Monday, November 23, 2015

Life update

House: still broken. We have water damage from ice dams last winter. We replaced the roof, but still need to repoint the chimney (and foundation for a separate problem), replace the gutters, fascias, and soffits, and replace the enclosed front porch and skirting. It’s been incredibly hard to find people to talk about options and give quotes. I don’t know when we’ll ever get the big stuff fixed. We also have many small unrelated broken things that we have not gotten fixed, with more breaking each week than we can tackle.

House insurance: still broken. We contacted our insurance agent last winter, and filed the claim in August. Sent in a ton of info and asked a bunch of questions, spent hours dealing with an adjuster and a building estimator hired by the insurance company. We’ve received no money from the insurance company, no answers to any questions, and no assurance that we will ever receive anything. Tried to talk to 3 public adjusters about dealing with this on our behalf: one never replied, one is taking no new clients, and one sounded like such a horrible person that we just couldn’t see dealing with him. (Update to the update: Spent several days trying to hire a public adjuster who, it turned out, wanted us to do literally all of his work for him, which is not what we wanted. The insurance company is now offering us $17K on a $50K claim, and being incredibly rude and dishonest about it in the process.)

Cars: working. Still liking the new car.

Dog: vet couldn’t figure out what was causing the vomiting and frequent startling, so she’s ok.

Health: mostly endless appointments between the three of us, and a lot of experiences of doctors not paying attention or not answering questions. No hospitalizations so far this fall, which is a major improvement over last year. Michael’s knee recovered well from surgery last year.

Health insurance: still broken. Dozens of denied claims, endless errors and lies, way too much time spent trying to figure out how to correct the errors.

Lisa’s work: ok! This has been a bright spot, which is huge.

Michael’s work: not ok!

Temple board: unproductive, and too much disconnect from the rest of the board to feel like there’s much hope for improvement. (Update to the update: Turns out much of the board is disaffected or potentially mutinying. I feel less lonely in being dismissed and powerless.)

David: healthy, rowdy, not listening well. Lots of joy, lots of frustration, flipping back and forth repeatedly within minutes.

David’s preschool: suddenly a complete clusterfuck. He’s having a good time, but we need to do a new search for next year for reasons I can’t go into publicly. Have lost a ton of sleep over the situation, tried to offer advice and solutions that have been entirely dismissed, and can neither tolerate nor believe the callously destructive attitude of the people in charge of the situation. I could almost understand the choices they are making if they were gaining something by hurting everyone else, but they aren’t.

City government: difficult and painful.

Search for where to live: Difficult and slow. We cannot afford the places we like, we don’t like the places we can afford. For place, read both house and community.

Hobbies: What? We used to have those? Everything is endless crisis management. We do occasionally get an evening out, which is lovely. I like the aquarium and the science museum and other destinations for David, but I don’t get to do any of it at the pace I want. Travel has been impossible to plan. Hell, meals have been impossible to plan.

Friends: What? We used to have those? We see a few friends regularly, some friends rarely, and too many friends not at all. I find it hard to have conversations when talking about my life reminds me of what my life is actually like, when national news is so horrifying, and when David won’t actually let me have a conversation if he’s in the same building. I want to hear other people talk about their lives without making me talk about mine.

Stress levels: through the roof. Not coping.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Billing for allergy skin tests

Suppose you want to do an allergy skin test for food and environmental allergies. This is where they poke your skin with little amounts of different allergens, wait 15-20 minutes to see how big a welt each one causes, and jot down the results. (The false positive rate is estimated to be 40% to 50% for many allergens, so there’s usually something to write down.) They also do two controls: histamine and saline. If you don’t react to the histamine, then there’s a problem. If you do react to the saline, there’s a different problem.

These are billed as procedure code 95004, with the number of units corresponding to the number of different allergens tested (plus two units for the two controls). It’s somewhere between $5 and $38 per unit, according to different numbers from Cigna at different times. But when you do lots of units, the difference starts to multiply.

Cigna knows the procedure code, but they keep that a secret. Cigna knows how the units are counted, but they keep that a secret. Cigna knows how many units you were billed for, but they keep that a secret. Cigna knows how much they pay different providers per unit, but they keep that a secret. The only non-secret is the total amount they settle on.

You can get the procedure code from the provider, maybe. Or you can get the procedure code from various web sites about medical billing. That’s also how you can find out how the units are counted.

You can find out the number of units you were billed for from the provider, and Cigna is willing to confirm that number.

Finding out how much Cigna pays different providers so you can comparison shop? Forget it. That would be treating health care like a rational marketplace, and Cigna refuses to enable that.

The non-secret is that the final total is $578.51 for 16 units of 95004. That’s $36.156875 per unit, which is obviously not the contracted price. It’s also a touch higher than the approximately $90 total that Cigna said it should cost from this provider. And only 13 tests and 2 controls were done, so the number of units is overbilled.

Fortunately, I called Cigna and got this straightened out, with a clear explanation for what went wrong.

Cigna won’t answer any questions.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Follow me, and I will make you baristas of men

In the midst of the darkness of the world, God sent us a light.

In the dark midwinter sky, the wise men followed the light of the Star of Bethlehem.

John 8:12: When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

So there’s your design brief. Nothing should distract from that core message: light from darkness. But we want to reach beyond the reductionism of a point of light. The message is bigger than that, because Christianity is bigger than that. The Good Word has saved us all, and we need to show that sense of collective uplift. Show a rising upwards of humanity’s soul, for that is the true meaning of the holiday.

Red is a classical Christmas color, so start there. An ombre color shift from darkness up towards light, that’s the solution. We don’t dare claim that we’ve yet achieved true salvation, so let’s stick with a gradual lightening of color.

No more winter iconography. Snowmen and snowflakes are cute, but they distract from the purity of our cup’s message of a journey towards salvation.

In the dim pre-dawn hours, before other shops are open, we light up our stores to show people the way. We are each block’s Star of Bethlehem writ local. As our coffee wakes up our minds, let our cups remind us all of the need to wake up our souls. We can serve Jesus as we serve our customers. We are Starbucks, and we are being sorely misunderstood.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Lessons learned from Medford’s 2015 local election

1. There were originally going to be three mayoral debates. The first was cancelled, so there were only two, and the second was only a few days before the election. That leaves most people’s opinions set before the debates, which makes them spectacle instead of information. Recommendation: Be clear about the schedule and venue, schedule them earlier in the election cycle, and make sure they are available online.

2. The city council forum happened after the primary, which meant that the most interested voters had to vote once for city council before that forum. It also was not a real debate of any sort. Recommendation: Schedule an actual debate earlier in the election cycle, and make sure it is available online.

3. The school committee forum happened shortly before the election, and was never made available online. Recommendation: Schedule an actual debate earlier in the election cycle, and make sure it is available online.

4. The city completely failed to make videos available, despite having multiple public access channels and a lot of video equipment. There should have been clear videos from the candidates, and clear videos of the debates and forums. An informed electorate makes for a better community.

5. The city mostly failed to publicize the primary and the general election. Other communities near us do a much better job. We should be trying to increase public participation in our elections.

6. Candidates did not want to run in slates, and no community group stepped up to create a slate. It is difficult to do research on 28 candidates for various local offices, and it is difficult to decide whether to prioritize bullet voting for your favorite candidate or to use all your votes to try to vote against your least favorite candidate or to increase the chances of electing incumbents or challengers. Slates simplify research and help elect people. There are principled reasons to oppose slate voting, but there are practical reasons to support slate voting. The only time that a slate was used in the last 8 elections was when a local school advocacy group formed and recommended a slate of 4 candidates for the 6 school committee slots. That slate won.

7. Voters are actually willing to support a tax override for a reasonably specific purpose.

8. Voters elect incumbents, even when there are highly qualified challengers.

9. Voters rejected the only two teachers running for school committee, the only city planner running for city council, and the only two minority candidates for city council.

10. There’s a lot of noisy fear-mongering and hate-mongering on social media.

11. Penta seemed to have a huge advantage in yard signs, advertising, noisy supporters, social media presence, and actual campaigning in the community. It was not enough to overcome his long history of alienating people as a hateful politician. He tried to make this election a referendum on McGlynn, but it ended up being a referendum on Penta.

12. Falco has huge support in the community. It would be interesting to see him run for mayor.