Obamacare Launches Today — What Happens Now?

Healthy Living – The Huffington Post
Obamacare Launches Today — What Happens Now?
Obamacare is here.

Nearly 1,300 days after President Barack Obama signed his signature health care reform program into law, its most important feature finally takes effect. Americans are about to get their first hint of whether Obamacare will work for the 48 million people who lack health insurance and the millions more who buy coverage on their own.

Beginning on Tuesday and through March 31, consumers will be able to use a new system to buy health coverage: online insurance exchanges in each state, accessible via HealthCare.gov, that let people compare plans and learn whether they qualify for financial help.

Obamacare guarantees everyone access to coverage, whether they’re sick, healthy, young or old. It establishes a baseline set of benefits and stronger consumer protections. And it offers low- and middle-income people help paying for coverage.

In short, it aims to transform the insurance market for people who don’t get benefits at work. Now a skeptical public finally can judge whether it’s a success, as Obama said in a speech last week promoting the health care law.

“You can go to the website. You can check it out. You can see if what I’m saying is true. You can sign up next week. You can sign up next month. You can sign up two months from now, three months from now. But you can sign up,” he said of the exchanges. “See for yourself what the prices are. See for yourself what the choices are. Then make up your own mind.”

Obamacare, officially known as the Affordable Care Act, is the product of a raucous debate that lasted 14 months from 2009 to 2010 and passed on a party-line vote in a Democratic-controlled Congress.

The law has survived a poisonous political environment, poor public support, a Supreme Court challenge, a presidential re-election campaign, resistance from Republican state officials and more than 40 attempts by congressional Republicans to repeal it — most recently a House effort that appears to have shut down the government.

Now, Obamacare has to survive its own debut and win over a public that remains dubious and ill-informed about what the law does.

This year, 7 million people are expected to use the exchanges to buy private insurance, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Another 9 million are expected to enroll in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, two federal-state health programs for the poor. By 2016, 25 million fewer people will be uninsured than would have been without Obamacare, the CBO projects.

Robert Hogg plans to be one of the 7 million people to buy insurance on the exchanges this year. Hogg, 61, is a self-employed accountant living in LaGrange, Ga., about an hour’s drive southwest from Atlanta. He earns between $20,000 and $40,000 a year and has been uninsured since 1987, when he was diagnosed with a previously undetected heart murmur. His insurance plan at the time deemed it a pre-existing condition and promptly cancelled his coverage.

A few years ago, Hogg tried to find insurance again but couldn’t afford the more than $700 monthly premium he was quoted. Being uninsured cost him this January, when surgery to remove his gallbladder came with a $37,000 bill he doesn’t expect to ever pay off.

At the upper end of his income range, Hogg could buy a mid-level “silver” health insurance plan on an Obamacare exchange for about $317 a month, including tax credits that cover more than 40 percent of the price, according to an estimate generated by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation’s insurance-cost calculator. A higher-deductible “bronze” plan would cost him about $225. At the lower end of his income range, Hogg could get a silver plan for $85 a month or a bronze plan at no cost, according to the calculator.

Hogg plans to get health insurance. “Absolutely,” he said. “I couldn’t even get coverage before.” When that insurance kicks in next year, he plans to finally get the colonoscopy he’s been putting off because of the cost, he said.

Obama has to hope that millions more make the same decision about the exchanges, especially the approximately 2.7 million younger, healthier people the White House believes are needed to balance the higher medical costs of older, sicker patients.

More than half of the uninsured will be able to get coverage for less than $100 a month, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Prices will vary widely from community to community and from household to household. And people with higher incomes will have to pay the full sticker price.

The early days of the six-month sign-up period will likely be rocky. The federal government and several states already have delayed some functions of the exchanges as computer glitches surfaced. Agencies and private contractors were racing to find and fix failings — including erroneous pricing information — in the final days before launch.

Significant setbacks, like crashing websites and endlessly ringing telephones at call centers, could entrench public mistrust. And the ceaseless, vicious political debate — including tea party campaigns to discourage people from buying health insurance — threatens to leave Americans sour about Obamacare.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia will operate their own exchanges under names like “Covered California” and “kynect” in Kentucky. Residents of other states can use marketplaces operated wholly or partly by the federal government because those states declined to take on the task.

Exchange customers — online, in person, on paper, or by telephone — will provide information like their ages, incomes, addresses, the sizes of their families, and whether they smoke, all of which goes into determining their costs and whether they can receive tax credits to discount the price of insurance. Help is available to people signing up.

Those who earn up to four times the poverty level, or about $46,000 for a single person, are eligible for tax credits. Medicaid benefits are available to people who make up to 133 percent of the poverty level, or around $15,000. But only about half of states are using Obamacare funds to expand the program.

Health plans purchased on these exchanges take effect as soon as Jan. 1, if selected by Dec. 15. Insurance chosen after that date is subject to a waiting period of a few weeks.

Not everyone will like what they see.

People who buy their own insurance may find their current, less-expensive plans often have skimpier benefits than exchange plans and won’t be available, so they will have to pay more than they do now. This especially applies to younger and healthier individuals who benefited from the market’s exclusion of sick people before Obamacare. And some people, especially part-time workers and retail employees, will see their job-based benefits eliminated.

People who get health benefits from their employers usually won’t use the exchanges and will still be covered through work. Americans in government programs like Medicare also won’t shop on the exchanges. These types of coverage satisfy Obamacare’s individual mandate that most Americans have health insurance or pay a tax penalty, which would be the greater of $95 or 1 percent of their income in 2014.

Ariel Edwards-Levy contributed reporting.

Bringing Quality Health Care to All Americans
This week, our nation takes an important step toward becoming healthier. This is the week uninsured Americans can start shopping for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Something so profound also can be intimidating. There are countless questions to ask, each leading to more questions. For many, there’s the fear of not knowing what questions to ask.

My organization, the American Heart Association, wants to help.

Our mission is to improve the health of all Americans, and right now — on the precipice of this opportunity to lead tens of millions of Americans to basic medical care, such as an annual check-up — the best way we can help is guiding you to the people most capable of answering those questions. People like Bernard J. Tyson, a member of the American Heart Association’s Board of Directors and the Chief Executive Officer of Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans.

I encourage everyone to understand at least the parameters of the Affordable Care Act. Because regardless of whether you or your loved ones will be enrolling, your knowledge could help someone else.

For now, the best thing to know is this simple yet crucial timeline:

Enrollment begins Oct. 1.

Anyone who enrolls by Dec. 15 will be covered starting Jan. 1.

And for a deeper explanation, it’s my pleasure to turn this space over to Bernard.

As the CEO of an organization that provides health care to more than 9 million Americans, I spend time thinking about how to make quality care more affordable and accessible every day.

On Oct. 1, the country will take a crucial step toward greater access and affordability of health care as open enrollment begins for coverage through the new health insurance exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The exchanges represent one of the most significant changes we’ve made in our health care system since Medicare in the 1960s. The health insurance exchanges have the potential to provide health coverage to 50 million Americans who, without insurance, are challenged in entering the system through the “front door.”

Having people enter through the “front door” of the health system is incredibly important to make America’s system more cost-effective (and to keeping people healthier overall). Today, Americans have guaranteed health care, but the way they get care is to wait until they are so sick they seek out the hospital emergency room to get relief, which is the “back door.” Obviously, they receive great care from the wonderful physicians and nurses, but the emergency room is the most expensive place to get care. Health care coverage will give those currently without insurance a key to the front door. Managing their health upstream can prevent many of the chronic diseases that negatively impact health if left untreated.

For the growing number of Americans who do not have access to affordable coverage at work, these exchanges are intended to provide a range of options for individual as well as family coverage. The exchanges also provide separate options for small businesses (of up to 100 employees) to obtain coverage for their workers at affordable rates.

As part of providing this extended access to health care, the law also seeks to make it more affordable by providing subsidies to those eligible to help them obtain coverage on the exchanges. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that approximately 27 million people will purchase coverage through the exchanges by 2019.

Over the coming years, millions more people will get keys to the front door of health care. And that is something we must do, one way or another, if we’re going to address the rising costs of health care. We believe that access to high quality, affordable health care is critical and that’s why we are participating in exchanges in all the states where we currently offer Kaiser Permanente.

As with any transformational efforts, we expect some bumps and confusion along the way. America has a complex health care system, and this is a major change. It’s an entirely new approach — and, like anything that is new and complex, it’s unlikely to be a smooth ride. So as we did a half century ago with Medicare, we need to take the changes proposed by the ACA and with exchanges in stride.

As long as we keep our eyes on what’s important — providing quality and affordable health care to millions more American — we can focus on the kind of total care that encourages people to take an active role in their health. We will look back on Oct. 1 as a milestone in moving America and Americans into a better future.

Bernard J. Tyson is chief executive officer of Kaiser Permanente

For more by Nancy Brown, click here.

For more on health care, click here.

Can a Book End Addiction for Good?
At first glance, Ending Addiction For Good: The Groundbreaking, Holistic, Evidence-Based Way to Transform Your Life, by Cliffside Treatment Center founder and CEO Richard Taite and Cliffside’s addiction researcher, Dr. Constance Scharff, didn’t look like a book that I’d get behind. The authors don’t define addiction as a disease, don’t subscribe to 12-step as the model for addiction recovery and even have a different take on interventions than the typical addiction specialist. Yet after careful reading, I wholly believe that the views put forth in this book would help any addict seeking a solution.

When the battles break out between the 12-step set and the anti-12-step set, what often seems to get overlooked is the fact that many 12-steppers seek help outside the program; in my nearly decade and a half around this world, I’ve never actually encountered someone who insisted that a sober person should do no work beyond what’s recommended by the program. In fact, the Big Book recommends taking such action. And yet somehow the arguments I hear and read about in this vein are almost always coming from someone who swears AA almost destroyed his or her life because of a staunch 12-stepper who insisted the person do it “the AA way.”

Taite and Scharff take neither side and in maintaining this equilibrium do a marvelous service to addicts everywhere. They recommend 12-step work, but they also point out the large role that trauma often plays in addiction development, trauma which is not worked through by using the steps. The traumatized person, they write, “confuses the momentary absence of pain with happiness or the good life” when first drinking or using. But “because the initial source of pain has not been dealt with, the moment the effects of the substance wear off, the pain returns.” I know that was my personal experience, and my own stance on addiction is similar to theirs; I believe that some of us are born with a predilection for addiction but our circumstances will either exacerbate or diminish that. While others before Taite and Scharff have certainly pointed out the link between trauma and addiction, the topic is woefully under-discussed in recovery circles, and I applaud those willing to bring people’s attention to it — particularly when they’re willing to do it loudly.

While program literature urges its members to seek “outside help” if they are grappling with issues beyond AA’s scope, it doesn’t offer any specifics about what that help may be, and I very much appreciated Taite and Scharff getting specific. In one of the first chapters of Ending Addiction, Scharff paints a picture of her own bleak childhood — which included being neglected by her mother and raped, at the age of 7, by her father. When she explains that she needed help the program could not provide because most of her problems weren’t caused by her own shortcomings, but by the abuse she suffered, who could argue with that? Of course, a child doesn’t have to be abused as severely as Scharff was in order to suffer from trauma. As many experts have pointed out, even seemingly-harmless events like mild neglect can be extremely traumatic on the psyche of a child.

I didn’t know that when I first got sober. I was among the living for the first time in nearly a decade and as a result was in such pink cloud land that I believed I could give up therapy — even though I’d been in it since the age of 16. My only problem, I decided, was that I was an addict. And since I had my solution, I could shut the door on the ways I’d tried to solve problems before.

My second year of recovery was, it turns out, a rude awakening; suddenly the joy of being among the living didn’t feel like such a joy anymore. In fact, it felt downright annoying. The trauma that I’d experienced in childhood still impacted me. Though I didn’t really cry about it anymore, I couldn’t deny that the horrific relationship I had with my father was impacting how I related with most everyone in my life. Thankfully, I already knew how helpful therapy could be and had a sponsor who thoroughly supported it, and so back to therapy I went.

In the decade since, I’ve remained in therapy and have learned, for the most part, how to differentiate between my addiction issues and those related to my trauma — though, to be honest, my sponsor and therapist do often help me parse through much of the same material. I don’t know that I could have stayed sober without the “outside help” I received, which is why I so firmly applaud Taite and Scharff’s efforts to make clear what 12-step programs can and can’t do.

The authors write extensively about the importance of healing the body in recovery, championing exercise, proper nutrition and acupuncture, among other holistic treatments — an all-too-important aspect of recovery that is often overlooked. They further point out that calling alcoholism or addiction a “disorder” rather than a “disease” motivates those who suffer from it to change. Though I personally wasn’t discouraged when I heard that addiction was a disease, I believe that anything that can be done to improve our chances of helping other addicts to sobriety is a positive thing. And they have a line about the way addicts think, which is as accurate as any I’ve ever come across — namely that “addicts will tell themselves that they are awful people even when they act nobly.”

Still, my favorite line is when the authors point out that “the addict’s mind is negative when unguarded yet he has the power to change his thoughts whenever he’d like.” To me, understanding that fact is the very essence of recovery. While being able to stop it is another story altogether — and the average addict probably won’t be able to afford to check in to Cliffside for the recommended 90 days in order to start learning how — Taite and Scharff’s book can help put those suffering from addiction well on their way to a better life.

This post originally appeared on AfterPartyChat.

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.

For more by Anna David, click here.

For more on addiction and recovery, click here.

Mermaid Fitness Class Lets You Live Out Your Childhood Fantasy

“The Little Mermaid” is finally being released from Disney’s “vault” on Oct. 1st, and every time we turn on the T.V., we’re inundated with commercials reminding us how much we miss and adore the old gang: Ariel, Sebastian, Flounder and Scuttle. “The Little Mermaid” came out in theaters in 1989, which means little girls who watched it obsessively as children are now in their late twenties or early thirties, jaded by life, and looking to recapture a sliver of that redhead’s optimism, if not her waistline.

Cue the latest fitness trend coming to a pool near you. The JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, offers “a unique aquatics workout program inspired by the mermaid.” “Fin to Fitness” is taught by a petite, smiley blonde who goes by Kariel (real name: Kari Roberts) and the program is turning out to be a hit for bachelorette parties, bridal parties and nostalgic, wistful young women in general. Participants don a monofin and learn to master the dolphin kick, a swimming technique that strengthens the core and helps to explain Ariel’s improbable proportions.

Kariel then treats her students to the chance to wear one of her very own, hand-made tails. Kariel moved to Hawaii from Oregon in order to fulfill “her life-long dream of being a living mermaid” and now makes custom, handcrafted tails from recycled wetsuits. “All I was missing was Flounder,” said Taryn Felly (who even has red hair) after trying on the tail.

So for the girl who has everything — gadgets and gizmos aplenty and whoozits and whatzis galore — try swimming like a mermaid for an hour; you might even meet your prince charming.

Paying Attention
As I inch forward along this well-worn road, I know by now that to stay alert, awake and attentive is essential to avoiding the pitfalls of mere wishful thinking and downright deception, whether by oneself or well-meaning others.

One must refocus and rely only on one’s personal connection to infallible guidance from highest source, while politely passing over solutions stemming from frequently “common sense” suggestions offered by programmed and/or traditional minds. More often than not there is such opposition in various viewpoints that it requires much discernment to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Eventually humans may fully evolve to the extent that the left-logical and right-intuitive hemispheres of their brains will harmonize and become a single unit, presenting only thoughts that are fully integrated and aligned with well-being.

Since practice makes perfect… I shall practice, practice, practice!

I am now noticing small, or not so small, synchronicities. To clarify, I shall enumerate them chronologically, more or less:

My daughter, Carol, called me from California a few days ago to tell me that someone she grew up with in this building, Tammy, gave her the name of a real estate broker, Judy, who reputedly knows every apartment on the Upper East Side. (I prefer to remain in my present neighborhood. It feels like home.)

I met Judy yesterday in the lobby of a building a few blocks away to look at possibilities. Previously in the week, I had inquired about rentals from an office I just “happened” to pass. The young man from this agency showed me an apartment suitable in every way except price. The location was next door to a drug chain, across the street from a supermarket and my bank. In front was a crosstown bus stop.

Interestingly, Carol’s father, Arnold, had lived there after our separation. So did Carol, when at 14, she decided that living with mom was much too restrictive of her personal freedom. Later, Carol’s new step-mom-to-be, Linda, joined the household. She still lives in the same premises with her significant other. Not to worry if we should meet, Linda and I are cool. If those walls could talk!

Now it just “happened” that the building Judy showed me was in the same vicinity as the location I have just described, only not quite as pricey. There are presently no vacancies. In May, my projected moving date, something could open up. So where is this path leading? I haven’t a clue.

There are times when I wonder what actions I should be taking. The spiritual leader and founder of the “Sedona Method,” Lester Levenson, recommended use of “the butt system” when faced with seeming difficulties.

I sometimes sit and watch old movies. Often they contain encouraging dialogue, such as when in Alice Adams, the family is in dire need, her father counsels that something always comes along — and it does!

Frequently when I listen to music the old Ellington standard “Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me” is played, I interpret this as a sign from divine guidance to take the message literally.

It’s a gorgeous early spring day. A walk in the park, observing Mother Nature decked out in her new finery reminds me that it’s time to put away the heavy winter gear and don something lighter. This can carry over to maintaining sunny thoughts.

How can I have weighty matters on my mind on such a light airy April day? I shall don some spring finery, park my butt on a bench in the park and do nothing ’til I hear from source.

For more by Irene Tanner, click here.

For more on wisdom, click here.

War On Drugs Report Shows Approach Has Failed, B.C., California Researchers Say

VANCOUVER – The decades-long “war on drugs” has failed to curb the $350-billion a year global trade in illicit drugs, says a new study by researchers in British Columbia and California.

Using statistics gathered by law enforcement and health authorities in the United States, Europe and Australia over a nearly 20-year period, the team from the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy tracked and compared the rate of drug seizures to indicators of availability for cocaine, opiates and cannabis.

Those numbers show that while the number of drug seizures has increased, the price of cocaine, cannabis and opiates like heroin has dropped.

At the same time, the purity and potency of those drugs has increased, said the study published in the latest issue of the British Medical Journal “Open.”

“These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing,” said the report that involved the University of British Columbia, the B.C. Centre for Excellence on HIV/AIDS and the Institute of the Americas at the University of California.

Based on statistics gathered by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, they found that the price of heroin in the U.S. dropped 81 per cent from 1990 to 2007, while the purity of cocaine seized by police increased by 60 per cent.

For cocaine, the price — adjusted for inflation and purity — dropped 80 per cent, and the purity increased by 11 per cent. For marijuana, price decreased 86 per cent and purity jumped by 161 per cent.

“The bottom line is that organized crime’s efforts to succeed in these markets has flourished, and the criminal justice system’s efforts to contain these markets has really been quite remarkably unsuccessful,” Dr. Evan Wood, one of the report’s authors and the Canada Research Chair in Inner City Medicine at UBC, said Monday.

Similar trends were noted in Europe and Australia.

Over the same period, the amount of drugs seized by law enforcement increased drastically, both in drug-producing countries like Afghanistan and Thailand and in western nations.

“By every metric, the war on drugs has failed,” said Wood, adding that some estimates suggest more than $1 trillion has been spent over the past 40 years on that war in North America alone.

The authors said they hope the study prompts authorities to re-examine drug control strategies that focus on supply reduction, over prevention and treatment.

Werner Antweiler, a professor of economics at the Sauder School of Business at UBC, has studied the illicit drug economy and said the study results are no surprise.

“The drug problem has not become less, but more,” Antweiler said.

As was the case with the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s and 30s, the illicit drug trade is so profitable and criminals will find a way to meet a continuing demand. The suppression of supply has only a temporary, local effect on the trade, he said.

“The problem is, ultimately, a demand-side issue,” Antweiler said. “What we need to do is treat it as a medical problem, and not a problem of controlling the production and distribution.”

Wood said there have been some encouraging changes in the United States and Europe.

“In Canada, with our federal government it oftentimes feels like things are going in the opposite direction but I think there’s just a growing recognition that we need to begin exploring alternatives and greater openness to do so,” he said.

Green – The Huffington Post
Baby Cougar Near Powell River Is Incredibly Cute (PHOTOS)
We rarely see cougars as cuddly as the cub some hikers spotted on a recent trip near Powell River.

Francois Carpentier and Jason Vranjkovic were driving back from Emma Lake with friends on Sept. 22 when they spotted an adult cougar and a cub on Mainline Road, around the south side of Goat Lake.

The adult ran away but the cub stayed behind, meowing loudly, Carpentier wrote in a blog post on DuaneBurnett.com.

Check out photos of a baby cougar spotted near Powell River. Story continues below slideshow.

The baby cougar approached the hikers before stopping about four feet away. Carpentier described it as being about the size of an adult house cat but more muscular, with bigger eyes, ears and paws.

The cub kept calling out for the adult and Carpentier kept a hunting knife and can of bear spray at the ready in case the big cat came back. He was tempted to pick up and cuddle the cub but soon thought better of it, worried that a parent would mistake a touch for an attack.

The encounter was one of many human-cougar interactions documented in recent months.

A cougar was spotted dragging a deer along a road near Goat Lake on Sept. 15, while earlier this summer a mountain lion was filmed swimming close to a boat in Nootka Sound.

Good News – The Huffington Post
Baby Cougar Near Powell River Is Incredibly Cute (PHOTOS)
We rarely see cougars as cuddly as the cub some hikers spotted on a recent trip near Powell River.

Francois Carpentier and Jason Vranjkovic were driving back from Emma Lake with friends on Sept. 22 when they spotted an adult cougar and a cub on Mainline Road, around the south side of Goat Lake.

The adult ran away but the cub stayed behind, meowing loudly, Carpentier wrote in a blog post on DuaneBurnett.com.

Check out photos of a baby cougar spotted near Powell River. Story continues below slideshow.

The baby cougar approached the hikers before stopping about four feet away. Carpentier described it as being about the size of an adult house cat but more muscular, with bigger eyes, ears and paws.

The cub kept calling out for the adult and Carpentier kept a hunting knife and can of bear spray at the ready in case the big cat came back. He was tempted to pick up and cuddle the cub but soon thought better of it, worried that a parent would mistake a touch for an attack.

The encounter was one of many human-cougar interactions documented in recent months.

A cougar was spotted dragging a deer along a road near Goat Lake on Sept. 15, while earlier this summer a mountain lion was filmed swimming close to a boat in Nootka Sound.

#alkalinity #alkalinitymovement #7.2 #sevenpointtwo

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