope the bureaucrats in NYC will get real and give the cats a break. They’re hard-working and they need homes. It’s possibly the only front in the war on terror we can win. Thanks to cats, these rat bastards are definitely going down.


Who Needs Stinking Elections? Just Form a New Country!

December 21, 2007

By Fred

I had a WTF moment when I sat on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s face – as Person of the Year on Time magazine’s cover. Apparently, I wasn’t alone, because Time has been swearing it’s no honor, just recognition of his… uh… “influence.”

 

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When George W. Bush looked into Putin’s eyes, he saw his soul. When I look into Putin’s eyes, I’m reminded of the shark Robert Shaw described in Jaws: “…he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes.”

Putin latest scheme to hold onto power is to merge Russia with Belarus so he can be president of a bigger, better country. The only turd in the water bowl is that Belarus already has a ruthless dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, who isn’t about to give up his own job security.

I’m worried that Dick Cheney will hear about this and start telling George, “Let’s invade Mexico and form a ‘new’ country. We could slip some fine print into the Constitution that says Congress can’t run a new country, so they’d be toast and you and I can rule as long as my pacemaker lasts.”

If that doesn’t tempt George, Cheney could add, “We’d be killing three birds with one stone. Once we’re running Mexico, all their illegal immigrants automatically become citizens and an unlimited source of cheap labor. What’s not to love about that?”

It takes a while for Bush to grasp concepts, but once he gets it, he’ll probably say, “Why stop at Mexico? Hell, let’s invade Canada! Our boys could whip those woosies in a week. Then we can say we have universal healthcare to shut up all the crybabies who think they’re too good to go to the emergency room when they get sick. Bring it on! My legacy’s looking better already!”

They’d make Genghis Khan and Atila the Hun proud.


We Need HR 676 Passed Now

December 20, 2007

By Karen

When my health insurance company refused to admit pure greed as the reason my premium’s going up 18% in 2008, I vowed to get even. My first step was to vent my disgust here.

Yesterday, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published my letter to the editor calling for private insurers to be eliminated through a universal single-payer system.

That letter earned me a phone call from Dr. W. Ferguson Reid, a distinguished retired surgeon who was the first African American since Reconstruction to be elected to the Virginia General Assembly. Dr. Reid put me on to Physicians for a National Health Program, which supports HR 676, a bill to establish national health insurance (NHI) that has languished in Congress since February 2005. One of its sponsors is presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich.

HR 676 would create a Medicare-type program for all Americans that includes health, dental, mental, prescription, and long-term care. It would eliminate private insurers and revamp for-profit healthcare facilities. We would all pay into the system on a sliding scale based on income, but never receive a bill for healthcare services, prescriptions, or medical supplies. Because it would squelch the pure avarice prevalent in today’s system, virtually everyone except insurance and pharmaceutical CEOs and their lobbyists would come out ahead in the long run.

Finally, our healthcare system would measure up to those of every other industrialized nation in the world. Who knows? Over time our life span might even catch up because we’d stop ending up in early graves thanks to unaffordable or denied care.

Unless you work in health insurance, pharmaceuticals, a parasitic side industry that feeds off the bureaucracy, or you generally think mankind should just go to hell, you have no reason NOT to support universal healthcare.

If you agree with me, read up on HR 676 and start spreading the word. Add your name to the petitions of grassroots groups like Healthcare-Now and filmmaker Michael Moore.

Guaranteed Healthcare, a project of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, and patients and community groups around the country, is another source of information.

The next item on my To-Do list is to find out which Virginia politicians are obstructionists, enjoying great free healthcare with my taxes while I pay through the nose for it. I’m going to let them know they won’t get my vote until they pass HR 676.


Giant Rats Aren’t Your Pals

December 18, 2007

By Fred

Just when you think it’s safe to go back into the jungles of Papua, Indonesian New Guinea, you’re greeted by a giant, cuddly rat that lets you pick it up and pet it.

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Well, this cat’s got news for the crazy humans who think this critter makes an interesting science project: There’s no such thing as a friendly rat. Or even an honest rat. This guy is just pretending to like you to win a free ticket off Gilligan’s Island so it can become a pet. Once it’s settled in and getting three squares a day, there’s going to be trouble.

It could even be female and pregnant. Before you can say “Mickey Mouse,” you’ll be up to your neck in 3-pound vermin with tails like broomsticks.

Cats are closely watching this story because it seems that those who didn’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Back in the Middle Ages, somebody probably gave a rat a break, and then Europe got practically wiped out with Black Plague.

Cats came to the rescue then, and we’re ready to do it again if we have to. We’re willing to protect the humans that feed us, brush us, and let us shed all over them. Anyway, it’s high time we reminded rodents who’s still king of the jungle.

All the news stories mention only one giant rat being found, but they never live alone. It’s undoubtedly got friends waiting to make their move. When they do, we’re ready…


The White House Goes to the Dogs

December 16, 2007

By Yul

Those publicity-hungry First Dogs, Barney and Miss Beazley Bush, have struck again. Their “Barney Cam” on the White House’s Web site just premiered another Christmas video. It features the whole Bush clan, touting George’s intention to blow $1 billion of other people’s money on the nation’s national parks over the next decade.

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(White House photo of Miss Beazley and Barney by Shealah Craighead)

I don’t think that’s a bad idea. It’s just that any time Bush hatches a scheme that sounds unselfish, most of the money ends up in his friends’ pockets.

In the video, the dogs even had Tony Blair talking to them, which just goes to show the pathetic lengths some former prime ministers will go to get their faces on camera.

The obsessively reclusive cat India, aka “Willie,” managed to snag a two-second walk-through cameo. In the closing credits, they billed her only as “kitty,” without even a capital “K.” It’s no surprise that Barney Cam’s operators have no idea what her name is, since Laura and the twins carried on like those two dogs are their only pets.

As media personalities, Barney and Miss Beazley look like a pair of sooty dust mops without handles. The most entertaining thing Barney did was run away when Bush called the White House grounds a national park. He was probably scared of being fined for lifting his leg on protected trees.

The dogs want to become junior park rangers when they leave Washington, and they’ve already got khaki jackets to wear on the job.

India’s plans are anybody’s guess.

With two wars dragging on, the economy poised on a banana peel, and Republican skeletons falling out of every closet, it’s no surprise to find out that the White House has gone to the dogs.


Mice Lose the Smell of Fear

December 13, 2007

By Adele

Science has made another hopeless attempt to create a mighty mouse, like anybody wants one.

Japanese researchers at the University of Tokyo with nothing better to do genetically tinkered with the receptors hooked to mice’s tiny little noses so they’d be born unable to smell cats.

First, let me set the record straight on one vital point: Cats do not smell. Litterboxes smell – when humans don’t clean them often enough.

In any case, our alleged odor runs a distant fourth to our teeth, claws, and talent for playing rodent hockey when you ask mice what they fear about cats.

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The researchers said cats would have to be willing to meet the mice halfway for true friendship to occur. Oh, sure, put the burden of success on us. They had a dumb young cat named Mochikko-chan let a fearless mouse make a fool of her without lifting a paw. For the sake of self-respecting felines everywhere, I hope as soon as this picture was snapped, Mochikko grabbed herself a tasty helping of Mice-a-Roni.

The researchers claim they can apply their technique to other mammals and make them unafraid of their natural enemies. What on earth for? So they can end up someone’s lunch and never know what hit them?

Besides, it’s not animals who need help in learning how to get along. It’s humans. Maybe if Muslims, Jews, and Christians couldn’t smell each other, they’d stop all the fighting.

How about that idea, researchers? Get to work!


Anthony Bourdain’s Christmas Cop-Out

December 12, 2007

By Karen

The cats aren’t big Anthony Bourdain fans, but I am. They probably think he’s eaten a few of them in his travels.

No Reservations

I, on the other hand, pre-ordered his new book, No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach, and wrapped it as a Christmas present to myself so he’ll be under my tree on Christmas morning. How hopelessly devoted is that?

I’ve read and loved a lot of his non-fiction, Kitchen Confidential, A Cook’s Tour, and The Nasty Bits, as well as his novels, Bone in the Throat, Gone Bamboo, and The Bobby Gold Stories. I’m awed by his bitingly witty writing style.

When I learned he was doing a Christmas special on No Reservations on the Travel Channel, I marked my calendar, eagerly anticipating a peek into his new life as a born-again husband and first-time father.

The first surprise was that the show was filmed at his brother’s house in Connecticut, far from Tony’s home in New York City. The plush, affluent setting made Tony’s endearing cynicism toward everything seem a bit over the top, so it was probably wise to keep his brother and sister-in-law’s appearances brief.

Instead, they left the limelight to Tony’s thoroughly unlikable niece and his foul-mouthed little nephew/godson. I’m hoping Uncle Tony slipped some big bucks into their stockings to get them to put on an act and they really don’t ape his snarkiness every day. It’s very unattractive in children.

The turkey-selection/killing segment stood in stark contrast to other episodes where animals have been butchered by poor rural people who sincerely wanted to give Bourdain their best. His enthusiasm felt a bit unseemly.

I didn’t begrudge him his defense of foie gras by visiting good friend and fellow chef Ariane Daguin. The ducks did look relatively happy. But I expected him to at least mention he named his new daughter after Ariane, and he didn’t.

The incongruous presence of Queens of the Stone Age was a rebellion against smarmy Christmas carols I could appreciate, and it was fun to watch him chop down the Christmas tree and make his troll of a nephew drag it into the house.

But I really enjoyed seeing Tony in the kitchen, proving that he really knows how to cook. Then again, I’m turned on by the sight of any man doing something useful in the kitchen.

The biggest letdown was the climax, with Tony sitting at the table with his brother and his brother’s family. Where did he have his new wife, Ottavia, and their baby Ariane spending their first Christmas as Bourdains? Out in the garage? Bing Crosby was reputed to be a real bastard, and even he didn’t pretend he was single at Christmas.

The Bourdain brothers didn’t even include their own mother in the festivities.

Tony’s probably compelled to foster his image as a latter-day sex symbol, and he may personally want to draw a line between his public and private life by keeping his new family off-camera, but it certainly made for an incomplete Christmas special.

If he’s ever coerced into doing something like this again, I suggest a slant he’d be more comfortable with: Tony’s solitary search for the spirit of Christmas in the farthest corners of some non-Christian country. That would be worth watching.


We Must Flush Insurance Parasites from Healthcare

December 6, 2007

By Karen

On November 30 while Leeland Eisenberg was holed up in Hillary Clinton’s campaign office in Rochester, N.H., with road flares strapped to his chest, pathetically trying to bring attention to inaccessible, unaffordable healthcare for the mentally ill, I was on the phone becoming mentally ill trying to find out why my individual health insurance is going up another 18%.

Since 2004, my monthly premium has increased 90% – and I’ve never had a serious illness or accident. I’m a self-employed, single, childless woman in my early 50s. I take nothing but two generic prescriptions for hypertension that run about $11 a month combined. In 2008, I’ll be paying $488 a month for health coverage. They manage to stick me with the lion’s share of virtually all my preventive care, and I still never seem to meet my $750 annual deductible.

What surprises me is that more people don’t pull an Eisenberg in the offices of major insurance companies using real bombs.

A representative for my insurer, a name you’d recognize, told me this year’s outrageous increase is because I’ve grown a year older. To make me feel better, she assured me it’s being imposed on everyone else who did likewise.

Apparently customers remaining alive is a problem that requires massive infusions of cash to these crooks.

When I asked if having a birthday could make my rate balloon so much, what would happen if I actually needed to use the coverage, she assured me that claims have nothing to do with rates.

I hope her nose grew a foot longer. If that were true, then seriously ill people wouldn’t be getting canceled just when they need insurance most.

The bald fact is that the success of the entire insurance industry depends on taking money from people and providing NOTHING in return. With healthcare, this often turns deadly.

And in any other context, it’s called stealing.

The presidential candidates who say universal coverage is the answer because 47 million are uninsured are totally missing the point. The answer doesn’t lie in forcing everyone to be financially bled to death by these insatiable insurance companies.

Insurers will never provide “affordable” healthcare. Sure, they may temporarily roll back rates a tad just to get the politicians off their backs. But as soon as attention turns elsewhere, they’ll make up for any shortfall with even worse rate hikes.

The only solution is to remove insurers from the equation altogether. Stop letting them be the obstacle between patients and care. Eliminate their bureaucratic burden on physicians. End their extortion.

Conservatives might argue that shutting down insurance companies would cause a spike in unemployment. And what would we do with all that cushy office space now housing the leeches?

I say turn the buildings into hospitals and retrain the employees. Instead of being parasites who earn their living denying care, let them ease the nursing shortage by providing care.


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