Wednesday, August 24, 2011


We’re all so quick to label each other, aren’t we? There’s some innate need in us that feels satiated by neatly delineated categories of people. And when people step outside of our nicely drawn lines, we get our panties in a bunch and feel frustrated with those who dare to be different, rather than with our own need for simplicity.

Immediately after I started dating women there were plenty of folks prepared to give me the lowdown on my sexuality. I was told that since it seemed I had enjoyed relationships with men in the past, I must be bisexual; or I was dating women because my relationships with men had gone wrong; or sex wasn’t important to me; or it was the hip new thing to do. Then there was my personal favorite: “You’re just on your way to gay-town.” (did they mean Capitol Hill, I wonder?)

I was also told that there was no scientific evidence to support the existence of bisexuality which, much to my chagrin, affected how I felt about identifying as such. Since then I’ve had some time to grapple with my identity and finally decide that I don’t care to define myself as one thing or the other. I’m glad I was able to make peace with the notion of bisexuality before this (insert sarcastic tone here)“shocking” finding was announced earlier this week…

IT’S OK TO BE BISEXUAL NOW! Science says that you exist, bisexuals. Neat, huh? Now society will stop assuming that you’re indecisive, sex-crazed harlots, taking all the would-be suitors of both genders for yourselves. What I hate most about studies like this is that they play into another innate human characteristic: our need to belong. Scientists are all excited because they think they’ve given validation to those who identify as bisexual. I can only hope that this is not the case.

Don’t get me wrong; I agree that we all need affirmation. But does it have to come from a lab? Does a sexual impulse measured by a machine tell the story of who you are? And how do you decide for yourself where the line is between gay and bi, bi and lesbian, let alone their intersection with transgender.

Enter the letter Q. Though some may roll their eyes at the ever-increasing string of letters in the acronym of non-hetero orientations, I find the Q to be of the utmost importance. I realize that there are those who don’t identify with the term queer – or even find its use offensive – and that what I’m suggesting could also amount to trading one label for another. But in my community, I’ve found that it offers asylum for those who are trying to fit themselves into a letter that does not stand for them. Expanding the acronym to 5 letters (or 7…or 8…) gives all of us a place to be and something to confirm that we exist. Please do not try to tell me that it’s just too difficult to remember all of those letters. By saying this, you are showing that your boxes are more important than a person’s identity (and really, if remembering them is the most difficult thing in your life, I suppose you can count yourself lucky). And for the love of god, don’t let science dictate who you are, or who anybody else is for that matter.

Friday, August 12, 2011

You Pays Your Money, and You Takes Your Chances --- Good luck with that.



When the health care reform law passed last year, I was both pleased (some action! Something at least marginally progressive!) and disappointed (let’s pick on women’s necessary reproductive health care and on immigrants!  This is all about abortion! – because everything is, apparently).   And of course, it’s no surprise that we have spent much of the last year hearing how the Affordable Care Act will bring on the death of America, democracy, our financial system, and of course, us (death panel, anyone?).  Still, at least parts of it will likely survive to be implemented in 2014.

One of the most contentious aspects of the debate over reform related to insurance, and who should/could/must be covered under the new law.  Should employers have to make sure all their employees are covered? Should insurance companies be prohibited from turning people down for coverage?  And so on.

Being a history geek, I’ve long been intrigued both by how insurance came to be, and by how it used to operate compared to its current reality.  I’ll spare you most of the details, though you can find some here, but what always impressed me was that when insurance was just becoming big business, out of the London coffeehouse of Edward Lloyd (yes, that Lloyd of London), it was a way for merchants and early venture capitalists to pool their money and cover the risks of a ship being lost at sea, with each participant deciding how much of the risk on a particular voyage he wanted to insure.  Practical, fairly efficient, and quite workable.  Notably, when ships were lost, the underwriters paid up. 

Not so anymore.  Now, insurance seems to be a way for corporations to make vast amounts of money and become ever more clever about not paying out.  Yes, a generalization, but stick with me here.  The insurance industry made $9.3 billion profit in just the first nine months of 2010, up an average 41% over 2009.  

As the director of a non-profit with only nine employees, which is basically a small business (we just put any ‘profit’ to work carrying out our mission), I have always been proud that we offer health care coverage to all our employees.  We regard it as a basic worker right, much like paid sick and safe days, for which we are advocating in the City of Seattle.  And we work hard to make sure it’s decent coverage, with women’s reproductive health care well-covered, a not-entirely outrageous deductible, reasonable co-pays, etc.  We contribute to that $9.3 billion profit: $468 per month per employee for medical, plus $58 per month for dental, which adds up to more than $60,000 per year. And it’s worth it.   Our colleagues are worth it.

You can imagine, then, how horrified – no, outraged – we all were to discover that our plan imposes a 9-month waiting period for any employee who starts working for us and has a pre-existing condition.  For those of you wondering, the nine months is not a coincidence: it’s a common waiting period, and yes, companies do adopt it to avoid providing coverage for women during pregnancy. (Oh, to have that $9.3 billion to spend on women’s reproductive health care!)

Our employee who needs health care is not pregnant.  My colleague has a long-standing condition that she manages carefully, working very hard to avoid getting seriously ill, having to go to the emergency room, or experiencing any of the other events that drive up the cost of health care.   You would think our carrier would want to keep that responsible behavior going.  Nope.  Instead, my colleague must wait the full nine months before she gets any part of her ongoing health care management covered, paying out of pocket for her needed visits and medication.  And as her employer we will pay $4,734 for ----------- NOTHING.  

But wait: there’s more. A recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation ranked states by the price of insurance rates per individual. Washington is in the third-highest paying group, though it’s ironic that the average in this state is still much lower than what we actually pay per employee.  Even more ironic: the study’s authors conclude that some states have higher premiums because they make it easier for individuals with pre-existing conditions to get coverage.  Except we pay more than the average in the most expensive states, and still, our colleague gets ---------- NOTHING.

Do I have the solution to this?  I have several, and among the more printable are 1) universal health care/single payer system; 2) prohibit pre-existing condition exclusions sooner than 2014; 3) get another carrier.  For now, we’re working on #3.  How about you?