Insurance changes cause confusion
Written by Kyle Arnoldy
There is no denying that health insurance in the United States is changing, but what remains foggy is to what extent the changes will ultimately affect how citizens receive health insurance and how companies will be able to provide their employees with coverage.
“It would be a different story if things didn’t change every week,” Colorado BW Insurance Agency sales manager Paula Carper said. “They set one deadline and then they change that. It has been kind of hard to keep up on all of the different things that are happening, to be honest with you.”
Carper’s sentiments were echoed by Sonia Hubbard, insurance agent for New York Life Insurance Company.
“It has been impossible for me to keep up with all of these changes and keep up with my financial services business to the point I have had to partner with Trustpoint Insurance out of Imperial, Neb., to handle my health care business,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard stated that the vast majority of those she has helped have had very negative feelings toward the new laws. While some don’t like being on Medicaid because they view it as taking handouts, almost all are worried and confused about how much it will cost them and where they will be able to get health care.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010. The Supreme Court upheld the health care law on June 28, 2012. The health insurance marketplace opened Oct. 1, 2013, and will close March 31, 2014.
With an overarching mission of expanding affordability, quality and availability of insurance by opening the health insurance marketplace, many more Americans are expected to be able to acquire affordable insurance. Through the new laws, young adults are able to stay on their parents’ health plan until they are 26, and no one can be denied coverage or charged more because of a pre-existing condition.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, there are 656,461 Coloradans uninsured and eligible for coverage through the marketplace. Of Colorado’s uninsured and eligible population, 90 percent may qualify for lower costs on coverage in the marketplace, including through Medicaid.
While the benefits of the new laws have certainly allowed more people to qualify for health insurance, with the number of people in the health insurance pool growing, many people are seeing the cost of their premiums spike. Some people have even received notice from their health care providers that their coverage will be canceled at the first of the year, even though to their understanding they believed they would be able to keep old policies if they were satisfied.
“I am not seeing healthy people coming in to get coverage, I am seeing those who have pre-existing conditions,” Carper said. “As a state, how are we going to pay for this? That’s my question. Someone is going to have to pay for it—it would be my guess we’ll have increased taxes, but that is just a guess.”
Carper added that many healthy people are choosing to accept the fine of $95 for the first year to go without insurance because they will be able to get insurance after they get sick, as no pre-existing conditions can cause a denial of insurance. She estimated that there has been a dramatic decrease of healthy people signing up because of the new laws. Carper also pondered how the state is going to pay for the sick’s health insurance if no healthy people are signing up.
Dr. Jeff Tharp, veterinarian at Holyoke Veterinary Service, recently lost his coverage through the American Veterinary Association Group and Health Life Insurance Trust, where he had been receiving health coverage for more than three decades. He found himself in the position many other veterinarians across the country are facing as they try to find a similar policy. It didn’t take long for Tharp to realize that for the same services, he was going to have to pay a lot more.
“As all insurance has over the past decade, it had gone up a little bit every year but was still what I deemed reasonable,” Tharp explained. “One of the first things I found out was that basically for the same coverage that I did have, going a different route ultimately is going to cost me more, potentially double my insurance cost. With what is being deemed affordable health care, the question becomes affordable for whom, because it is costing me more for the same product, basically.”
As premiums are based on income, Tharp said he essentially is paying more so that someone else can save money.
With the uncertainty of the laws, many businesses have had to change their approach to the way they deal with health care insurance. Many organizations are still waiting to hear from their insurance providers to determine the best route to take in these unfamiliar times.
Mike Neill, State Farm Insurance agent in Holyoke and Yuma, said the new laws have made it more difficult to write health insurance. He stated that he has been reducing the amount of new health care policies he handles. With the changes, Neill said he has concentrated his efforts on other lines of insurance.
John Ayoub, administrator at Melissa Memorial Hospital, stated that while MMH has no plans of dropping any employees from the health plan, there is a common fear that organizations are going to stop offering health insurance. With that in mind, Ayoub said MMH took a proactive approach to the topic. Recognizing there may be an increase in prices, the question became what could they do to keep premiums down.
“As an organization, we try to encourage ways to lead a healthy lifestyle,” Ayoub said. “We try to wear the same face internally as we do externally. When I talk about a healthy community, I don’t just mean outside the doors of the hospital; I want our people to be healthy as well.”
Encouraging employees to quit smoking and lose weight, providing the physical therapy gym for employee use and offering education through providers have all been approaches taken by the hospital.
From a personal standpoint, Ayoub noted that there is a misconception that all insurance is the same. He explained that there is a national trend away from defined benefits toward defined contributions. In the past, specific procedures such as a hip replacement may have been covered, now a percentage of that procedure will be covered.
“I see that this is going to be more confusing for people,” Ayoub commented. “People are going to have to play a more integral role in their insurance.”
To help aid with the confusion, MMH is looking to add a financial adviser to the business department to help make the transition as easy as possible.
With the ever-changing insurance policies, more and more people are finding themselves in predicaments they never expected.
Holyoke Enterprise December 12, 2013
Kramer meets birth family after 26 years
Written by Darci Tomky
“Being adopted never defined me—it was just a part of me.”
26-year-old Katie Kramer grew up with great parents, a life she loves and a world that she wouldn’t change for anything.
That’s why meeting her birth mom, a brother she knew she had and siblings she had never heard of has been “a little weird” for Katie the last few months.
Katie and her husband Chad Kramer, who live in rural Holyoke, began thinking about starting a family of their own, raising questions in Katie’s mind about medical history in her biological family.
Katie was adopted at birth in California by Mike and Patty Lewine, and although she always knew she was adopted, she had never met her birth mom or the older brother she had heard about.
She had questions about medical history only her biological family could answer. “You just have to do what’s best for you,” Katie advised others who have been adopted. “You have to have real questions” before going in search of birth parents, she said.
Earlier this year in late August/early September, Katie visited her parents for 10 days. Patty lives in Jackson, Calif., and Mike and Katie’s stepmom Karen Hunt live in Napa, Calif.
They were supportive of Katie’s desire to find her birth mom, and Patty began helping Katie look for her on the Internet, which Katie wasn’t expecting.
Katie Kramer, pictured at left with husband Chad, has been recently
connected with her biological family after being adopted at birth
26 years ago in California.
She also wasn’t expecting Patty to find her birth mom on Facebook within days after Katie had left California to return home to Holyoke and her job at First Pioneer National Bank.
Katie sent a friend request to Laurie DeLattore, thinking to herself, “I really hope you are the person I think you are.”
Laurie accepted the Facebook request, thinking that Katie was someone else. She was a little surprised to get a message asking if she had given a baby up for adoption 26 years ago.
Katie was also thrilled to find Jeremy on Facebook, her brother who is 18 months older than her, but she still didn’t know if she was ready to connect with him or her birth mom over the phone.
“Just put your big-girl pants on and do it!” encouraged her husband Chad.
The resulting three-hour phone conversation with her brother was a blessing to Katie, who found out just how much she had in common with Jeremy, despite having never met him before.
A week later she was able to talk with her birth mom Laurie on the phone.
Laurie still lives in Lodi, Calif., where Katie was born. Unknowingly, she had grown up a couple hours away from her birth mom. She said her parents had sent Laurie Christmas cards until Katie was around 10 years old, thinking Laurie had moved away without a forwarding address, when really she had only moved to a different part of town.
Katie learned she has more family than she ever knew. Laurie is married to Steve, who adopted Jeremy and is the father of Katie’s two half sisters April, 23, and Dominique, 18.
Later this fall, Katie got to meet her birth mom when Laurie was on a road trip to see relatives in Colorado and Alliance, Neb., ironically so close to Katie’s new home in Holyoke.
They only spent a few hours together, which was enough for Katie for the first time. She described it as a bit “nerve-wracking,” not quite sure what to expect from the meeting.
This November, Katie traveled to California to see Laurie and meet her siblings. She said she was more comfortable around the other kids. “There were no expectations,” she said.
Katie, who was an only child with her adopted parents, has really connected to Jeremy. Since she knew about him growing up, he was always a missing piece of her life, and there was an empty hole that he could fill.
“There wasn’t a hole for Laurie to fill because I have a mom,” said Katie.
“You’re my mom, always have been, always will be,” she said of her adopted mom Patty.
In the months since she met her birth mom, Katie felt like Laurie was pushing her faster than she could go, almost like she was trying to make up for the last 26 years.
“I have to be grateful because it’s because of her that I’m here, but I can’t let her dictate my life,” said Katie. “I do want to get to know her, but I need it to be on my terms,” she said after some advice from Pastor Gary Rahe.
“It’s the hardest decision to give up a child, but it’s the most selfless,” said Katie. When 22-year-old Laurie became pregnant with Katie, and Katie’s dad was out of the picture, she didn’t think she could give Katie and 9-month-old Jeremy a good life as a single mom. “She wanted to give us both the best chance at life,” said Katie.
In the meantime, Mike and Patty were distraught about not being able to have children and were having trouble finding a child to adopt. “It was hard on them because they wanted a child so badly,” said Katie.
The Lewines found Laurie a month before Katie was born, and even though she was adopted at birth, it wasn’t official for three months. In California, there was a set period of time for the birth parents to take their child back, and although Laurie considered it, Katie stayed with her new adopted parents.
“They could give me the time, the love, the life that Laurie couldn’t,” said Katie. “You might be adopted, but this is your family.”
She had gone back and forth about wanting to meet her birth family when she was younger, and her parents had chosen a closed adoption, so Laurie didn’t have the option of contacting Katie until she was 18, which is when she moved to Colorado to attend school at Colorado State University.
Katie never had any of the problems that adopted kids often have, and it did not upset her to find out that Laurie still had a family. “Had I not had such a good life, it might have bothered me,” she said. “I love my life. I wouldn’t change it.”
She is continuing on the journey of getting to know her birth family, still wondering just how to even call them family when they are still much like strangers to her.
Jeremy, his wife and two kids are planning a visit to Colorado to see Katie next summer during a long road trip, but much of the future is still unknown to Katie.
“They are good people,” she said of her birth family, and when looking back on this whirlwind journey, she has decided, “It was worth it.”
Holyoke Enterprise December 12, 2013
Need for animal shelter examined as loose dog problems persist in town
Written by Kyle Arnoldy
With a pair of recent dog attacks and limited legal options to deal with negligent dog owners, the importance of an animal shelter once again returned to the spotlight at the Tuesday, Dec. 3 Holyoke City Council meeting.
A letter from Jan Stoddard fueled the discussion as loose dogs have become a public concern. The letter urged the city to develop stricter laws to deal with loose dogs before biting incidents occur.
Holyoke Police Chief Doug Bergstrom noted that the current procedure for handling dog-at-large incidents is a warning for the owner on the first occurrence, a $50 fine on the second, a $75 fine on the third and the owner being sent to court on the fourth.
Mayor Orville Tonsing asked if it was possible to raise the fees, but city attorney All Wall said an ordinance provides procedures for picking up dogs at large, not for setting a fee schedule.
Board members noted that there is currently no distinction in the law between dogs at large and vicious dogs.
“So the key here is to have a dog pound,” council member Scott Murray stated. “I feel like we should start doing something with these vicious dog bites at least. It just blows my mind that we don’t have anything stronger for enforcement laws.”
Constructing an animal shelter within a city pole shed was discussed in the spring, but the high winds from the April storm demolished the building.
Constructing an animal shelter would be an expensive task, as pointed out by multiple council members at the meeting. Other town procedures for shelters, as well as requirements and regulations regarding a housing unit were also discussed.
It would also be expensive to feed dogs taken in and those who are not adopted out would be the responsibility of the city. A no-kill shelter would likely be a financial burden as dogs, especially those with a violent past, would be hard to find families for and could be the city’s responsibility for a lengthy time.
“We’re all pretty much in agreement that something needs to be done,” Tonsing said.
The dog responsible for multiple attacks in October has since been returned to its former owner in Nebraska. The owner entered a plea of guilty to ownership of a dangerous dog and to dog-at-large charges. Misdemeanor fines for the owner have been lifted with conditions of probation stating that the dog is not allowed back in Colorado and that restitution is paid in full.
MMH seeks options for tower height restrictions
Melissa Memorial Hospital administrator John Ayoub attended Tuesday’s meeting to discuss possible options regarding tower height restrictions set forth in an ordinance passed by council members in June.
The ordinance limited towers constructed within city limits to be no taller than 50 feet.
A proposed 80-foot tower by Viaero Wireless on the northeast corner of the hospital’s property, along Evans Avenue and Gordon Street, would allow MMH to run fiber connection from the building to the tower. This would give MMH the ability to access a wireless backup system if an Internet outage were to occur.
Ayoub wanted to make clear that he was attending the meeting on behalf of MMH and was not representing Viaero Wireless or any other business.
With MMH going live with the electronic medical records in September 2012, MMH has examined outlets in which to ensure those records are easily accessible.
Ayoub noted that while Internet outages are rare (he estimated only a few in the past year and a half), the hospital relies on the Internet to access patient information. As the hospital moves further away from backup paper records, maintaining a secure Internet source is crucial.
When considering the tower location, Ayoub said being a good neighbor was a priority for the hospital. The location ensures that trenching through residential property would not be necessary to connect to the tower, and the tower would not lie directly next to anyone’s house. It also would not interfere with the airport or MMH helipad and would be the same height as the nearby baseball field lights.
At this point, Ayoub stated he wasn’t sure if a 50-foot tower would work. With the limits, more towers will be needed for full coverage, and the position of the towers may not be as ideal for neighbors.
Mayor Tonsing informed Ayoub that council members will have to research the situation more before making a decision but stated that he believes allowing towers to be placed around town with no restrictions would be a major disaster.
Annual appropriations ordinance approved
Council members approved the final reading of the annual appropriations ordinance for 2014. Appropriations are necessary to defray expenses and liabilities for the city.
Board members agreed to allow city clerk/treasurer Kathy Olofson to certify the mill levy at 21.8 mills (21.2 General, .6 for Volunteer Fire) and to adjust the revenue in the 2014 budget to reflect the assessor’s final valuation of $14,764,137.
Total appropriations for the budget is $7,695,179. The general and utility fund take up the largest percentage of the budget at $3,871,256 and $3,499,085 respectively.
Other appropriations are as follows:
Sale of Heginbotham Land $150
Equipment Replacement $242,040
Library Land $500
Cemetery Perpetual Care $3,670
Fire Pension $19,675
Massman Memorial $100
Cemetery White/Leeper Memorial $65
Conservation Trust $54,078
LeBlanc Estate $4,560
Capital Reserve $0
Spindler Library $0
City superintendent Mark Brown reported that there had been one power outage since the Tuesday, Nov. 19 meeting. It occurred along South Baxter Avenue on Thursday, Nov. 28 and was caused by a squirrel on the transformer.
When Wall brought up floodplain regulations, Brown stated that if the city were to adopt the regulations, he believes an engineer needs to be hired to oversee the process.
Brown noted that the process is going to be difficult as much of the city falls within the 100-year floodplain. He added that several hundred people fall in the floodplain by just a few inches and may actually be 1,000 feet from the creek.
Bergstrom reported that from Nov. 14-26, the Holyoke Police Department had generated 51 calls for service, made one arrest, gave out one citation, wrote two reports and issued several warnings.
In other business Dec. 3, the council:
—approved to offer two individual vacation days as door prizes for employees at the Christmas party.
Holyoke Enterprise December 12, 2013
Audit shows school fund balance at $1.4 million
Written by Brenda Johnson Brandt
Holyoke School District Re-1J ended the 2012-13 year with a fund balance of $1,397,733, according to the audit report presented by Scott Szabo at the Dec. 3 school board meeting.
The audit by Lauer, Szabo & Associates, PC was scheduled for the Dec. 11 board meeting agenda for approval.
Szabo cited at last week’s meeting that the 2012-13 year began July 1, 2012 with a beginning fund balance of $1,608,464. The audit showed a loss of $210,731, which was very close to the budgeted loss of $200,000.
A series of graphs and charts were reviewed, outlining the changes the district has gone through over the past four fiscal years.
Showing gradual drops in the general fund balance, the chart showed a fund balance of $1,688,262 at the end of the 2008-09 year, dropping to this year’s $1,397,733.
In the CPA firm’s unqualified opinion, Szabo stated that the financial statements of the district are fairly presented in accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the U.S.
Student demographics reviewed
Student numbers for 2013-14 were reviewed and explained by Superintendent Bret Miles at last week’s meeting.
The actual number of K-12 students in the district this year is 568, which is down 23 from last year’s count.
The certified count, which tabulates kindergarten students as half-students and includes preschool special education students, is at 593 for 2013-14, down from 630 last year. The funded full-time equivalent is 563.5.
The good news is that by using a three-year average of certified funding counts, the averaged pupil count is 587.5 for 2013-14, compared to 587.7 last year.
Miles said the student demographics note that 50 percent of the population is non-white, which is the highest percentage ever for the Holyoke School District.
Forty-six percent of the students qualify for a free or reduced-price meal, which is down 3 percent from last year.
Additionally, Miles pointed out that 25 percent of the students are English Language Learners, which also marks the highest percentage ever for the district.
Citing implications from the summary, Miles said that even a slightly lower pupil count, along with the negative factor, presents budget challenges going forward.
He also pointed out that student achievement goals are more difficult to achieve when students are impacted by poverty and are learning a second language.
With optimism, Miles said there’s no reason to lower goals. They’ll just need to continue to adjust strategies and resources for the student population.
In other business at the Dec. 3 meeting, the Re-1J board:
—accepted the resignation of elementary school paraprofessional Lisa Davis.
—adopted a revised bank resolution with changes in approved signatures following the recent change in board officers.
—scheduled a board retreat for Wednesday, Jan. 22.
Holyoke Enterprise December 12, 2013