Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Looking Into the Eyes of Poverty

I looked into the eyes of poverty yesterday, and I wish all of those who believe in cutting the safety net programs in this country had been with me.  Please don't go all defensive on me.  I know there are a lot of people who cheat and take advantage of social programs; but, what we need to do, in my opinion, is tighten up our accountability so that these people are not allowed to receive help.  We should not cut the help to those who really need it to survive.

That said, after I got my grandson off the bus yesterday afternoon and his mother came home from work, I went to a local Urgent Care because I realized my cold had turned into a sinus infection, and I didn't want to wait until morning to make an appointment with my doctor.  The Urgent Care didn't open until 5:00, and I arrived at 4:20, so I grabbed a magazine and sat down.  A man came in and sat nearby, and I started a conversation.

We ended up talking for almost an hour, as we waited, and my heart broke as I listened to him.  He is in his mid-sixties, living in subsidized housing, on Medicare and Medicaid, and suffering from COPD.  He is alone, with a little parakeet for company.  He arrived early because the Medicab he called could not bring him at 5:00.  Because he is on Medicaid, the primary care doctors associated with this Urgent Care will not accept him as a patient.  He relies on the ER or Urgent Care for his healthcare needs. 

He is sick and confused about his diagnosis.  The doctors told him he has COPD and some lesions in his lungs -- he is worried that he has cancer, but either did not understand what the doctors told him, or was not told.  He lives in a tiny apartment in our town that costs $645/month and is happy here, but must move to an apartment in the city that is cheaper.  He is worried about moving his parakeet in a cab in cold weather, and really does not want to move back to the city.  He has significant back pain, for which he has been given pain medications, but he worries.

How sad to be old, sick, alone, and poor.  I have no idea what his history is, but I know what his situation is now, and it breaks my heart.  I heard empathy in his words and also regrets, and as I looked into his eyes, I thought, how can we justify destroying the safety net for people like him.  As Congress argues over budget issues, I wish each one of them could look into this man's eyes and realize that for each person who commits welfare fraud, there are several others who are hanging by their fingernails.  What should we do?  Cast out these poor people or offer them a measure of help? 

I hope, as budget negotiations proceed (if they ever really do), the members of Congress who so ardently profess to be Christians will remember the words of Christ:

"Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me"  --  Matthew 25:40

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Society of the Inept

I sit in my chair this morning, snuggled in my warm robe and a warm shawl, holding my coffee mug in my hands for warmth.  I am cold, and I also have a cold which is in its earliest stages of sneezing, teary eyes, and achy sinuses.  Not an auspicious beginning to this Sunday.  My cozy old house is freezing; the only heat source today is an electric radiator.  I have not had a working furnace since August.  At the end of July, our antique furnace finally "cracked", seeping natural gas, so we discovered a new furnace was necessary.  This was not unexpected -- and part of me was glad that we would replace it with a more energy-efficient product, so my astronomical natural gas bill would be lower.  However, on our limited income, the cost of a new furnace would be prohibitive, so I applied for a NYSERDA program which provides subsidies to help finance the cost of energy-efficient improvements.

This process has been a long one -- begun in early August, and due to either ineptitude or negligence on the part of the contractor, has delayed the installation of my furnace until now.  I won't go into the particulars, but in order to participate in the NYSERDA program, you must use one of their specified contractors, and apparently I chose the wrong one.  The process requires an energy audit, a proposal from the contractor, and approval from NYSERDA.  I first spoke with our contractor in mid-August; he never performed the audit until early September, then delayed submitting the proposal so long that it wasn't approved until mid-October.  Finally, last Thursday they arrived with my new furnace, BUT, the estimator had provided scant information, so a great deal of time was lost in the installation, and consequently, on this coldest weekend of October, our house is still stone cold. 

For the past couple of weeks, I have also been frustrated by the customer service at insurance companies.  My husband's Medicare Advantage policy is not covering his MS medication next year; I talked to a representative from the company.  She said we could apply for an exception, which may or may not be granted.  The doctor's office tells me they cannot apply for the exception until after January 1, when the medication is no longer covered, but the deadline to change Medicare policies is mid-December.  So, I am still not certain where we stand on this -- and can't seem to get a straight answer from anyone.

I have also been comparing the policies on the NY Health Exchange, with frustrating calls to the two insurance companies I prefer.  One of the companies told me my doctor was participating; my doctor's office said they were not.  I also had a question about the deductible on one policy -- the representative gave me conflicting information on whether an expensive procedure I need is subject to the deductible.  I called my doctor's office and received rude treatment from the billing office when I asked them to clarify this for me.  I finally made my decision and submitted my application, but still with lingering questions.

These are only the two most recent examples of ineptitude that have disturbed me.  In the last few years we ran our business, and through the process of closing the business down, I was met with constant frustration as I dealt with phone menus that never allowed you to speak with a human, or customer service reps who contradicted themselves, or did not follow through on issues.  Through this process, I also lost all respect for the attorneys I dealt with.

Even on a more minor scale, when ordering fast-food at the counter or the drive-thru, mistakes are made more than half the time. 

What is the problem?  I think it is two-fold.  I believe people are placed in positions for which they lack the intelligence and motivation to perform adequately.  I believe training is substandard in many businesses.  And, sadly, I think our world has become too complicated and too regimented.  Thirty years ago, I could walk into my bank, speak to the manager (who was not moved from branch to branch every few weeks), and resolve any issue quickly.  Now, this personal service does not exist, for the most part.

So, my rant ends here.  My coffee cup is empty, the day ahead is busy, and once again tonight I will sleep in my cold bed, wrapped in a soft throw and snuggled under a sheet, a light blanket, two quilts, and a lovely old afghan I made years ago and threw on top of the bed last night for one extra layer of warmth.  Hopefully tomorrow they will finish my furnace!!!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

October Musings

October is a month of transition.  Our world transforms from the heat, sunshine, and abundant harvests of summer to the more gentle beauty of pumpkins, chrysanthemums and falling leaves.  I have always loved the colors of autumn, which last such a short time before the starkness of November is upon us.

My weekends have been full this autumn -- a family gathering at a cousin's lovely home on Helderberg Lake, trips with the grandchildren to gaily decorated farmstands, an afternoon in Saratoga with a dear cousin.  Finally, this weekend is a quiet one -- a time when I can catch my breath, putter in the house and garden, and reminisce a bit.

Halloween decorations are abundant in our neighborhoods now, and I am reminded of the days when my children were young and I devoted so much time to making their holiday special.  We decorated the porch with pumpkins, cornstalks, and a skeleton or two.  I baked pumpkin cookies for school parties, planned parties for our Cub Scouts and Brownie Troops, and sewed costumes. I marvel at the energy I had all those years ago.

Now, my celebrations are of a quieter nature.  I look forward to the church bazaars and estate sales that abound.  I have traded the decorations of Halloween for lovely autumn arrangements inside the house.  I cut my bounty of summer herbs -- parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, basil -- and hang them in my kitchen window to dry.  I savor the falling leaves and the crackling noise they make as I walk along.  Today they were falling quietly all day -- carpeting my yard with their beauty. 

My years of boundless energy and strength are in the past -- I am in the autumn of my life.  But, this, too, is a beautiful time.  While my days are very busy caring for my grandchildren, at the end of the day, I can enjoy a glass of wine, a tasty supper, and a quiet evening.  My weekend pursuits are simple ones -- afternoons with friends, cooking, reading, writing, puttering in the house or the garden.  I am finding this "autumn" season of life every bit as beautiful as the days of October.