Saturday, January 18, 2014

It's Time For a MONTAGE!!!!!! How the TRAGIC Movement Relates to Every Mid 80s Action Movie

            By the time the mid 8os hit, I was deep into my formative high school years and the advent of the greatest movie plot device known to man. I am speaking of the Montage.  Rocky IV, The Karate Kid, and Revenge of the Nerds taught me the valuable lesson of how I can accomplish any heroic task like David and Goliath if I just huddle with my friends and work hard all while set to anthem style 80s music with quick editing cuts, flashbacks and parachute pants.

            This past week feels like that first few minutes in a montage as I have started to battle against my new HRA insurance plan from Blue Cross Blue Shield courtesy of the State Health Benefit Plan folks. I won’t waste your time in backtracking and explaining the current healthcare situation, if you are new to this then click on this link to explain:
            To continue my movie metaphor in this blog, it’s felt much like the third reel in any movie where I set out to accomplish my task , fail miserably, then find that inspiration  go on swinging as I take on the Bad Guy who I am obviously out matched with no chance to win. My Bad Guy is the insurance empire of Blue Cross Blue Shield.
            My issue is two-fold.
                1)   Not only am I in serious financial peril because under their insurance plan BCBS won’t pick up any costs until I meet my $1500 deductible. (I picked the Gold Tier which is the highest. Had I gone Bronze, it would $3000, but wait because it gets better for my case) This means anyone under the new state health plan doesn’t have a co-pay and has to pay out-of-pocket to their doctor until the deductible is met. Oh, prescriptions do not count either. People are reporting on our web page how they’ve gone from $50 co-pays to up to $300 for visits. Everyone under this plan is screwed especially folks living with chronic illness like me.
2)      2)          DSI, Savannah doesn’t have a contract with BCBS under the HRA plan. DSI also happens to be the only place in the region which offers my form of treatment, nocturnal home hemo dialysis. It’s a wordy way to say I do all my own dialysis treatments in my own home as I sleep six times a week. Do I really need this? Take a look at the before and after pics of me especially my color and the bags under my eyes then decide.

2009 Before Nocturnal Home Hemo Dilalysis  At Pirate's House w/ my best buddy

Fall 2013  First day of School  3 years of NHH Dialysis Treatment

My BCBS rep told me on Tues that I had 60 days to find a new center in their networks. After a nerve wracking conference call on Thursday, I found that BCBS will grant me out-of-network benefits so I can stay but my deductible is now $3000 instead of the Gold Plan which I  signed up for. What frustrates me is that is not much for BCBS to have to cover. I am eligible for medicaid due to teh kidney disease diagnosis. This means BCBS only has to cover 20% of the expense. Greedy much? So much for taking my family on a summer vacation up to the North GA Mountains where I grew up to bore them about the good ol’ days…
Read the Tragic Facebook page or the webpage. My story is not unusual. Many of my colleagues are having horrible issues to where they have to choose whether to go to the doctor or pay their bills. Some of us are in a bad way. I cried yesterday when I read about a teacher that was months away from getting her kidney under our former healthcare plan. She has yet to hear anything form BCBS.
A 5 month pregnant teacher posted that her weekly doctor visits have shot up from $40 to $360. This doesn’t include blood work, imaging, etc. She will be close to $5000 before the baby even comes and then she has the hospital bill. Mid wives stand to make a bundle this year in GA.
The word is getting out. Melissa McCoy is a fellow teacher with me here in Savannah. Click on WSAV to see when we were interviewed at WSAV on this situation.  Melissa has been a great advocate for the cause and an eloquent speaker even though she is quite shy and reserved in real life. My long standing respect for her has grown in leaps and bounds over the past week. She has rocked it.
      Working with Melissa on the TRAGIC campaign also leads me to my next point of this not a conservative versus liberal thing. Obamacare and the ACA have nothing to do with our current state health benefit problem.
It’s about working in a state where the many of our elected representatives including Governor Nathan Deal have continuously made billions of cuts in education over the past six years. Ironically, when it comes to the political spectrum, Melissa and I are so far away from each other on that line. I’m the liberal to Melissa’s card caring Libertarian yet somehow we both can see the non-partisan ship of this issue. If only our Congress could work like this.
The amount of finger pointing and placing of blame has been outstanding to the point of comical. Of, course out Governor, man of the people, has said United Health Care is to blame for getting the teachers riled up. (They lost the contract for this year in GA). I do hold Governor Deal accountable because “The Buck Stops Here.”  Yet I look around for accountability and see another guilty party.
      Even though I didn’t vote for Deal, I honestly have not made my voice of what I expect from my representatives. With the exception of one e-mail to Jack Kingston regarding student loan forgiveness, I have never contacted any of my representatives nor seriously read up on them to see what they are about until this past week.
 I am a bit ashamed of myself because I teach U.S. Government to my students but really haven’t followed the process as much as I should have. Even though I vote religiously, I don’t read about each issue and every candidate like I should. Let me assure you, this is about to change.
courtesy of
The past several years have made it quite unappealing to go into teaching. Frankly, I am rearranging my 10 year plan because I just don’t see lasting much longer if current circumstances continue. The sad thing is that I love working with my fellow teachers and students It’s a powerful moment to watch the kids when the lesson finally hits home. Sadly, the past years have made it hard for teachers to not only do their jobs but now it’s just coming down to basic cost effectiveness.
 I already hold two jobs to make ends meet on top of all my health issues and being with my family. How much farther can I be spread out?  How many teachers are starting to ask themselves the same question? My guess is quite a bit more than in past years.

It’s been an exciting few weeks being a teacher for me. Up until the start of 2014, complacency had set in and I didn’t do much except complain about my current job situation. Lately, I honestly do hear some of those old 80s soundtracks (I was a soundtrack junkie in my younger years musically) in the background as I contact ally my state reps and local news media sources. Gotta admit it’s been great because it’s been sometime since I’ve dusted off my Rocky IV soundtrack and tormented my kids during car-line.
Some folks have been asking me if I honestly believe whether the TRAGIC movement can make a difference. Is it possible for a special ed teacher in Savannah, GA with bum kidneys to actually get a major insurance company and a Red State legislature headed up by a Governor with more than a few ethics violations to take note?
Oh, it is very possible. Because it's is not just me. There is 8,999 other teachers including other state employees who can’t afford to maintain their current health plans. And we are growing, and writing, and speaking out. I believe The Dude said it best in The Big Lebowski with, “This will not stand” 
So if you will be so kind as to excuse me, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Governor Deal. Both of your pictures are taped to my bathroom mirror and there’s a large ass cart of rocks to work on lifting. Let the montage continue…….

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

It's a kinda T.R.A.G.I.C.....

                                                      Sorry, for the Queen Lyric Pun

My insurance has recently switched over to a HRA plan through Blue Cross Blue Shield. It has become something which I am very worry about seeing that in addition to my  wacky adventures I write about, I am also living with Kidney disease and the joys of Dialysis. It just does not affect myself and my other teachers but all state employees.  A teacher up in North GA has started a group called TRAGIC which stands for Teachers Rallying Against GA Insurance Changes. They have requested letter of testimonials. This is mine. Sorry if preachy. I am getting a bit frustrated at how I am being treated as a teacher. I love the job just tired of the climate......

I became a teacher in 2002 after about 15 years working in the Mental Health/Disabled field. My reasons for leaving were a combination of hitting that proverbial glass ceiling and tired of feeling ineffective. Going into the career change, I knew the bureaucracy would be just as silly as before but one thing I always knew was that at the very least, teachers got great benefits and I knew I’d love working with kids again.
            During my 12 years, I’ve had to deal with No Child Left Behind, Standards Changes, Highly Qualified, even Common Core Curriculum and now any possible raises based on student performance which means I’ll never see another raise again.  
No sweat. It’s just a matter of outlasting the current flavor of the month until some other guy in a higher tax bracket than me gets Congress’s ear and new educational objectives are rolled. My previous career prepared me for the silliness.
            In 2006, I was diagnosed with End Stage Kidney disease which is a fancy way of saying, “Welcome to Dialysis.” Thanks to good insurance and an even better Treatment Center, I can do my daily treatments at home and still be able to teach. Many people, even my own health care folks, have urged me to consider going on disability but I refuse. Why? Because even though I am what those around refer to me as being “sick,” I don’t feel sick.

I usually feel like this unless it's EOCT testing week.

I am a young teacher at 45, have a family, and even work a second job because I am teacher after all. I was raised that you go on Disability when you cannot work anymore. I have many, many good years left in me. I want to work. I need to work as an example to my kids and my students.
I am able to do both jobs, take my boy to karate, my daughter to her art club and fight car line pickups because not only do I take care of myself but so far, my benefits have allowed to me maintain a high quality of life which I deserve.
Best Day of my Life

I was in the beginning stages of looking for a kidney. Now that I have a wife whom I love dearly along with two step kids that have changed how I view this world, I want to be here for as long as possible. While, I have no real issues with my health care so far, I am very concerned with all that I am reading and hearing from my colleagues as they are having their own issues in the State Health Care Plan. My anxiety is rising because later this month  I have to get all my prescriptions refilled. Based on what I am hearing, it doesn’t bode well for my wallet
I am tired of this.
Twelve years ago I started teaching and have seen a general decline in how we are treated professionally. I love to see how valued teachers are during election year but our budgets are cut to the point of insult afterwards. I got my first raise in seven years this past August and I wasn’t happy because every teacher knows that any raise simply means their insurance rates will just increase a few months later. And mine did….again to the point I have lost any $$$ gained. 
Being a teacher used to have special ring to it. Sure we were underpaid but we were also respected. Parents had out backs; administrators helped us to shape the next wave of our country’s future. We had money for supplies and text books. Now it’s about furloughs, being careful who goes to ISS to keep our numbers down, keeping parents from going down to a school board.  Oh, and testing. Don’t forget teaching to a test.
As seen in every counselor's office....

I don’t bring up these things to be the stereotypical teacher who complains then does nothing. I bring up these points to illustrate that in spite of these bumps in the road. I still get up each morning at 6am to go into work as does all of my colleagues who, in my eyes, even better at this than I’ll ever be which is why I keep going. I don’t want to let them down. At the very least I owe them that. Nobody else seems to have our backs anymore.
We don’t have to put up with this. One of the best lessons I ever taught was to a Social Skills class at an Alternative School in rural GA. The idea of it was you allow yourself to be treated as well or as poorly as you allow it. I am tired of not being respected as an educator and I am ready to do something about it. According to our politicians during their election years, we are professionals afterall. 
 Does anybody remember Roy Barnes when he was Governor? Pretty much the only thing Ol’ Roy is remembered for is ticking off the teachers and that was the end of him. I am not saying to we must oust Gov. Deal or anything like that. This is not being political so much as advocating for ourselves. We need to rally and have our voices heard. We can be heard and we can make a change.  Ask Roy Barnes.
Why just one term?

This is a great chance to model to our students on how to affect a positive change. Don’t just call your State Rep, but write him. Speak to you Professional Organizations. I can tell you my PAGE rep is about to get an earful. Get other state employees involved. This insurance affects them as well.
We don’t have to put up with so why should we? Let’s stay very positive and professional and do something about this. Together, people. we got our backs.

Well, not literally...