Monthly Archives: October 2017

Words Reveal What Masks Conceal: An Essay on Halloween

When I was in the seventh grade, my English teacher assigned us a creative writing project for Halloween. We were to compose short stories, which we would then read aloud before the class, coupled with a competition of sorts in which the students would vote on who had written the best one.

Now in my pre-teen years, I was not what you would term the most popular kid in school. Perhaps it was those horrible “Student-of-the-Month” photos of me hanging in the main hallway, which they somehow always managed to take right after gym when my hair was flying every which way, or perhaps it was the oxford shirts and corduroy trousers in which my mother dressed me because I refused to participate in ridiculous wastes of time like school-clothes shopping. It certainly didn’t help that in addition to being smart and studious, I was also very, very shy, which led many to believe that I was stuck-up. I suppose if you’re naturally adept at making conversation, it’s difficult to understand that other kids might not be.

You can therefore easily picture the scene in the classroom that day: the anxious adolescent girl slouched in her seat, sweat drenching the armpits of her button-up shirt as she watched the clock, fervently hoping that time would run out before her turn came. You can imagine my nervousness when, five minutes before the bell, my teacher called me to the front of the class, the last reader to go; my terror as I stumbled up to her desk clutching the half-sheets of paper on which I’d scrawled my assignment. As usual, I had pushed the limits on the suggested length – my story was at least twice as long as anyone else’s – and the only saving grace of this enforced public humiliation, I thought, was that I would undoubtedly run out of time to finish it before the lunch bell rang.

Tucking my loose hair back behind my ears and focusing my eyes firmly on my papers, I began to read. It turned out that reading wasn’t so bad; unlike giving an oral report, you didn’t actually have to look at any of the other students. And it was a decent story, I reflected as I flipped through the pages, concentrating hard on not losing my place. At least my classmates were sitting silently, which made them easier to ignore.

At last I reached the climax of my tale, which was where it turned gruesome. The main character had gotten trapped in a fire, and I remember describing, in disgusting detail, the sizzle of the hairs frying on his arms as the hot flames neared. I remember describing the flames devouring his flesh, great flaps of it falling from his skeleton as his skin seared away. And I remember the silence of the classroom; I remember it breaking, the moans and groans that swelled all around me as I depicted my main character’s excruciating demise, only to be interrupted by the harsh clanging of the bell.

No one stirred; no one rose; no one left. I glanced at my teacher, who nodded. The other students sat rapt while I finished my story, and they applauded when I was done. There was no question that I had won the contest.

I was pleased that my story had gone over well, of course, but it wasn’t until the following week, when other kids were still coming up to talk to me about it, that I understood that I had somehow made an impression that went beyond my gruesome, graphic horror story. It was as if I had revealed that somewhere beneath that classic nerdy exterior was a real honest-to-goodness person, a kid who thought about things like destruction and death, and flames eating flesh, and how best to describe such horrific events.

I’ve never been big on Halloween, myself. I’ve never liked the pressure of having to pick out a costume and then explain why I chose it; I’ve never even understood the appeal of dressing up and playing pretend. I have other ways of exploring my dark side. Nowadays you won’t find me in a starched, striped shirt, or in old-fashioned slacks, but don’t be fooled by the sweats and sports bra in which you’ll typically see me lounging about the house, because that’s not who I am, either. It’s just a costume; an innocuous mask meant to show nothing, to reveal nothing, to suggest nothing. My thoughts are inside me. They can never be exposed by a mere choice of outfit.



How the Federal Cost-Sharing Reduction Decision for Health Care Affects You

I don’t know how you all reacted to news of President Trump’s executive order eliminating cost-sharing reduction payments, but I know what I did: went on to to re-up my insurance for next year before all hell breaks loose.
I was therefore reassured to receive this email from Covered California yesterday afternoon. It explains what the actual effects of the order will be on consumers in California, and probably in some other states as well. All of which makes what Trump did – in the short term, anyway – seem a bit pointless.


Covered California
Dear Lori,
We know there is confusion about last night’s decision by the federal government to stop select reimbursements to insurance companies. These reimbursements support subsidies for lower-income consumers known as Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) payments.
Despite this action, Covered California members will not see any change in their health costs for the remainder of 2017 and the rates and out-of-pocket costs published by Covered California for 2018 will not be affected.
How can stopping the funding for CSR payments not affect insurance prices? It’s because this cut to one subsidy will trigger an automatic increase in other kinds of financial support.
The CSR payments to health insurance companies the federal government is eliminating are designed to help with out-of-pockets costs, like deductibles and co-pays.
These CSR payments don’t go directly to eligible Covered California members, instead health insurance companies lower the costs of some out-of-pocket expenses for eligible Californians, and then the insurers get reimbursed for that expense.
Even without CSR reimbursements, insurance companies are still required to help eligible Covered California members with their out-of-pocket costs. That’s a requirement of the Affordable Care Act and this requirement has not been halted.
The Affordable Care Act also includes another, larger type of subsidy that is specifically designed to reduce the cost of premiums, ensuring that family budgets are largely unaffected. That subsidy or premium assistance is called the Advance Premium Tax Credit (APTC).

The CSR payments that the federal government is eliminating only apply to certain silver plans. Covered California has already taken steps to minimize the impact of the loss of CSR funding and worked with insurers to price plans accordingly to ensure stability in 2018, adding a premium surcharge only to silver plans.  Silver plans are the basis for the amount of premium assistance, APTC, consumers receive, so an increase in silver premium will be offset by an increase in APTC for most consumers.

Because the surcharge will only be applied to Silver-tier plans, nearly four out of five consumers will see their actual monthly premiums stay the same or decrease, since the amount of premium assistance they receive will also rise.

The effect of the federal government’s decision is something like this: Insurers get less money for helping low-income people with out-of-pocket costs on silver plans; premiums on silver plans increase more to compensate; and that forces the federal government to increase all APTC based subsidies to make sure people can still afford insurance.

So, the bottom line to get the best plan at the best price: SHOP and compare all plans offered by Covered California!!

Thank you,

Even in areas scorched by California wildfires, mail delivery continues

One of the eeriest images of the recent fires in Northern California is this drone footage of a USPS mail truck making deliveries to a series of burned-out houses:

Creepy? You said it. But apparently the postal service was honoring requests from customers who would be returning to their former residences to claim their mail.

Personally, I’m impressed that in spite of everything, mail delivery continues. It seems rather in keeping with the unofficial post office motto:

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.