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the path back is the path forward


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healthcare.gov [flawed wednesday]

healthcare.gov

this could get ugly.  it could also get too honest.  and maybe too personal.  and too detailed.

this is the week.  i’ve been dreading it for months.  it is the final week to select health insurance for 2020.  sometime this week i will wait online for probably hours to take my turn, to take my turn to sign up for a plan on healthcare.gov. i have been awake all night on and off for weeks.

we are artists.  both of us.  neither of our jobs and none of the other work that we do provide health insurance or benefits.  we live in the state of wisconsin and have four options of healthcare companies on healthcare.gov.  an insurance agent pointed out that we could opt for short term health insurance (up to 360 days) instead of a regular policy, but those do not cover any pre-existing conditions, do not provide for physicals and most preventative care and are basically catastrophic plans.  hmmm.  as a grown-up who has been working my entire grown-up life, i would really like to have grown-up insurance.

so.  four companies.  bronze, silver and gold plans in each.  none of these companies provide nationwide coverage and a couple do not even allow for emergency room coverage out of network. two of those companies do not cover our doctors, professionals with whom we have established relationship through years; last year (2018) our coverage did not allow us to go to our own doctors, so we didn’t.  we paid for coverage and never visited the doctor’s office at all.

so let’s get more mealy here.  there are plenty of arguments about healthcare out there and plenty of naysayers and supporters -each- of the affordable care act.  are you even familiar with it?  if you would prefer not to know, i would stop reading here.  but if you really want to know more, please read on… but keep in mind, i love math and research.

we are 60 and 58 and healthy.  these four companies on healthcare.gov presented bronze, silver and gold plans that will cost between $1600 and $2800 per month out of pocket, which is a total of $19,200-$33,600 per year.  the $1600 options have deductibles between $14,000-16,000.  in many cases, this is what you must satisfy before the company even begins to pay a portion.   that would mean you have paid in the neighborhood of $33,200 a year for you and your spouse to be treated on a bronze plan, without figuring in the actual cost of the treatment.

let’s explore an example for example’s sake.

let’s say you make a combined salary of $70,000.  let’s assume a meager (and understated) tax bracket of only 20%.  $70,000-14,000 = $56,000.  now let’s assume you own a house or pay rent and your mortgage plus escrowed real estate taxes are about $1200 combined (also underestimated in most cases). $56,000-14,400 = $41,600.  add to that your utilities bills; let’s just estimate that at a lowish $250 per month, which is $3000 year.  $41,600-3000 = $38,600.  now subtract out for cellphones, home phones, cable, wifi again lowballing at $250 per month, $3000 per year.  $38,600-3000 = $35,600.  at this point you have not included any of your outstanding student loans or parent plus loans, nor have you subtracted out for home insurance, car insurance, life insurance, dental insurance, any kind of retirement savings or a car payment.  nor have you even considered food, clothing or gas for driving to and from work, even if you don’t drive anywhere else.  any outstanding rotating credit card debt or medical related costs that you are paying on installment are not subtracted.  but you are sitting at $35,600 usuable income.

so.  if you take the bronze plan you must assume that you have approximately $16,000 in the bank for the deductible and you must subtract $19,200 (27% of your gross income) from your $35,600 leaving you with $16,400 to cover all the aforementioned items we hadn’t subtracted and maybe perhaps saving a little to cover the percentages of medical expenses you need to cover post-deductible.  OR you can take a silver plan, which is in the neighborhood of $2200 per month or $26,400 year (38% of your gross income) leaving you with $9200 to cover loans, home insurance, car insurance, life insurance, dental insurance, car payment, food, clothing, gas, etc.  you clearly can’t even consider a gold plan at $2800 per month (the most grown-up plan) because that would cost $33,600 a year, leaving you with a mere $2000 to spend on the rest of life (as listed above).  again, that’s assuming a meager 20% income tax rate and not considering state or local income taxes as well.

i’m sure you are beginning to see my point.

and then there are the subsidies.  yes.  if you earn below 4 times the poverty rate in your state, you are eligible for subsidies for this healthcare insurance.  naturally, the more you earn, the less subsidy you are able to receive.  that makes sense.  it feathers out as the numbers go up.  and then?  there is a dollar level – one dollar this way or that – that a granted subsidy would drop from hundreds, even more than a thousand or fifteen hundred to – ZERO – .  for instance, if you are granted a subsidy because of your level of income and sometime in the year (as you have worked hard to earn more to live a little better) you go over the healthcare cliff by ONE DOLLAR, ONE dollar, you will owe back the entirety of the insurance plan.  in the above case, that would be anywhere between the difference of what you paid in and the plan total of $19,200 or up to $33,600.

we are the poster children of this so-called sweet spot in the healthcare crisis of our country.  a bit older, working hard, multiple jobs, no job-provided healthcare.  not making enough to scoff at spending say $29,000-$33,000 (silver or gold plans) or even $19,200 (bronze) for one year of health insurance, nonetheless be able to actually budget that, but making a bit more than the cliff.  no ropes.  no guardrails.  just a cliff.

the professional insurance agent on the phone said she had “a lot of people your age in that circumstance.”  she suggested considering short term health insurance, the kind i mentioned above that precludes pre-existing conditions etc etc. etc.  that doesn’t sound like grown-up health care to me.  and the deeply disappointed, frustrated cynic in me asks this question – when will breathing be considered a pre-existing condition?

something needs to be done.  is the health of the people of this country important or not?  it’s a basic question.  with an obvious answer.   where do we place value?

read DAVID’S thoughts this FLAWED WEDNESDAY

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by candlelight. [merely-a-thought monday]

dachshunds candleight.jpg

the first snowstorm took us by surprise.  heavy snow fell on southeastern wisconsin at a time when we were just back from being on island and struggling to figure out where we were in what felt like a time warp.  it was, indeed, the end of october, but it just didn’t feel like it.

the snow was beautiful and heavy and, in our neighborhood of old houses and in-the-trees power lines, it bowed branches and pulled down those lines.  we lost power early in the day.

having no power these days doesn’t just mean you can’t warm up your chicken soup for lunch or (perish the thought) make a much-needed afternoon nespresso.  it means no wifi, no technology, no dropbox.  i couldn’t do the laundry for a trip the next day.  it put us on pause.

we wondered how the people of california were functioning with millions of them power-less in a vague effort to avoid more fires.  i wondered how many people were still struggling without power in puerto rico, for what is an interminable amount of time.  i was reminded of the big flat-line-windstorm that happened in our ‘hood back in 2011, hundreds of trees uprooted and no power for days.  pause is acceptable for a few hours, but after that….

as it got darker we pulled out candles and a battery-operated-lantern that my big-ikea-fan-poppo purchased.  we put our chicken soup in a picnic basket and went out seeking a microwave in which to warm it up.

we got a text from john when he got home, “do you guys have power?”  later, we could see an impressive glow of candles in his living room windows.

my favorite moment in a day of challenges that included having no electricity, came when he followed up on the power company update we texted him.  with john oz wit and his you-do-what-you-have-to-do outlook he wrote back, “the dachshunds ate by candlelight.”

it’s good to laugh.

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY

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west of the i. [d.r. thursday]

county sketch copy

one of the cool things about living in kenosha is the ability to easily get to two major cities – milwaukee and chicago.  we drive up to milwaukee to putter around, go to the art museum, walk along the river in the third ward, go to antique shoppes.  we usually take the train to chicago, driving south a couple towns for more frequent schedule choices.  we walk the streets of the city, find places for coffee or glasses of wine, attend national geographic live events or a play or concert, visit with friends.

but we are actually less city people than we are outdoors people.  and so, more often, we will head out – west of the i – and take a drive out in the county.  in next-to-nothing we are surrounded by farmland, breathing in the scent of rich dirt in fields that are turned over for planting, some yielding early croplings*.

in also next-to-nothing time, david whips out his sketchbook and pencils to capture the really gorgeous patterns in these fields of green.  (these words make me think of the stunningly beautiful song fields of gold.  if you haven’t ever heard it, please take a few minutes right now and click HERE.  you will be glad you did.)

just a sketch, but a reminder of the moments we passed these fields, talking or listening to music, singing along or simply silence in the car.  a breath of fresh air, a drive to rejuvenate, maybe a hike on a trail to restore us – all west of the i.

read DAVID’S thoughts this D.R. THURSDAY

browse david’s gallery – a breath of fresh air, a few moments to rejuvenate or restore you

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©️ 2019 david robinson & kerri sherwood

*yes.  technically, ‘croplings’ is not a word.  but i could not resist it.  this stems from my love of the word ‘seedlings’.

 

 


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“the first dandelion!” [merely-a-thought monday]

first dandelion copy

one of the sure signs of spring’s imminent arrival in our town is when boats start populating the harbor again.  big shrink-wrap is removed from cabin cruisers, sailboats and yachts of all sizes and the slips start to fill up, slowly at first and then with abandon.

it was with much glee that, on our hike through the trails in a local forest preserve, i spotted it and called out, “the first dandelion!”  i’m aware that not many people get as excited about dandelions as i do, but, for me, this harbinger of spring – along with gentle beauties like lilacs and tulips and daffodils – is cause for celebration.  it conjures up images of cups of dandelions in water on my counter, having gone from little-kid-fists to my hands.  it makes me think of decades ago, sitting cross-legged in the grass, making necklace chains out of clover.  it brings the hope of a new season, the ever-more-constancy of sun and warmth, the season of flip-flops approaching.

with so much uncertainty on the horizon, the drone of winter’s end is taxing.  we yearn for a blanket of warm sun, a chance to raise our faces from worry to face the sky, to breathe freshly mown grass, to put our hands in the dirt, cleaning away the debris of the harder times, perhaps preparing to plant.

but this is wisconsin and this is life and nothing is really static.  life is fluid as is weather.  four days after we celebrated “the first dandelion!” we drove home through a snowstorm, blowing, wet snow covering the courageous pioneers of spring.  the thing i try to remember, as the grasp of winter holds tight the reins of this new season, is that they are still there.

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY

FISTFUL OF DANDELIONS – the CD single or download on iTUNES

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CLICK ON THIS ^^TOTE BAG ^^ FOR FISTFUL OF DANDELIONS PRODUCTS

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it’s all how you look at it. [two artists tuesday]

THIS from the ferry copy

the ice-breaking bow of our ferry made its way across “death’s door”, the strait that connects lake michigan and green bay.  the windchill below zero, you could hear the hardy vessel crunching its way through the ice.  it was other-worldy.  no one else on the ferry appeared to be as enchanted with it as we were; clearly, they were big-I islanders, unmoved by this half-hour jaunt across frigid waters to washington island.  unfamiliar vs familiar equals enthralling vs mundane.  it’s all how you look at it.  and where you start from.

when i moved to wisconsin 30 years ago (kicking and screaming at the time) i stood in the pasta aisle of the grocery store – a local piggly wiggly.  there was no mueller’s pasta.  none.  the brand i had grown up with on long island, the brand i found in florida publix grocery stores…it was not here in wisconsin.  i felt instantly lost, instantly homesick.  i sensed people moving around my frozen-in-the-spot-trying-not-to-cry body; they were choosing boxes of spaghetti and penne with no problem.  for me, it was a telling moment.  it was an indicator of change, despite its seeming insignificance.  standing in that aisle i can tell you it’s all how you look at it.  and where you start from.  (*for an update on this incident, please see below.)

the ferry docked on the tiny island, a mere 35 square miles.  we disembarked and met our friends.  they drove us around, on snow-covered roads, through canopies of trees, past glimpses of water between the pines, their limbs bowing to the snow.  at one point they said we could go to the house if we were bored.  “no,” we answered.  how could we be bored, we wondered.  the quiet, the stillness, the solitude was compelling.  it’s all how you look at it.  and where you start from.

it was quieter on the ferry ride back with fewer people.  we were just as enthralled.  the ice pieces broken by the bow skittered along the ice plate on top of the water.  lines cracked through the sheet, paths drawn by nature’s etch-a-sketch.  some large slabs of ice raised skyward.  we looked at each other and quietly let out a breath.  we couldn’t imagine how this trip across open water could ever become run-of-the-mill.  but around us were people who acted like it was piggly wiggly brand pasta and they were in the aisle racing to get to the next aisle.  it’s all how you look at it.  and where you start from.

lake ice copy

*(the rest of the story) i called my sweet momma when i returned home from ‘the pig’ as they say.  she answered and i instantly recounted my no-mueller’s-pasta story, i’m quite sure teary in the telling, yearning for the home we had left.   four days later the UPS truck pulled up at the end of the driveway and the driver lugged a very large box to the front door.  in it i found every shape and size of pasta available…all made by mueller’s.  moms are wise beyond words sometimes.  by the time i finished using the boxes-in-the-box, the unfamiliar had begun to be familiar.  the crisis (yes, fundamentally not a physical crisis, but definitely an emotional one) was over.

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conversation. [merely-a-thought monday]

where you can actually hear copy

we started our day with mimosas.  the up-north-gang was in cedarburg and we descended upon the stagecoach inn’s pub, a place built in 1853, dedicated to their bed & breakfast.  we sat at wood and iron tables surrounded by vintage stone and brick walls and chatted away a very fast almost-two-hours.  we hadn’t ever been at this little pub before to start our winterfest fun.  but it was perfect and it was an easy choice when the day was over and we stopped back there to sip wine or old-fashioneds (a wisconsin staple), review the parade and bed races on the river and talk about any old thing.  i grabbed a brochure (because i, well, love brochures) and looked at it later at home.  “where you can actually hear your conversation” the little pub (named the five20 social stop) advertised.  it was true.  it was refreshing to be able to actually have a conversation and hear each other.

we do our best work in the woods.  d and i will take a walk and solve things that have stymied us.   the quiet, the beauty – it’s centering and it removes all the interruptions of home-office-work.  it offers us a chance to actually have a conversation and hear each other.

at this point, i don’t know what it would take for this world, this country, our state, our community to actually have conversations and hear each other.  so many seem to be yelling, reacting.  certainly not conversing.  it’s tempting to turn off the news app on my phone, but i don’t want to bury my head in the sand.  and yet, lately, this earth seems oddly tilted on its axis, bent on anger and strife, inflated egos, name-calling, exponential self-serving, and pointed blame.  it’s all so toxic.  where is the listening going on?

i would think about suggesting mimosas and a walk in the woods but, with all the noise out there, i don’t know who would hear me.

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY

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snow? [not-so-flawed wednesday]

snow on the lakefront copy

december 2016 – snow on the lakefront

we are waiting patiently.  after all, this is wisconsin.  snow is a part of our climate.  our average annual snowfall total is just over 36″.  we have a long way to go to achieve that.

it snowed in november but didn’t really stay around.  it dusted snow a few days ago.  and that’s really it.  for two people who love to hike in the woods as a quiet snow falls, this is not exactly our cup of tea.  we didn’t even have a white christmas.  i’m thinking of asking for my money back; this is not the winter i anticipated.

now, there are plenty of people here who are perfectly content without snow.  it’s hard to imagine why they would prefer cold grey days to sky-blue-brilliant sun reflected off of snowcover.  i lust over every photo My Girl posts, not just because of those colorado mountains in her pictures, but the snow is spectacular and necessary – regulating the surface temperature of the earth, protecting root systems, melting to help water tables and avoid drought.  this is the point where i am not mentioning all the research i just did for the last hour about snowfall and our earth and climate change.  it’s painful.

anyway….i know it isn’t convenient.  i know if you must move around in it, it can be dangerous.  i know it’s a lot of work.  but, i’m really thinking it’s about time for a good-old-fashioned blizzard.

read DAVID’S thoughts this NOT-SO-FLAWED WEDNESDAY

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snow on the lakefront ©️ 2016 kerri sherwood & david robinson