Status Updates for 2009-08-31

  • That Subway sandwich shop yeasty "fresh" bread smell they fan out to the street makes me gag #
  • best Mad Men ever (except for the Palm Springs one) #
  • really not a fan of classifying and dividing the world into "winners" and "losers" #
  • If the foo shits… #
  • Interesting fact of the day: Belgian Endive is a form of Chicory #

My personal health care reform story


A friend sent me the following question in an email today:

out of curiosity, who do you get your medical insurance through? every so often i toy with taking time off and the thing that always stops me dead in my tracks is insurance… i’m kinda curious how coverage works when you’re not with a company that picks it up for you…

My poor friend  probably didn’t realize what a touchy subject this was for me. My response to him I thought was worth sharing, so here it is:

In short:

If money is not a big issue, it is straightforward and easy to get.

If you don’t particularly feel like shelling out 700 plus dollars a month (or can’t) it is a Byzantine nightmare.

It took me many months of research and hassle to even be able to qualify for (much less afford) insurance. I finally settled on the least bad of any plan I could find, a place called Freelancers Insurance Company. They pool a bunch of freelancers into a group for better buying rates. I had to prove a certain amount of freelance work and have several clients verify with signed forms before I could even get coverage from them. I currently pay 266 dollars a month which includes vision and dental. While this is easily the best rate for the most coverage I could find, there are many things left out and I have a crazy high yearly out of pocket (something like 13K) should I need a hospital stay for example. My copays for a regular doc visit are 30 bucks (in network) and 50 bucks for a specialist (also in network).

If I had been able to afford more coverage, it would have been preferable, but alas this year as I am building a client list I have really not made much money at all. This process has been enlightening however, and made me realize how much the working poor (which sadly includes me at the moment) are screwed over in this country when it comes to health care. Being freelance adds and extra dollop of bend-over-and-take-it to the mix, because so much of our health care costs are hidden in the (even poor) health benefits that many employers extend to their staff.

Still, I was happy to finally have health care. That was, until I decided to actually use it recently. On my very first doctor visit after having coverage, I went to go see an in-network specialist (for a somewhat unpleasant problem I won’t bore you with), gave them my insurance card, got a consultation, paid my 50 dollars and left, thinking that was that. A couple of weeks later I received a notice in the mail from my insurer telling me that this may be considered a pre-existing condition and they may refuse coverage. I was pissed, and dutifully send them back all documentation that I had, and am still waiting to see if they will cover me.  People who truly do have pre-existing conditions are (again) SCREWED in this country. The fact that it is even legal to deny such coverage is in my mind one of the great evils of our current system. I am in an especially shitty position because I had a coverage gap while I was traveling and trying to qualify for insurance here in NYC. Insurers love to mess with you on that score as well (although not before taking several months of your premium payments).

Btw, while I was investigating the charge the specialist made to the insurance company, I was gobsmacked to discover that his charge to them for a 15 minute consultation was 900 bucks! I have no idea how much of this is overhead to an insurer, how much is just what they can get away with, but jeez really? I would LOVE to be able to bill at that rate. People have no idea how much doctors and hospitals charge back for services, but they should. In any event, this guy is competent and is on my insurers list of in-network, approved physicians, so they should be covering me without hassle and negotiating better rates with the doctors themselves.

Ultimately, I have become convinced that some things, like police protection and health care, should not be run as for-profit operations. They must be fair and available to everyone. The people that think we have the greatest health care system in the world are the ones that can afford the best coverage. That won’t change in a single payer system (France for instance covers everyone quite nicely and some people have add-on insurance called mutuals for things the system won’t cover) but there should be a minimum level that all citizens are entitled to. People who say we will have health care rationing under single payer are crazy if they think it isn’t rationed already: It is rationed on the ability to pay.

Hope this helps. It made me feel better putting it down on paper. :) Feel free to call me directly with any questions.



I had a bit of a nightmare last night, which is pretty rare for me.

I was deep in an underground school or camp or prison of some sort, hanging out with a rag tag group. We were sort of like a group of homeless people, rummaging around the debris of these subway tunnels and basements for junk we could use. The people running the place were thuggish, brutish types that were quite menacing. Two other guys and me were about to be punished for breaking some rule, some minor infraction perhaps having to do with some contraband. They had decided that we had to have our eyes put out. We were terrified, but going about preparing ourselves. I was very upset that this was happening, and I complained to someone who told me that for some ethnic reason, this rule didn’t apply to us. I spoke to one of the people in charge who gave me a note excusing me from the punishment, although the small gang meting out the punishment seemed unlikely to heed it. I kept avoiding the place where the torture was happening because I was worried that even though I had been excused and had my note, they would still grab me and try to do the same. I was with a small group, half hiding and yet still wandering close to the place where the guys eyes were to be put out, a group preparing their bed and station and moving things around. The scene was like a wartime, dirty makeshift hospital ward. We heard their screams coming from the other room and I was horrified and also relieved that it was not happening to me. I was filled with some shame for my special privilege, and anger at their stupid rules. We left after that to go out to a safer place while they recuperated. A group of “friends” grabbed me and let me to another part of the underground maze. It seemed that there was a real kind of cultural divide, and that I needed to go with them or I wouldn’t be safe. As we wandered from room to room, I noticed a bunch of malformed and sickly children that were coming and going, moving around everywhere or arriving by elevator down to the depths with us. Then the entire place seemed to tip sideways and we all fell to the ground, and then I woke up.

What’s in a name?


This past weekend, I attended a family reunion held deep in the heart of Tennessee. It was my stepfather’s family, and most of them  are from the areas surrounding Tennessee and Kentucky originally. The main three family name branches are “Kennedy” (my stepdad’s last name), Dunn and Bowman. For the first evening and for a picture taking on Sunday, we each wore somewhat goofy t-shirts with the family clan name on it, as a way to identify who came from what group. I was a little uncomfortable with the idea of attending this family reunion in the first place, for a number of reasons. First, having been to one of these things 20 some years ago, I wasn’t relishing the idea of coming face to face with a large number of very politically and culturally conservative people. Following along these lines, I imagined how “other” me and my brothers and my mother would seem in the midst of all this, and I (Jewish like them, gay, and lefty almost to the point of communist) even more “other” and ill-fitting that the closest of my family members.

As it turned out, I was mostly wrong and had a decent time. While 3 or 4 people of a certain generation were indeed quite close-minded and vocal about it, their children — about my age and below, seemed for the most part to be delightful, thoughtful people with much to share and we all had a nice time together. And with a couple of exceptions, the entire group seemed to be on their best behavior, avoiding any rancor and putting their best foot forward to become acquainted or reacquainted with the entire family. And really when you looked into it, many of us had reasons of personal history to consider ourselves “other” if we wanted to. Some had lived in far away countries for most of their lives. Some had been married many times. Some were gay. Some were married with no children. Some were socially awkward. And so on. When you get down to it, a definition of outsider status is often and as much the perception and choice of the outsider as it is the judgment of the insider. And of course we also had plenty reasons to consider ourselves “part of” if we so chose. And so by the end of the first evening, lubricated by food and beer and card games and good cheer, I relaxed into the experience.

Upon returning to Indianapolis (from whence I would fly back to New York) I began to pack my things. I held up the shirt with the words “Kennedy Clan” on it, and made a joke to my mother and stepfather. “Well, I have the shirt. I should probably just change my last name to Kennedy.” My mother smiled mischievously and said in a low voice with a smile “It would probably really piss off your dad”. To which I responded that anyway, I felt much closer to Bob (my stepfather) that to my biological father. I mean, what defines a father? It is someone who takes care in raising you, teaching you about life. Someone who loves you and is proud of you and sets a good example for how a person should be in the world. A father is there for you, someone you can talk to, get advice from. A father is never beyond reach or reproach, but nevertheless is held in high regard for their part in raising you. In all these ways and so many many more, Bob is (and has been since I was 9 years old) my father. He is the one I call on father’s day, the one I refer to when speaking of my dad to friends. I almost never use the “step” except to clarify for someone. My mother and stepfather have been married for over 30 years, and I see no “step” in him (or my sisters and other immediate “step” family. We are all just family.)

And then I started to turn the idea of changing my last name into an intellectual exercise. What would be involved and what would be the potential benefits and drawbacks? There are a slew of things to consider:

Wiping the slate clean. One of the advantages (or disadvantages, depending on how you perceive it) would be that this would be a kind of breakpoint and make it harder for people to reconstruct my history. In internet and info searches I would be a kind of newborn, with a whole new history to build up. Of course it would be easy to join the past to the future if you did a little digging, but it would not be obvious at first.  It would also be harder for people to recognize my past accomplishments (what few there are).

Denying one’s heritage. Interesting point, but who really thinks of “Suess” as a Jewish last name (at least in this country. Apparently the Nazis thought it was.) In any event, it isn’t even a longstanding family name, having been changed by my great great grandfather from something like “Ledner” a few generations ago. And although I feel culturally quite Jewish in many ways, I am certainly not a believer in Jewish religious tenets.

Branding. My friend John (who I ran this idea by) thinks this is a bad idea. That he associates my last name with my “brand”, something that he likes and that I have built up over the years of knowing him. I don’t like thinking of myself as a brand (with good or bad associations) anyway, so this doesn’t hold much weight for me. Still, John associates good feelings and identification with my name and what it conjures for him.

Privacy/Anonymity. I have written at length in the past about our loss of privacy in the internet age. Obviously if I was more worried about it, I wouldn’t blog or have a professional website. Or I would at least blog under a pseudonym. But it is at least a slightly enticing idea that I would go from having a name that only about 3 people on Facebook currently share to one of 804. Someone trying to find out about you on Google before a job interview or date would have a much harder time of it. On the other hand, if you ever want to stand out it will be more difficult.

Spelling. I would never again have to spell my last name for people.

Unknowns. Would I stop receiving junk mail for a while? Would I have to build an entirely new credit score? If someone willed the old me a million dollars would I still be able to collect? Would I suddenly get recruited by the Irish for all manner of  parade and drinking game? Would people see me in a different light? Would meeting a brand new person result in a completely different flash judgement of who I am, depending on nothing other than a difference in last name? What happens to my passport, would I have to get a new one immediately in my new name? Would doing so trigger some FBI terrorist search? Would people think I was doing this to cash-in on the recent death of Edward Kennedy?

By the way, it is surprisingly easy in most places to actually change one’s name. I don’t think I will actually do it, but the reflection on it has been interesting. What do you think?

In the Navy Blue


A one of a kind, odd, tiring, hot and sweaty, but mostly fun day today. My friend Eric and I went to be extras in a film being shot only a few blocks from my apartment. The film, called “BearCity“, bills itself as a sort of gay(er) SATC with a group of bears as the protagonists. Most film sets are all about the waiting, and this was no different. Of the 6 hours we spent there, probably only about ninety minutes was actually blocking and filming, the rest was just standing around. My big scenes were all about me leaning up against a wall (supposedly in some sort of gay bar back room flirting with the crowd) while the various actors criss-crossed in front of me doing their sundry scenes. One of the guys that had a bit part in the film was the cowboy from The Village People. When he came swaggering into the bar, in full regalia it was obvious who he was. It really made me think a lot about how much this role must have defined his life, and how over time it must have just became his sort of permanent drag. The outfit hasn’t varied much since the late 1970s, and that is I suppose part of the reason he is still so recognizable. When he first arrived on the scene, he was introducing himself to everyone, and then it seemed important to him to school everyone in the history of gay liberation, not bothering to listen to what anyone else had to say. Then he loosened up a bit and seemed a little more relaxed and playful. Over all, he was a pretty nice guy (if slightly old school). The rest of the cast and crew were for the most part very nice and mostly having fun on the set. We would go in and out of scenes as they needed us, and just when we thought we were done someone shouted at me “Hey, navy blue” (the color of my t-shirt), “We need you for another shot”. I have to tell you it was hotter than hell in that little room where the shooting was, between the lights and the number of people and all the simulated cruising going on. They asked us to come back tomorrow or Saturday for a couple more scenes, and we may, but I have the feeling that my 15 minutes of fame as an extra bear may have already passed. Grrr…

me cowboy eric