Monday, July 7, 2008

Caught in the middle again

Happy Monday. I hope the weekend was a good one.

Sue and I spent some time yesterday at Wadsworth Falls State Park in Middlefield.

It's a little swimming hole with some walking trails and, of course, the falls.

You get there by taking Route 66 east off I-91 in Meriden, then taking a right on Route 157 in Middletown. The intersection of Route 157 is farther then you think it should be. The park is on the left-hand side. There's a fee to park, as in just about all state parks during the season.

If you're strapped for cash (or cheap, like me) and don't feel the need to swim, you can skip the parking fee by driving past the park entrance and taking a left of Cherry Hill Road. There's a stop sign at the intersection. A few hundred feet on the left is a nifty and free parking lot. You can walk the short distance to the falls and cool off your feet.

If you feel ambitious, you can walk across the railroad tracks on Cherry Hill Road and a hundred yards or so (maybe less) on the left, there's a wide, easy-to-follow trail. There's a sign that says the trail starts here. Follow the orange blazes for a nice, slightly hilly walk through the woods. If you walk long enough, you get to the swimming hole.

But, if you're going to go swimming, pay the fee. It pays for beach upkeep and the like. But if you just want to walk or see the falls, I feel, the view should be free.

Page 2

After making my living reporting and editing the news for decades, I almost hate to pick up a newspaper these days.

The New York Times lead story today (lede for newspaper folks) has to do with doctors and insurance company lobbyists fighting it out for Senate votes on Medicare fees. It seems the doctors don't want their fees to be cut, saying they get paid little enough to see old folks on Medicare.

Here's the thing: Doctors want to undo a more than 10 percent cut in fees they get paid to see Medicare patients. Medicare rules forbid them from charging the patients for the difference, so their only weapon is to threaten to leave the Medicare system. For a senior citizen used to having a certain doctor, that's a really scary threat.

Now the House and Senate are really close to passing bills that restore the cuts. They're being helped along by a massive campaign by the American Medical Association. The AMA is, among other things, the chief doctors' lobby.

OK so far?

Here's the other part. The House and Senate want to fund the restoration of the cuts to doctors by cutting fees Medicare pays insurance companies to run Medicare supplemental plans. These are plans that cover, for a fee, some of the things not covered by Medicare. Some of these things are nice to have but not for everyone, such as coverage when traveling out of the country. Others are things that Medicare should cover, like annual physical exams.

So, of course, the insurance-industry lobbyists want the plan to decrease fees to their industry to fail. And, of course, you can guess on which side your president will land. Right. He's threatened to veto the bill.

So, who's stuck in the middle. Us, the great silent (I hope not for long) majority.

Rich folks really don't care how this works out. They can afford to $100-$150 or so a month for supplemental plans that basically pay for all those things Medicare doesn't.

Really poor folks don't have to worry about Medicare. They have Medicaid. Now, I'm not saying it's a walk in the park to be poor. Far from it. I used to live in what we now call a transitional neighborhood in Hartford. No fun. But folks on Medicaid who get sick are covered. Each state has plans that cover children, like the Husky programs in Connecticut.

Those in the middle, who rely on Medicare, face a Hobson's choice.

For example, if you need hospital care, you pay a $1,024 deductible for the first 60 days. That's great, considering that most private insurance patients can be charged that much for one day in the hospital. But if you're trying to get along on $1,000 or less a month of Social Security, it's a lot of money.

If you're really sick and you need to be in hospital for more than 60 days, there's a $256-a-day fee. Supplement plans take most of those costs away, for those who can afford them.

The rub comes in on other things. Medicare has a $275 deductible on prescriptions after you join Part D, which pays most of the cost of many drugs. Many supplement plans cover all those costs, so older people don't have to make a choice between eating and paying for prescriptions. But it comes at a price. I remember my folks and in-laws, before Medicare covered prescription drugs, paying full price for their drugs.

The supplements also cover things like yearly physicals, eye exams, dentist visits and other things people with medical insurance have come to rely on. Again, at a price.

So, for the majority of Americans who did what they were supposed to do like stay in school, work hard, save some of your money, pay for your kids' education, it comes down to being caught in the middle again.

Page 3

I haven't heard from anyone on my suggestion for a regionalization experiment. As you recall, or can find out by looking at the next post, I suggested that East Haven, New Haven and West Haven try a little experiment on regionalization. I suggested that each municipality honor the beach passes of the other two, giving people a little variety in their beach-going.

The only response I received was an automatic one from Jessica Mayorga of New Haven saying she would be out of the office until today.

I live in hope

Until next time...

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