Monday, February 22, 2010

Beading for a Cure

I always have a few second thoughts after I post a thread grousing about someone or something that I have generally had a good relationship with over time. But I still feel the way I do about Group Health's moves in the shark infested waters of health care, so I will attempt to adjust my karma by turning to a much more delightful and inspiring topic.

And that is Beading for a Cure. This charity, which donates the proceeds of each annual auction to the National Colorectal Cancer Research Association (NCCRA), was founded in honor of a woman and beader, Layne Shilling, who lost her battle with colorectal cancer in November 2002. Since that year, every March, items of great beauty created by beaders for Beading for a Cure are auctioned off on Ebay and the proceeds minus administrative costs are donated to the NCCRA.

Every year, each beader is given the same packet of beads and using this as a base (they can add more beads to make their creation as long as they are the same as those they've been given, with the latitude to add one additional bead style), they come up with some of the loveliest jewelry and other delicate items I've seen. Here's the packet the beaders were given to start with this year:

Five prizes are awarded and it appears that there are more than 65 entries for 2010.

I hope you will take the time to click on the title of this post, which will take you to the home page of Beading for a Cure, or click here to see the 2010 gallery, and then count your pennies and consider bidding on one or more of these exquisite articles when they go up for sale on Ebay in March. The necklace I displayed above is one of the entries and it was created by a friend of mine, Nancy, an attorney in Alaska. I've gone on beading expeditions with her when she has been in Seattle for travel, and it has been great fun. Her work is absolutely first rate.

Thank you.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Group Health: Airing of Grievances

I mentioned a while back that I had some new grievances against Group Health and was waiting for an appropriate time to air them (alas Festivus is past, so this will have to be done out of season).

These grievances have nothing to do with my current medical care, with which I am quite satisfied right now (how do you argue with success?--and the medical staff really does seem to be quite caring) but everything to do with their administrative side. And like Gaul, Group Health's administrative problems for me, are divided into three parts.

1. The first rant is that Group Health is doing no better than any other insurance company in containing health costs, and perhaps far worse. Item: for the first time in my 27 year history as a government employee covered by Group Health, I now have to pay a $250/person deductible. Group Health has never had this deductible before and I was not informed of this new cost to me during the state employees' "open season" last November, where we can change our health insurance coverage. I've checked with friends and co workers who are Group Health members, most of whom are very careful readers of the policy descriptions each year, and none of them were aware of this new cost. For families it is even worse: $750 in deductible. Now couple that with a 250% rise in co pay costs (each office visit is now $25 when it was $10 last year) and a corresponding increase in prescription drug costs, together with increases in the premiums that I must pay and my medical costs have skyrocketed far beyond even what I planned for back in September when I was first diagnosed.

2. The second rant has to do with the fact that Group Health's billing system crashed last fall and it has really screwed up how I pay for my office visits and prescriptions. It used to be a pay as you go system, where I could write a check or use my debit card to pay for these services at the time I used them. But Group Health's billing system, which was being changed in Sept/Oct last year, crashed on them and now I have to wait to get a monthly bill for everything all at once. Talk about sticker shock!! It was far easier to pay for these expenses as they were incurred because I could better integrate the costs into my monthly budget. I am not wealthy here. I am a state employee with a mortgage and one kid still attending college, so I don't have a lot of stretch to cover it otherwise. And it has been 5 months now and they still have not fixed it. How unprofessional is that?

3. The third rant came last week in a letter to me from Group Health dated February 15, 2010. According to this letter, sometime in January Group Health was contacted by the Seattle police because a temporary worker at GH had taken my personal information, such as my name, address, Social Security number, date of birth, Group Health number, health plan enrollment information and my medical information. I was informed that this former GH temporary employee might be using this information for fraudulent purposes. Really?

Perhaps that explains the letter I received on February 1, 2010, from HSBC (formerly Household Bank--a credit servicing agency for a number of retailers) that a change of address on my Best Buy account had been processed by them. I contacted Best Buy about this right before I left for Hawaii, and learned that according to this change of application, I had moved to 2814 SW 107th Street in Seattle--Arbor Heights to be exact. News to me.

In an attempt to reassure me, Group Health stated that "As a precaution, we have partnered with Experian to provide you with a full year of Triple Alert credit monitoring membership without cost to you (Group Health's emphasis)." This was through Experian, one of the three national credit reporting agencies. I was urged to contact Experian's Triple Alert website and enroll using the GH activation code, which was provided in the letter. So I did that. After enrolling using my GH activation code, I was directed to a site that asked if I wanted to get copies of my credit reports. When I clicked on the "yes" button, the next screen told me that I would have to pay $19.95 for that privilege. Now this is where I began to have steam coming out of my nostrils.

To begin with, as you may recall, Group Health represented in their letter to me that this Triple Alert program was to be "without cost to [me]". And to end with, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which is a federal law codified at 15 U.S.C. § 1681, gives me and all consumers the right to a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting EVERY 12 MONTHS! Who does Group Health and/or Experian think they are dealing with here? As a former Consumer Protection attorney, I know this kind of stuff or at least can follow up on vague suspicions through diligent legal research. Perhaps they are counting on other members who just fell off the turnip truck.

But, as you can see, all of these non disclosures and deceptions have created a stronger negative perception of the Group Health administration than I have ever had before. They are doing themselves no favors by these actions. I would hope that someone within the organization can step in and stop this slide to mediocrity and mendacity. But I am not sure how to get through to them.

Maybe a post on Daily Kos might help.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Good News!

Had the ct scans done early this am. And of course the waiting was excruciating. But when I spoke with my oncologist this afternoon, it was all good. The tumors have all decreased in size by 25% or more! And I learned a new word: Cholelithiasis. Who knew that I wouldn't care if I had gallstones.

So time to celebrate! Thanks, and a big toast to all of you for helping me along this dark path. Though it's not forever, it's just nice to have something going the right way for a change. Next check in with the doctor is March 26th. Let's hope that the shrinkage continues.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

After (nach) tanzen kommt schussing

I know that I don't have the spelling correct on my title to this entry, but it is a transliteration of a phrase that my father, descended from sturdy Swiss Germans in Schaffhausen, used to say. What it means is that after fun there will be a reckoning. And so it is.

I had a lovely time in Oahu. Hiked a bit one day. Went sailing for a half day. Travelled up to the North Shore another day. And then, MaryPat and I would make Mai Tais and lounge by the pool and in the evening, go out to dinner with our friend, TimP. Aloha and Mahalo, dear friends. I would like to see how long I could do that and not become bored. It might take a while.

However, the day before I returned to Seattle, I developed a cough that has progressed. And my voice has deteriorated. Add to that an increase in shortness of breath and difficulty swallowing this am, and that translates to moving up my CT scan date. No idea if it will be the 18th or 19th or if space will be found, but apparently my oncologist was concerned enough to do this.

Argh. At least before, I had another week to ignore it before I got truly stressed out by the possibilities, but now it's rather dire and in my face. At least I am back on the computer and able to find many things to distract my attention from this.

Chief among them is this video from the current president of my alma mater, which simply cements my identification with the quirky liberal arts college I enrolled in 40 years ago, because I got a full tuition scholarship. I received far more from the college than I ever suspected. Great friends (both students and faculty) and a first rate education, as well as numerous opportunities to try different things that I could not have done either at a large university or in the work place. So Macalester College--this is for you!

Oskie Wowow

PS: If you have not read this piece about Roger Ebert, please do. He is my inspiration.

Monday, February 08, 2010


I am leaving Tues at 8am on Hawaiian Airlines for Honolulu. I will be staying at the Marriott Ko Olina with my friend Mary Pat for 7 days. I hope that you enjoy the next week as much as I think I will.