Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Bone break related topics on a Saturday morning August 18, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:14 PM
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This splint holds my healing left wrist in place. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

WHEN A THICK ENVELOPE arrived in the mail this morning from my insurance company, I felt angst. I expected it would contain information on a $19,431 claim for surgery to implant a plate into my broken left wrist. I was right.

Recently I received a nearly $15,000 hospital bill for that surgery with nothing covered by insurance except an allowed amount of $4,662. I reacted as nearly anyone would—with disbelief, anger and tears. I pay $1,000/month for health insurance and already paid my $3,600 deductible. So the thought of paying another $15K pushed me over the edge. One phone call later and the hospital billing department assured me I didn’t owe $15,000 and that, due to a “processing error,” the claim would be reprocessed.

The insurance paperwork I got today includes two code notations:

Based on additional information received, this service will be processed on a new claim.

We are making this adjustment to a previously processed claim.

Those codes flag most, but not all, of the claims in four pages of claims. So is this a done deal? I don’t know. I hope so. Zeroes fill every space in the amount I owe columns. I choose for now to think this ends a stressful ordeal.

Speaking of end, the question of the week to me has been: “How much longer do you have to wear that?” The questioners, at least a half dozen yesterday, are referring to the splint on my wrist. The last time my orthopedic doctor discussed this with me, he said I would be wearing the brace well into late September. I see him next week. Maybe he will shorten that time. Range of motion therapy continues to go well. Strengthening therapy comes next. I’m now more than two months out from my bone break.

 

Margie Brown Holland (formerly of Faribault) and her unborn daughter, Olivia, were murdered by Margie’s husband in 2013. This t-shirt, part of The Clothesline Project, honors the two. The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women coordinates the project to honor victims of domestic violence. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This plaque at the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office honors employee Barb Larson, shot to death in the tourism office by her ex-husband, a retired Faribault police officer.

 

Kim Sisto-Robinson of Duluth created (and shared) this graphic honoring her sister Kay. Kay’s husband shot and killed Kay in 2010. Kim has made it her mission to be a voice for Kay, to speak out on the topic of domestic violence. File photo, courtesy of Kim.

 

One issue still lingers, though, and it’s something I dislike as much as that incorrect $15K hospital bill. Just last evening a burly stranger joked that my husband hurt me. Not funny. Not funny at all. I don’t care who you are. To suggest that domestic violence is in any way funny rankles me. There is absolutely nothing humorous about any aspect of abuse, whether psychological, mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, technological or physical. I’ve heard more times than I can count that insensitive, uninformed and supposedly funny comment that Randy must have pushed me or hit me. He didn’t. I fell on rain-slicked wooden steps. I don’t understand this attitude. Women (and sometimes men) are being assaulted and dying every single day in this country from domestic violence. I find absolutely nothing funny in that. Nothing.

THOUGHTS ON ANY of this?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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An update: Stories while recovering from a broken wrist August 15, 2018

My newest exercise tool, therapy putty.

 

WHEN YOU’RE RECOVERING from a broken bone and subsequent surgery, little things hold significance. Like Play-Doh. I was so excited Tuesday morning when, at the end of my occupational therapy session, my therapist handed me a container of therapy putty. Play-Doh to me. Annie instructed me to, twice daily, lightly squeeze the putty with my left fingers and thumb. “Lightly,” she repeated, as she observed me manipulating the blob of yellow gunk.

 

Look on the right side of my wrist to see the plate, shaped like an ice scraper, and held in place by 10 screws. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

So why is this such a big deal? It’s just putty, for gosh sakes. It’s a big deal because every added exercise signals progress to me. Now, nearly nine weeks out from the fall that resulted in a severely broken left wrist requiring surgical implantation of a metal plate, I continue to regain my range of motion. Strengthening exercises have not even begun. Yes, this is a slow process requiring every ounce of patience I don’t possess.

 

Site of my bone break and surgery. And, yes, my hand, fingers and wrist remain swollen.

 

But I dutifully do my 10 exercises three times daily. Because I want to use my left hand again. I am itching to wrap my hand around my Canon DSLR camera, to cook solo, to carry my two-year-old granddaughter… I know, realistically, those goals are still a long ways from being achieved. But it’s good to have goals.

 

I am thankful for any time out of my wrist splint.

 

Two weeks ago I was much less positive as I developed a severe itchy rash on my wrist. I’d show you a photo, but I don’t want to gross you out. Picture a really bad case of poison ivy. Efforts to treat the surface skin problem with an antibiotic failed. Hydrocortisone cream solved the problem as did airing my arm while resting. You can only imagine my joy at releasing my arm from the trap of a splint for more than just exercising and showering. That made me one happy camper.

 

On this bill, the $4,661 is the insurance discount. The $0.00 is the amount of the insurance payment on the (incorrect) bill.

 

I was anything but happy, though, when I received a nearly $15,000 hospital bill last week for my surgery. More than a few bad words flew from my mouth as I cried. And then cried some more. I pay $1,000/month in health insurance premiums with a $3,600 deductible. I’d already paid my deductible and now the insurance provider was refusing to pay. Are you kidding me?

I was livid and way too upset to call either the hospital or the insurance company the day I got that bill. But then a hospital employee phoned several hours later to verify my address and I broke down sobbing and eventually was connected to the billing department. The insurance company, the hospital staffer said, made a “processing error.” She advised me to burn the $15K bill. The claim is being reprocessed. I hope it’s correct this time as I don’t want another financial scare. This never should have happened. The incorrect billing caused me a great deal of unnecessary stress.

 

If you look closely, you can see faint remnants of my rash. The lines are imprints from the “sock” I wear under my splint.

 

If only I’d had that therapy putty last week to work out my frustration and anger…

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

As health insurance costs rise, so does my personal financial concern November 1, 2017

 

EVERY YEAR ABOUT THIS TIME, my blood pressure temporarily spikes in response to my anger. Anger about ever-rising health insurance premiums depleting our family pocketbook faster than a pick pocket.

I’ve vented and raged and spewed my discontent here. My jaw drops. My mind thinks a few unprintable words. My stress rises. How can we continue to pay these astronomical premiums and still have money for basic needs like food, gas, utilities, clothes, etc?  I am thankful Randy and I paid off our mortgage decades ago, that our three kids are out of college and independent, that we’re OK driving aging (2003 and 2005) vehicles… We’ve always been, out of necessity, fiscally conservative, just as we were raised within poor rural families.

Let’s break it down. Health insurance premiums for my husband and me (I’m on his work plan) will go up $190 from $873/month to $1,000/month in 2018. That’s for each of us. Randy’s employer pays half his premium, $500. So we will shell out $1,500/month, or $18,000/annually. But before insurance kicks in, we must pay $3,600 each in deductibles. Alright then.

Let’s recrunch those numbers. In reality, our premiums are $1,300/month each if we need medical care and reach our deductibles. Times two, that’s $2,600/month or $31,200/year. Subtract the $6,000 Randy’s employer pays for his insurance and we’re down to $25,200. Still.

This year I met my $3,700 deductible. But I paid out $14,176 in premiums and deductible for around $4,000 (maybe a bit more; some bills haven’t processed yet) in medical expenses. I’m no math whiz. But even I can see that makes zero financial sense.

Holy, cow.

Somehow we’ve managed on a modest income, Randy’s as an automotive machinist and mine as a self-employed photographer and writer. But these latest insurance premium hikes are pushing us to a financial breaking point. I need to figure out an alternative to the $1,500 to be deducted from Randy’s paychecks each month for health insurance in 2018. Our incomes are not increasing to meet this through-the-roof expense.

My kneejerk brainstorming produced the following options and reactions:

  • Go without health insurance. Not a good idea given our ages and the financial risk.
  • Find jobs with better benefits. At age 61, that’s unlikely.
  • Take on second part-time jobs.
  • Use a Christian-based health cost sharing plan. A strong possibility that requires additional investigation.

Our eldest daughter suggested we move to Canada with its publicly-financed healthcare. I know little about that system. But in a recent conversation with a Canadian visiting her brother here in Minnesota, I heard all about the shortage of doctors and the months of waiting to see one. Even if you’re seriously ill. No, thank you. Besides, I won’t move that far from my granddaughter.

There you go. Now, on to the research, the discussions, the continuing frustration and anger and stress and number crunching that each autumn overtake me.

I’ve joked with Randy that soon he’ll pay his employer to work because nothing will remain of his paychecks. I wish that statement didn’t feel uncomfortably close to reality.

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AS BAD AS THE RATE HIKES would be for us, I know it could be worse. I’ve seen rates from a major carrier for individual off-exchange health insurance in my county of Rice and seven other southern Minnesota counties. If I chose the bronze plan (least expensive) with a $6,650 deductible, my monthly premium would be $1,361. Take that premium and deductible times two (there would be no subsidy from Randy’s employer) and our health coverage would cost $45,964 before medical bills would be covered. Holy cow. Who can afford that? Not us.

I realize many of you, especially self-employed small business owners or employees of small businesses, are dealing with the same absurd health insurance premiums. I don’t have an answer. I just know that the escalating cost of health insurance is creating a personal financial crisis for many of us. Additionally, because of those costs and matching high deductibles, we can’t afford medical care. Now does that make sense?

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TELL ME: Are you dealing with/facing similar skyrocketing health insurance premiums? I’d like to hear about your situation and what you are doing. Are you going without insurance? Selected another option? Found a job with better benefits? Whatever you have done, or haven’t, I’m listening.

Please note that I moderate all comments. So please keep the discussion on topic and civil.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When you can no longer afford health insurance… October 26, 2016

I live on one of Faribault's busiest residential streets, also a main route for the ambulance which is based near my home.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

ABOUT A YEAR AGO, I penned a post expressing my outrage at the ever-rising cost of health insurance.

I expected those costs to stabilize. I was wrong. So here I am, writing and agonizing again about insurance rates that are through the roof nearly unaffordable for my husband and me.

Beginning on January 1, our monthly premiums will total $1,746, of which we will pay $1,310. Add in $3,700 deductibles for each of us and you can see the financial ridiculousness of this plan. Before we can benefit from this health insurance offered through Randy’s employer, we will spend thousands and thousands of dollars. Like $14,176 for me and $8,944 for Randy since his employer pays half ($437/month) of his premium.

We are not wealthy. Nor are we poor. We are lower middle income. I am self-employed. Randy has worked the same job for more than 30 years. His benefits are minimal.

This year we both turned sixty, bumping us up on January 1, 2017, into a newer and higher premium bracket. Lucky us.

In 2016, our health insurance premiums were $723/month each for policies with a $3,500 per person deductible. In the new year, we will pay $225 more a month (nearly a 21 percent increase) with $3,700 deductibles.

This cannot continue. The cost of health insurance premiums threatens our financial stability. Paying $15,720 a year in premiums is crazy and unaffordable. We are careful with our money. Thankfully, years ago we paid off the mortgage on our modest home. We don’t take big vacations. We seldom dine out. We don’t own new vehicles. We limit our spending. But we have to eat and pay other basic cost of living bills.

Something has to give. I wish I had the answer. Of one thing I am certain. I am sick and tired of health insurance costs that have skyrocketed. It’s to the point where we can’t afford to get sick or to seek medical treatment. We can’t save money for retirement. The cost of health insurance and healthcare is my greatest financial worry.

I know many others are in the same predicament. The Minnesota legislature intends to call a special session addressing the crisis, specifically for those buying individual plans. Up until a year ago, I had an individual plan, too. What am I missing here? I was advised that we cannot apply for coverage through the state run marketplace, MNsure, (thus qualifying for a subsidy) because we have insurance available through an (my husband’s) employer.

TELL ME: How about you? Are you in the same situation as us? Do you have a solution to this crisis?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When health insurance costs become your biggest financial fear December 2, 2015

Insurance options and calculator - CopyI EXPECTED THE INCREASE. Yet, when I received notice of a $190 monthly hike in my health insurance premium, I reacted with shock. And anger. My new premium for an individual policy with a $6,550 deductible will be $602. Are you BLEEPING kidding me? That’s a 46 percent increase from my current $412/month premium. Plus, the deductible jumped $1,350 (from $5,200). For a “bronze” policy that basically offers only catastrophic coverage.

I decided to let the news simmer. Maybe time would ease the sticker shock, the worry about extracting more money from an already tight budget. Perhaps I would accept this as simply the way things are under the Affordable Care Act. That hasn’t happened. I’m still mad. There’s nothing affordable about my health insurance premium.

But anger doesn’t solve problems. I needed to make a decision and stop thinking that I could just as well drive down the highway and toss $7,224 out the window toward the offices of a company that advises me in its ad campaigns to Live Fearless with a Trusted Name. Really? The cost of health insurance is now my biggest financial fear.

The health insurance issue wasn’t going away. So I scheduled an appointment with our accountant (who also sells insurance for the aforementioned company) to discuss options. She is as upset as my husband and me about the escalating cost of health insurance.

In three columns on lined paper, she inked in the existing options—stick with my individual plan or choose one of two plans offered through my husband’s employer. We inquired about other plans, too, and I later followed up by visiting the MNsure website to compare plans. Since my husband’s employer offers health insurance, we can’t get a subsidy anyway and it would be minimal if we could.

We settled on a $3,500/person deductible company plan with a $723/person monthly premium. (With the Live Fearless company.) It made the most sense given the premium and deductible differences and the impact on our taxes (which is why we saw the accountant).

My husband’s employer pays half of his premium. That $361/month will help.

I will now pay $723/month rather than $412/month. My health insurance in 2016 will cost me $8,676 compared to $4,944 currently.

Add in another $204/month for our college son’s health insurance premium and our family will fork out $1,288/month for health insurance premiums in 2016. (Keep in mind that the employer will add $4,332 to the pot, pushing the total annual premium cost to $19,788) Affordable? No. But I suppose one could argue that, if we need to use our health insurance beyond our $3,500 deductibles (for my husband and me) and rack up substantial medical bills, we will consider the $15,456 we paid in 2016 premiums well spent.

Health insurance, for us and I suspect many, has become basically a catastrophic plan that keeps us from going to the doctor.

Thankfully, our home mortgage was paid off years ago. We have income. Both of us grew up in poor families, therefore are thrifty. Yet, at this stage in our lives nearing retirement, we shouldn’t have to worry about out-of-control, astronomical health insurance premiums.

Something has to give here. With so much of our income now going toward health insurance, we are not spending elsewhere. Or saving for retirement. Like our tightening family budget, the economy will feel the impact.

GO AHEAD, VENT. Tell me your health insurance woes. Solutions are welcome. I know my family is far from alone in facing these excessive health insurance costs.

Click here to read a related story published on MPR.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the cost of health insurance: Sometimes all you can do is laugh February 15, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:42 AM
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I PROBABLY SHOULDN’T be penning this post because it’s likely to raise my blood pressure. And that’s not a good thing considering I want to avoid activity that would necessitate a doctor’s visit.

Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful for doctors and nurses and other medical professionals who possess the skills and talent to help heal people.

But I’m frustrated about the ever-rising cost of health insurance. Last year my family forked out $11,022 to cover three of us—two late fifty-somethings and a 20-year-old. Do your math. That’s just shy of $919/month.

Add on the $4,048 we paid out-of-pocket for medical expenses in 2014 and that’s a significant chunk of money going toward healthcare costs.

Info from my current health insurance documents.

Info from my current health insurance documents.

The monthly premium on my individual plan this year has dropped $30 to $412/month. Now you might think that a good thing. But, in order to keep my premium down, I switched insurance companies and now have a much higher deductible—$5,200 instead of $2,000.

When I was considering my options in November, after my then insurer informed me that my 2015 monthly rate would skyrocket from $441 to $777, I felt like I was gambling. I am. I’m gambling on not needing to visit a doctor, except for “free” preventative care, in 2015.

Sure we have “free” preventative care now, which is great. But at what cost? Is it really “free?”

And, yes, I checked into whether I qualify for financial assistance through MNsure, the state’s online health insurance marketplace. I don’t given I could get on my husband’s plan through his employer. Never mind that I would need to pay the full $777/month premium. So that option was out. That left me searching for an individual plan I could afford. (It doesn’t exist.)

Minnesota Public Radio nailed it in a February 10 headline, High deductibles keep patients away from care. (Click here to read that story.) Yes, as crazy as it sounds, many of us now carry deductibles so high that we think twice about going to the doctor. What good is health insurance then?

I consider my health insurance coverage a catastrophic plan. I need the coverage “just in case” something major happens.

These ever-rising costs need to be brought under control. The current system isn’t working for lower middle income families like mine and, I expect, most families except those fortunate enough to have full employer paid health insurance.

Employers are feeling the financial burden, too. I’d guess some small business owners have had to reduce benefits or even lay off employees.

One positive note with healthcare reform, though, is the elimination of the pre-existing condition clause that prevented me from switching insurers.

I appreciate the approach taken by Almost Iowa, a southern Minnesota blogger whose wife was recently laid off. This blogger writes humorous and sarcastic fiction. Brilliantly. He addresses the issue of health insurance premiums and deductibles in “I married the wrong girl!”  Just like the MPR story, he nailed it. (Click here to read.)

Every fiction writer knows that beneath the surface always lies some bit of truth.

“I married the wrong girl!” made me laugh out loud in an “I wish this wasn’t true” sort of way. But, as they say, laughter is the best medicine. And that doesn’t cost us anything.

FYI: Today marks the final day to open enroll through MNsure, in other words the last day you can purchase health insurance through this venue until the next open enroll later this year.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My health insurance premium goes through the roof & I’m mad as… November 4, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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I KNEW IT WAS COMING.

But still, I was hopeful it wasn’t.

And I am raging mad. I’d write mad as h*** except I prefer not to swear.

On Monday I received a packet of information from my health insurance carrier, PreferredOne. It contained not a single word of good news.

The letter I received from my health insurance carrier.

The letter I received from my health insurance carrier.

Instead, I was notified that, if I stay with my current SignatureChoice Plus plan with a $2,000 deductible, copay and 100 percent coinsurance, my monthly premium will skyrocket a whopping 76 percent.

That’s right. Seventy-six percent.

My new monthly premium, effective January 1, will be $777 compared to my current $441.

Are you kidding? I cannot even begin to express how angry I am at this ridiculous rate increase. If this is affordable health insurance, then I wonder what the definition is of unaffordable health insurance.

Likewise, my husband is seeing a similar increase in the cost of his health insurance. His employer pays half his premium, which will be $778/month effective January 1.

We insure our college-aged son, too, through a plan offered at his East Coast university. At $185/month, that seems dirt cheap.

I have no idea what we are going to do. None. But to pay $1,351/month in health insurance premiums is not affordable on our income.

Some of my choices if I stay with PreferredOne.

Some of my choices if I stay with PreferredOne.

I will spend the next few weeks exploring options. After my nightmarish experience with MNSure last year, I am hesitant to try that route. But I’ll grit my teeth, bite my tongue (maybe), attempt to check my disdain and wade through the process which is sure to anger and frustrate me. I anticipate a system overload as nearly 60 percent of those purchasing insurance through MNSure last year were with PreferredOne. Now that Golden Valley based company has dropped out of MNSure and all those folks, plus individuals like me, will be shopping for new plans.

Early on I was optimistic that healthcare reform might work, that costs might be contained, that the average person could afford health insurance. No more.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Are you, like my husband and me, facing unaffordable health insurance premiums? What are you going to do?

What’s your take on this mess? At whom should my anger be directed? Politicians? Health insurance companies? Who?

We need some accountability here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling