Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflecting on a Monday morning in Minnesota January 6, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:39 PM
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So many winter days lately here in Minnesota have been dominated by cloud-filled grey skies, this scene along Interstate 90 in far southeastern Minnesota.

 

SUNSHINE RADIATES WARMTH, splashing light into my office on this Monday morning. Such a blessing after too many days of grey skies. Winter in Minnesota can challenge the spirit with endless cold and dreariness. But this morning hope rises in the light.

That all sounds so optimistic and poetic. And I wish I fully believed those words, although I am trying to be more positive. Yet, it’s difficult when the current global situation prompts concern about the stability and safety of our world, our country, our state, our communities.

My thoughts are all over the place today. Negative. Positive.

 

Another winter scene along Interstate 90 in rural southeastern Minnesota. I noticed a thin break in the pressing cloud line.

 

This morning, after finishing my devotions, I picked up the gratitude journal gifted to me several days ago by a friend. I reread what I’d written. Gratefulness for a lengthy hand-penned letter from a loving friend who also gifted Randy and me with a gift certificate to a favorite Faribault restaurant. Gratitude for Randy receiving a gift certificate for a pie from the Trinity Pie Makers after entering a “name that Christmas hymn” contest at our church. Gratitude for our grandson turning one. Gratitude for the annual holiday dinner out at a new Northfield restaurant compliments of Randy’s employer.

Those are all really good things and I am grateful for each.

They balance the ongoing challenges of life. My mom in the process of dying. Other family members dealing with major health issues complicated by limited and costly health insurance that includes unaffordable premiums and high deductibles and insurers thinking they can dictate what care/prescriptions an insured should get. I’ve written previously about our own financial struggles with health insurance and I’m hearing more and more about just how bad the situation is for a lot of people.

Yesterday, as I started reading the stack of magazines and books I picked up from the local library (I am so grateful for libraries), I came across two articles mentioning health insurance in the December 2019 issue of The Writer magazine. In both stories, the freelance writers mentioned the high cost of health insurance and how fortunate they are to have coverage through their spouses. Two stories out of 11 referencing health insurance seems significant in a 48-page magazine.

 

Blue sky breaks through the bank of clouds along a rural county road between Faribault and Morristown last week.

 

Something needs to change. But change seems slow in coming. First there needs to be a recognition among politicians that a real problem exists with the current health insurance system.

I could write lots more on the topic. But, as I look outside my office window at the sunshine, as I press keyboard letters that write words upon a screen, I feel grateful that I can create. I have that freedom. I live in a wonderful community, which though imperfect, is a pretty darned sweet place to live. Today, sunshine breaks through the clouds.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dear Santa December 21, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

DEAR SANTA,

I hesitate to write this last-minute letter given your hectic travel schedule and the sheer volume of work involved in delivering gifts around the world, not to mention supervising all those elves. I can’t imagine the stress. I bet you’re thankful for smartphones, loyal reindeer and a reliable sleigh.

I don’t mean to add to your burden, Santa. But I haven’t asked for anything from you in decades. So I thought I would send you my Christmas list and see what you can do. Here goes:

DSLR camera  (My aged Canon EOS 20-D performs poorly in low light and, well, it won’t last forever.)

office chair (Mine is ripping on the back and I need one that offers better back support.)

comforter (I noticed when I made the bed last week that ours is tearing.)

new bed (Ours is wearing out, as in sagging.)

new pots and pans (Mine are circa late 70s, handles coming loose…)

insta pot (This is a wish, not a need.)

kitchen update (Or at least a new faucet to replace the leaky one and maybe a new sink to replace the brown one.)

new smartphone (My Android is old and slow.)

shirts & sweaters (A weight loss necessitates this as does the need to upgrade an aging wardrobe.)

short boots (Not snowboots, but the fashion kind.)

There you go, Santa.

Wait a minute. I’m having second thoughts about asking for so much. I am thankful for all I already have. Let’s cross all those wishes off my list and make it a single wish. Here’s what I really want, and not just for myself: I want affordable health insurance, lower deductibles and insurance companies to stop making decisions about individual healthcare. Do you possess enough magic to make that happen?

Here’s the deal. The overwhelming cost of health insurance ($1,700/month for us with $4,250/each deductibles in 2020) is causing financial and emotional stress not only for me and Randy but for many others (those who are self-employed, work for small businesses with minimal or no benefits…) in the same situation. I don’t expect free insurance. But I do expect reasonable premiums and deductibles that make our insurance affordable and usable.

I know of family members, myself included, who are not getting necessary healthcare because they can’t afford it, due to the aforementioned high premiums and deductibles. And, no, I can get neither subsidy or tax credit. I checked, with multiple sources (aka MNsure navigators and social services). We fall through a loophole.

I know of family members denied prescriptions or treatments because health insurance companies judged these unnecessary or determined there were other options. Why do insurance companies have the right to override a medical provider’s directive? This makes absolutely no sense to me, Santa. Sure, policyholders can appeal decisions. But why aren’t doctors’ orders good enough?

I expect that for every grievance I could list here, thousands millions more exist.

Well, Santa, I don’t want to sound like a complainer and you probably can’t grant this wish. But if you have any connections with anyone who can effect change, I’d appreciate your help.

Safe travels and Merry Christmas!

Love,

Audrey

 

That would be a NO November 5, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 4:24 PM
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A graphic illustrating options I considered several years ago when I thought our premiums were high. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The answer is NO. No, you don’t qualify for any government assistance to help pay down your health insurance premiums. There’s nothing/na-da/zero/big fat goose egg we can do for you.

I’m not surprised.

Randy met with a MNsure navigator on Monday to see if we could get a subsidy, tax credit, anything to help reduce the absurd health insurance premiums we will pay in 2020. Here’s the definition of absurd: Premiums of $1,149/month. Each. Randy’s employer pays half of his premium so our cost will be $1,723/month. That’s up $120/month from this year. Our deductibles will be $4,250. Each. That’s also up from $4,000/each this year.

I won’t apologize for my anger as I wonder who gets subsidies anyway. I won’t apologize for my anger when I wonder how insurance companies can, in all good conscience, charge this much in premiums. I won’t apologize for my anger toward politicians who constantly talk about making healthcare affordable, yet it never becomes affordable. There’s nothing affordable about our monthly premiums of $1,723.

When a sizable chunk of your income goes toward health insurance premiums for healthcare you can no longer afford because you’re paying too much in premiums and too much in deductibles, something is terribly wrong and broken. Fix it. Somebody. Please.

LET’S HEAR your thoughts.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My Halloween horror story October 31, 2019

From a Halloween display in Hayfield, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

WHAT SCARES YOU? I mean really scares you.

Is it the current state of our political climate? Climate change? Changes in your personal life? Life that feels overwhelming? Overwhelmingly high health insurance rates?

There’s so much to concern us. And I would place check marks in front of several items on that list, the most recent being health insurance premiums. Ours are increasing again. And I am seriously stressing about the additional $120/month we will pay for insurance that is nothing but a catastrophic plan. Our deductibles will rise from $4,000 each to $4,250 each come January 1.

I don’t pretend to be good at math. Words are my thing. But no matter that lack of skill set, I understand that the health insurance premium numbers are not good for our budget and have not been for years. I joke with my husband that he will need to pay his employer to work for him given the amount deducted from paychecks for insurance. Randy’s employer pays half of his premium, none of mine. I’m on Randy’s plan because I’m self-employed.

Now let me show you the numbers: In 2020, our monthly premiums will each be $1,149 for a total of $2,298 every single month. Of that, we will pay $1,723/month, which totals $20,677/year. And then we have those $4,250 individual deductibles before the insurance even kicks in.

This is absolutely absurd. There are no other words to describe the financial challenges we are facing because of health insurance rates that are through the roof ridiculous. No wonder we don’t go on big vacations, drive vehicles that are 15 and 17 years old, seldom dine out, have a vintage kitchen in need of a complete re-do, windows that need replacing, siding that needs paint or replacement…and don’t want to go to the doctor because we can’t afford to go to the doctor. Much of our income is funneled directly to the health insurance company rather than being pumped into the general economy. Sigh.

I never thought that at our age—in our early 60s—we would be in this financial situation because of health insurance premiums.

So what am I doing about this? Screaming, venting, crying, stressing. But I’ve also set up an appointment with a MNsure navigator to see if we qualify for any type of financial assistance. When I checked a few years back, that proved fruitless. I’m not especially hopeful this time either.

There you go, my financial horror story just in time for Halloween. I am thankful Randy and I both grew up in really poor families so we are not materialistic. We manage to pay all of our bills, get food on the table…and still donate to charities. We paid off our home mortgage years ago and I’m thankful we did.

But we never expected this overwhelming financial burden as we looked to the future and are nearing retirement.

This Halloween I’m not scared of things that go bump in the night. I’m scared of health insurance premiums.

THOUGHTS? Do you have similar health insurance horror stories?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dear legislators, Let’s speed things up beyond traffic July 10, 2019

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The words on the tailgate of this pick-up truck photographed several days ago in a Faribault grocery store parking lot illustrate a new Minnesota traffic law taking effect on August 1.

 

COME AUGUST 1, you best not poke along in the left traffic lane on a multi-lane Minnesota highway and hold up traffic. Do so and, if caught, you face a fine under a new law pushed by Senator John Jasinski from Faribault.

When I first heard about efforts to shift slow drivers from the left to the right lane, I thought, we have way more important issues than that to resolve. I still feel that way. I’m more concerned about the high cost of prescription drugs and healthcare and the absurd cost of health insurance ($1,600 in premiums paid by Randy and me every single month with $4,000 individual deductibles).

So there. While moving traffic along may seem of vital importance to legislators, and I do sort of understand the value of the legislation, I fail to understand why something can’t be done about the healthcare cost crisis. Let’s move that issue out of the slowpoke lane into the fast lane of a financially favorable resolution for the consumer.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Surprise (not): Another increase in health insurance premiums… December 4, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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A graphic illustrating options to consider. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A DAY BEFORE THE MID-TERM ELECTION, my husband came home from work with our health insurance rates for 2019. I thought perhaps those rates would hold steady, maybe even drop a bit. I’d read all about premiums decreasing here in Minnesota in the new year.

But, surprise, our rates are rising. From $1,000/month to $1,069/month. For each of us. Do the math. Times two, our new monthly premiums total $2,138. Overwhelming, isn’t it?

Randy’s employer pays half ($534) his individual premium, which helps. But still, could you afford $1,603 in monthly premiums? That’s a lot of money. Money that we can’t save for retirement. Money that we can’t put toward replacement of our aging vehicles. Money that we can’t put toward a much-needed update of our 1970s vintage kitchen. Money that we can’t use for a vacation. Money that’s not going into the general economy, but rather to one place—the health insurance company.

The unbelievably high cost of health insurance for couples like us only years from retirement is a major financial burden. We’ve done all the right things. Spent our money wisely. Lived modestly. Invested and saved for retirement. Never purchased a new vehicle. Limited vacations to day trips or several days in Minnesota and neighboring states, with the exception of a road trip to Boston two years ago to see our son graduate from college.

I never thought that at this stage of our lives, we would be in this burdensome financial position. That Randy works for a small business and that I am self-employed places us in a difficult spot. Once insured through the individual market, I can no longer afford those even higher premiums. I don’t know if our premiums are so outrageously high simply because of our age or also because we are covered through a small business group pool of perhaps a half-dozen insured.

We can’t risk going without insurance. And, yes, I am aware of faith-based health cost sharing plans. I’ll revisit that option, which would mean switching doctors and seeking medical care outside my community and agreeing to some restrictions on coverage (such as on pre-existing conditions for a designated period and more). I’m perfectly happy with the excellent care I’ve gotten locally. I’d like to stay with the medical providers I know, like and trust.

But now that we will be paying another $103/month in premiums with individual deductibles that are increasing from $3,600/month to $4,000/month, all options are on the table. After all, there’s a lot of money at stake here. To be precise, $19,239 in premiums plus $8,000 in deductibles before insurance pays. Crazy, isn’t it? That’s over $27,000. We can’t afford to use our unaffordable health insurance.

Politicians, I’m waiting on you now to fulfill all your campaigns promises of affordable health insurance and healthcare. Oh, yeah, I’ve heard that before, same old same old…

THOUGHTS?

CLICK HERE to read a related story on health insurance costs.

© Copyright 2018 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