Monday, December 21, 2009

"Why can't boys be doctors?"


When I write my family's annual holiday card letter, I'm writing for two audiences. The first consists of our far-flung friends and family, the people we no longer get to see on a regular basis. The second group is composed of my three children—or, rather, my children's future selves. My hope is that my yearly recaps will help them remember their childhoods and our lives together.


I can't fit the following tidbit into the letter (I keep my year-in-reviews to one page), but I think it's something readers here will appreciate, especially if they have a daughter.


Earlier this year, the elder of my seven-year-old twins (i.e. the one who is at varying times age 17 or 37) asked me, "Why can't boys be doctors?"

As I responded that "boys" could in fact be doctors, and reminded her of some of the male doctors we knew, I realized that all of her doctors—her pediatrician, dentist, orthodontist—are women.

When I explained that there was a time when all doctors were men, and that women weren't allowed to go to medical school, she exclaimed, "What!? Are you kidding me?"


What was once the norm (men as doctors, women not) made no sense to her, just as it wasn't making sense to her that boys, because they are boys, might be prohibited from becoming doctors.

This daughter and I had a similar conversation during the presidential inauguration. She understood that George W. Bush was leaving as president and that Barack Obama was becoming the president, but she wanted to know when "the lady" was president. (She had seen Hillary Clinton on TV during the campaign and vaguely knew she had already lived in the White House.)

I replied that the United States has never had a female president. That answer of course led to the question, "Why not?"

After a lengthy discussion about the history of womanhood in America, Ms. Ava asked when our country would have a "girl president." I said I didn't know.

"It might not be until you're a grown-up," I answered. "In fact, it might be you."

She smiled.


Pictured, in a 2004 snapshot: A future commander-in-chief?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Just one hospital bill ...


I never take having health insurance for granted.

I volunteer at a health clinic where I routinely take phone calls from uninsured people canceling their appointments because, as the date nears, they realize they won't have the cash on hand to pay for the office visit. (Even though patients are charged on a sliding scale based upon income, everyone needs to to pay something.)

I recall the hardship of not having health insurance as a child, when both my father and stepfather were laid off from their corporate jobs. Although my mother and stepmother both worked, neither received employer-sponsored insurance nor earned enough to pay for coverage on the open market.


I won't ever forget the years I had to pay for health insurance premiums from dollar one because although I worked, and my husband worked, we didn't have employer-subsidized group health insurance.


Earlier today I received an Explanation of Benefit Payments from my insurance company. I was again reminded of how fortunate my family is to have employer-sponsored health insurance (which we do through my husband's job)—and how disastrous it would be if we didn't.


My son had outpatient surgery a few weeks ago. The hospital costs for that procedure: $10,842.85.

Because our insurer has a "negotiated reimbursement" rate plan with the hospital, the "allowed amount" for my son's care is $1,503.

Because we've already met our family deductible and out-of-pocket maximum, I need to pay just $300 for the hospital services. The insurance company will reimburse the hospital for $1,203.

If we didn't have insurance, as many families don't, my husband and I would be staring at a $10,842.85 hospital bill for our son's surgery.

I don't fully understand why there's such a vast difference between what an insurance company is invoiced and what an uninsured individual is charged and required to pay. But I do understand how just one hospital bill, from one surgery, can catapult a family into spiraling debt.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Fame as a career path


This week's "I Want to Be Famous" Hall of Shame winners are (so far) White House party crashers Michaele and Tareq Salahi.

The Salahis claim to have been invited to last Tuesday's State Dinner. Media reports are that the couple are aspiring socialites and serial celebrity-chasers who want to land a TV deal with Bravo. (The buzz is that they're lobbying to be on
Real Housewives of D.C.) Click here to see photo after photo of the Salahis nuzzling up to celebrities ranging from Oprah to Star Jones to Bill Clinton to Willard Scott to John McCain.

I covered celebrities when I worked at People and LIFE magazines and the only souvenir snapshot I have is a Polaroid test shot of me with Tom Brokaw's dog. I considered it unprofessional to ask a "star" to pose for a picture with me. Silly me.


The Salahis' tale of audacity and self-promotion has made me think:

1) If it's that easy to get into a White House party, I should go to one. I live in the Washington D.C. area, I'm a supporter of the president, and I could wear the gown I wore to an inaugural ball last January. (I'm a D.C. nobody, so it's not like anyone would even notice me wearing the same dress twice.)


2) If it's that easy to get so close to the president (see the photo with the Salahis, above), I'm concerned for Barack Obama's safety.


3) If adults like the fortysomething Salahis are so eager for fame and proximity to celebrity, what are the chances our children will be satisfied living normal, unglamorous, workaday lives?

That last scenario may sound like I'm jumping from A to Z, but the question has been bugging me for some time, long before the Salahis, long before the "balloon boy" scam by the TV-show-desirous Heene family of Colorado.

I flip through television channels today and think it's a miracle that every teenage girl and boy doesn't grow up wanting to be a reality show star or involved in some sort of attention-grabbing scandal. Too often, fame and fortune for doing nothing (or nothing good) seems a viable career path.

Before, during and after my brief tenure as an editor at People, I cringed whenever a celebrity made a magazine cover because he/she ... [pick one] was involved in a sex, drug and/or alcohol-related escapade ... revealed a secret past ... acted out ... said something outlandish.

Foibles = Fame (and, to fallen stars, Foibles = Renewed Fame)


I was employed at
People on September 11. At the time, my colleagues and I were gearing up to work on the annual "Sexiest Man Alive" issue. After the events of that day, I was convinced that Americans would shun such frivolity. I thought we would become smarter, more concerned, more insistent on substance, more aware of the real life issues of our world. I was astonishingly wrong. Reality shows and D-List celebrity erupted. Instead of living in the real world, the masses (and the media?) craved the escapism of star-gazing and the grand promises of fame.

So much of daily life is now spent making ourselves known. Through Facebook, through Twitter, through LinkedIn, through blogs. (Like this one, which I created for my book. I'm guilty, too.)
In an age when most every celebrity gets a book deal just because they're a celebrity, I'm still amazed and appreciative that a real publisher paid any attention to me. And in case anyone actually doesn't know, most celebrities don't write their own books—or create their own perfumes, or design the clothing lines that flaunt their name and fill their coffers.

So many celebrities are now famous simply for being famous, and they're wealthy because of it. Many people are rewarded (with fame, money, influence) for saying and doing outrageous or inappropriate things. In contrast, many "regular" people who do
good, meaningful, useful work, aren't fully satisfied by uncelebrated toils. They, too, want their name in the paper, their face on TV. They want the "success" of fame.

***
Post script, December 20: Syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman makes similar observations in her December 17 column, "Hooked on Shame," which was inspired in part by the characters who have emerged courtesy of the Tiger Woods "situation." (Alas, Tiger's tales unceremoniously bumped the Salahis from the spotlight.) Newsweek's December 12 cover story also addresses the topic.

Photo Credit: The White House

Monday, November 23, 2009

Book preview: "Courageous Parenting"

As I've mentioned before, I'm honored to have been asked to write a chapter for the upcoming anthology Courageous Parents, Confident Kids, which is the brainchild of Amy Tiemann, author of Mojo Mom.

Last week's story in Time magazine about overparenting (the plastic wrap boy at right appears in a photo from the article) touches on the issues the book will be addressing. As Amy explains, "Our goal with Courageous Parenting is to expand the conversation by not only providing inspiration to raise independent kids, but also the skills and strategies that parents need in order to do so."

This new
anthology will be published in April 2010 in paperback and e-book form. If you register with Real Life Support for Moms — by sending a "Sign Me Up" email to CP [at] LifeSupportForMoms.com (I'm not printing the actual @ address to protect against spammers) I'll send you a free copy of the Courageous Parents, Confident Kids e-book as soon as it's released.

Amy's goal for the book is that it will improve families' lives by showing how parents can prepare for and encourage their children's growing independence—and not lose themselves in the process.


Here's the line-up of
book's writers and what we'll each be talking about:
I. The Courage to Invest in Your Own Development
  • Tools for Career Reinvention, by Kella Hatcher and Maryanne Perrin, co-founders of Balancing Professionals consulting.
II. Developing Your Courageous Parenting Style
  • The Power of Personal Significance for Kids of All Ages by Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, offering local and online parent training.
  • I’m Worried I Worry Too Much But How Do I Stop? by Jamie Woolf, author of Mom-in-Chief.
III. Real World Safety Skills for All
IV. Finding your voice and raising it for the community
  • Mom Bloggers Raising Their Political Voices by Joanne Bamberger, author of the PunditMom blog.

  • Activist Parents: Challenge and Progress Through the Eyes of MomsRising.org by Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, co-founder of MomsRising.org
Says Amy: "I have spent years developing relationships with these talented experts. Each and every one of them has changed my life in a significant way, and they have the potential to so for you, too!"

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Team Edward's Cougar Den: The movie version of New Moon will have moms purring


New Moon opens on Friday! The following essay, which I wrote as a walk-up to the movie's release, was featured at BettyConfidential.com on Monday. (Here's the link to that fun website.) BettyConfidential titled the article "Confessions of a Mom who loves Twilight." I'm fine with that, even though the piece isn't just about me. Really, I have company in this addiction.
***

If all goes as planned, I will have seen the film version of New Moon, the second book in Stephenie Meyer’s teenage-vampire romance series, twice by 3 p.m. on the movie’s November 20 opening day. After attending the midnight premiere with hoards of screaming teenage girls and young women, and several of my friends (mostly 40-something mothers), I’ll join another pal at the first daytime show, which, since we’re both underemployed and job hunting, we’ll attend while our children and most teens are at school. Like other Twilight devoteés, I bought my tickets weeks in advance.


In the 12 months since I was clued into the Twilight phenomenon (yes, I was a latecomer), I’ve determined that Twilight’s older readers call ‘em the 30-plus crowd fall into two camps beyond the typical Team Edward and Team Jacob divisions.


In the first camp are the women who are not just smitten, but consumed by Edward and Bella’s romance. (And they likely have a deep crush on Edward Cullen, especially as depicted by actor Robert Pattinson, 23, which they can justify as being non-creepy because the forever 17-year-old Edward is actually more than 100 years old.) These “pumas” and “cougars” read all four books in a matter of days. They’ve seen Twilight, the first movie, multiple times. They’ve downloaded the PDF of Midnight Sun, Meyer’s partial manuscript of Twilight from Edward’s point of view, and they’re likely furious about the author’s decision to not finish the book because her artistic integrity was violated when someone she trusted leaked the draft. (Oh, pu-leeze, Stephenie, get over it already. Finish Midnight Sun and then retell the three other books in Edward’s voice. He’s so much more interesting than Bella!)


Once all official Twilight paths have been traveled, these seemingly mature women join Twilight chat rooms, watch Twilight trailers and fan-made films on YouTube, and search the Internet for articles like this one about mothers who are obsessed with all things Twilight.


In the other camp are the women who, even though they read at least the first book or saw the first movie, remain unmoved by the stories and are actually getting on with their lives.


Teenagers and other young women who have crushes on Edward (or Jacob, or the actors who play them) are enthralled by the fantasy, and the possibility of themselves finding true love. Their enthusiasm isn’t hard to understand. But my mom-friend Darlene has a theory about why some grown women are, as Bella declares about herself, “unconditionally and irrevocably in love with” Edward Cullen, and why others don’t succumb to his charms.


“The women who love Edward and Twilight are the ones who had a passionate love affair when they were younger,” explains Darlene. According to her theory, Twilight takes them back to those feelings — of wanting someone so badly and being wanted by him, of feeling desired, cared for, protected. Women who never had those passionate feelings can’t relate in the same way to Edward and Bella’s love story. “They don’t miss what they never had,” she says. “We miss what we had.”


That last part is the rub — “what we had.” I was 19 when I met my husband, he was 20. So much of Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn reminds me of our shared moments: the initial infatuation and hesitancy to get involved, the push-and-pull to change or not change the other person, the private moments and celebrations, the struggles and battles of will, the forced separations and the reunions. In the course of daily, grown-up life, it becomes hard for couples to remember life before babies and bosses, bills and to-do lists, beer bellies and drooping boobs.


(Okay, yuck, sorry about that last unpleasant image. Quick, get it out of your head by looking at this picture of Edward / Rob Pattinson!)


As for the other part of Darlene’s theory that the Twilight-immune are passion deprived — I’ve since found myself wondering about the past and present love lives of those who can resist. In some cases, I think Darlene might be right.


I know that seeing the New Moon movie will reignite the addiction I shook only a few months ago, but I won’t be alone. I’ve made friends — both through the Internet and in person — with dozens of women who can’t quit Edward. And I enjoy the multi-generational commonality among the Twilight obsessed. I can talk minutia about the books and films and soundtracks with everyone from my friends’ tween and teen daughters to the college-age girls I work with at my part-time job. Seeing my enthusiasm, my mature-beyond-her-seven-years Bella-lookalike daughter (really!) is interested in the characters and my recitation of the stories.


I also take great comfort in the kind words of my 17-year-old neighbor, Lexi, who, when I mocked my fascination with the books, especially since they were written for teenage girls, said, “Oh, no, the books are for you. Stephenie Meyer is a mom and she wrote the stories for herself as much as she did for people my age.”


Yes, Lexi, she did. (And you go right on thinking that the 35-year-old Stephenie Meyer and I are the same age.)


P..S. Check out the Twilight: New Moon opening weekend chat fest at TheMotherhood.com.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Upcoming Book: "Courageous Parenting"


I am honored to have been selected to write a chapter for Amy Tiemann's upcoming anthology Courageous Parents, Confident Kids, which will be published in April by Spark Press. Amy, who is the author of Mojo Mom: Nurturing Yourself While Raising a Family (that's her website logo, at left), has welcomed me into an awesome line-up of smart, mom-oriented parenting writers that includes Joanne Bamberger, author of PunditMom.com, Joan Blades and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, founders of MomsRising.org and Emily McKhann and Cooper Munroe, creators of TheMotherhood.com.

I'll post more about Courageous Parents, Confident Kids as we get closer to its release. In the meantime, please check out Amy's podcast interviews with the book's contributors. Here's the link to her interview with me about my chapter, Having the Courage to Become Your Own Parenting "Expert."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Divorce and the Stay-at-Home Mom


Many reviewers of The Stay-at-Home Survival Guide have singled out the book’s financial chapter, "Money Matters," for particular praise. (Thank you to Alexis Turner of The Well-Read Mom for her recent recommendation, posted on her blog as “SAHP Points to Ponder.”) The advice in this post is from my friend Andrea and appeared in that money chapter. I’m posting her words-of-wisdom here so they'll be more easily available to women who might need them. Although Andrea is very open about discussing her divorce, and her subsequent transition from well-to-do stay-at-home mom to less well-off, self-supporting single mom, her last name wasn’t used in the book, and it isn’t here, in order to protect her children’s privacy.
***

After earning her college degree, Andrea married at age 25 and stopped working, as an administrative assistant, when she had her first child the following year. Her second child arrived 17 months after that. Almost eight years into her marriage, Andrea discovered that her husband was having an affair. By age 35 she was divorced and living on her own with two children.


"Coming from a long line of solid marriages, divorce was something I never expected to touch my life. But it arrived smack at my doorstep when my husband found himself unable to resist an old flame who got a job working at his company. He and I spent months in couple’s therapy and the better part of a year trying to get past this bump in the road of our marriage. In the end, he couldn’t get past her. So I got a backbone and started divorce proceedings.


When I was warned that getting a divorce could take up to two years, I laughed at the absurdity of it taking so long. Well, two years later, the final papers were finally signed. I lived through a hell I wish on no woman (well, maybe just one woman), but I’ve come out stronger, wiser and even better off emotionally than I’ve ever been.


No one plans for divorce, wants it, or comes out unscarred from it. Sadly, the statistics are such that being as naïve as I was about it happening to me was foolishly unrealistic. You have insurance for your house and car. Here’s some insurance for yourself:


Handle the Household Finances: You’re essentially the Chief Operating Officer of your household—become the Chief Financial Officer as well. Being unaware, uneducated, and uninvolved with how your family’s money is handled, where it goes, and how much even exists is simply ignorant. In a divorce situation, it can cost you hours, and thousands of dollars, to sort through bills, estate planning papers, insurance, investments, you name it. To protect yourself and your children (as it’s often the mom’s job to do this in a divorce), you need to take care of your family’s finances yourself, or else have a strong handle on what’s happening with your household’s money.


Keep Good Records and Files: Be vigilant about good recordkeeping—of household bills, legal documents, insurance policies, mortgage papers, tax returns. In general, it’s a good idea to have proper files, but if your marriage goes off course, such records will make the legal process much smoother.


Have Some Money of Your Own: If at all possible, keep a fund tucked away for yourself that is accessible only by you. Add to the account, in any amount, regularly. Divorce attorneys generally require a sizable retainer up front. If you wind up never needing an attorney, all the better. You can someday splurge on yourself for saving so well.


Own a Car in Your Name: If your name isn’t on the title to your car, and the break-up with your spouse gets acrimonious, you could lose access to the vehicle during or after the divorce. If your household owns more than one car, try to have at least one (preferably paid-off) vehicle titled in your name.


Keep Your Résumé Current: Every little thing you do as a stay–at–home mom (such as when you organized the community yard sale) builds your skills set. Even if you’re only volunteering, you can list those efforts and achievements on your résumé as examples of your marketable experience.


Know that Alimony Isn’t Automatic: Divorce settlements aren’t always as supportive as you’d expect toward a spouse who either left her career to care for children, reduced her working hours, or never had as lucrative a job as her mate’s. A typical alimony award extends for roughly half the duration of a marriage.


You’re a Partner, Not a Dependent: Just because you’re not earning an income doesn’t mean you’re not an equal contributor to the family. You work for your family and your home is your office. You need to have an equal say and awareness in all financial decisions."


About three years have passed since Andrea contributed to my book. Although her ex pays child support, she no longer receives alimony and is working two part-time jobs that are conducive to her children's schedules. Her ex and his girlfriend live in a luxury, waterfront home; Andrea and the kids live in a modest house. Following are three more "cold-water-in-the-face" realities about stay-at-home motherhood and divorce:


Education Costs: Because parents are not required to support a child past age 18, a father can legally refuse to finance or contribute to his child's college education. If you’re a stay-at-home or divorced mom who’ll want her kids to go to college, do what you can to ensure that money is being set aside.


Health Care and Insurance: Once a divorce is final, a woman will no longer be covered by her ex’s employer-provided medical insurance. (Hopefully, the employed ex will still cover the kids.) Unless she finds a full-time job with benefits, or provisions have been made in the divorce agreement for providing or financing her health insurance, a newly single, former stay-at-home mom has to buy insurance for herself on the individual market. Unlike with an employer sponsored plan, which cannot discriminate, the individual insurance market can pick and choose who it will insure. A woman’s weight, age, reproductive capacity, mental health and medical history (those nasty pre-existing conditions!) will be examined in order to determine whether a policy will be issued and at what price. Alas, the divorce-related counseling visits with the therapist, and the anti-depression and anti-anxiety meds a woman may have used to cope as her world crumbled, could become a death-knell to obtaining coverage. One of the many reasons I’m for healthcare reform (e.g. no discrimination against “pre-existing conditions”)—and a public option people can buy into—is because women are much more likely than men are to be uninsured—or lose their health insurance—due to divorce or underemployment. Remember, the family-friendly jobs many mothers need are low-paying and don’t come with benefits.


Gender Bias: Amazingly enough, marital infidelity is not considered a big deal anymore. Adultery alone will not result in the philander being financially punished or inconvenienced for his (or her) deeds. Similarly amazing is that a stay-at-home mom's education, age and attractiveness can be considered by a judge and a dueling couple's attorneys when negotiating an alimony settlement. A woman who already has a college degree isn't considered as needful as one who has to go back to school in order to earn an income after a divorce. (Never mind that this woman might have married right out of college and spent the past decade caring for children rather than building a résumé.) If that college grad mom is also young (20s to mid 30s) and physically appealing, she can be viewed as having time to make up for the years she was out of the job market and, save that, she's still sexy enough to land another spouse. Yes, I was stunned when a friend shared that tidbit about her divorce.


Postscript: While this blog post is all about women and divorce, it should be noted that much of the above applies to stay-at-home parents in general, whether the person is female or male.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Make sure your baby isn't too thin to be insured

So just days after reports about the four-month-old Colorado baby who was deemed "too fat" to be insured by Rocky Mountain Health Plans (click here to see that post, from October 12), we learn that United HealthCare declared a fellow Colorado toddler too thin to be insured.

In this case, the little girl, Aislin, age two, weighed in at 22 pounds. Although Aislin's doctors say she's perfectly healthy, and her small size is due to her genes and petite frame, United HealthCare determined that the child did not meet its height and weight standards. The insurer also noted that Aislin's parents had sought treatment for the child's finicky eating habits. (Warning to all parents: Picky eating is now a pre-existing condition.)

As happened with the "fat baby," once the insurance company's decision was exposed by the media, the insurer suddenly rescinded its denial. Hours after Aislin and her family appeared on the Today show, United HealthCare issued a statement saying, “As part of our standard appeals process, we undertook additional review of Aislin Bates’ medical records and determined, in fact, we can offer her health insurance coverage.”

TV programming devoted to exposing sinister health insurance company denials could make for a new reality series or, better yet, a 24-hour cable network. Sadly, the channel might never run out of material.

P.S. If you haven't already seen it, check out this Daily Show clip for Jon Stewart's humorous, yet biting, commentary about the allegedly overweight four-month-old. (Declares Stewart: "He's so fat he can't even walk!")

Photo of Aislin provided to the media by her family.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What every stay-at-home mom should know about Social Security and Medicare

The following post, which was uploaded in May, is based in part on the “Money Matters” chapter of my book, The Stay-at-Home Survival Guide. I am re-posting the article now because I'm speaking to a stay-at-home moms club later this month about personal and family finances, and just today a reader emailed me with a question about her future Social Security and Medicare eligibility. I was able to answer her question by visiting www.SocialSecurity.gov, which has a lot of information specific to the complicated retirement issues that impact women.

Every May, in honor of Mother's Day, Salary.com announces how much the work of a stay-at-home mother is worth. Her annual salary, or value, since in the real world the salary is a fantasy: A whopping $122,732. (And that’s based on only 10 job functions typically performed by stay-at-home moms.) It’s nice to be valued.

What isn’t so nice is that although stay-at-home moms are given lip service about their value and importance, full-time stay-at-home motherhood is not recognized in any way as the job it really is. While I’m not saying stay-at-home mothers (and dads) should be paid a salary, per se, it sure would be nice if those years as primary caregivers of young children weren’t so potentially damaging to a full-time parent's future Social Security and Medicare benefits.

(A caveat: For purposes of this discussion, let’s just assume that Social Security will be around when you become eligible to collect retirement benefits. Currently, the age at which people born after 1960 can collect full benefits is 67. Please put out of your mind the possibility that by time you’re 67-years-old the full-benefit age will be 92.)


Here’s the rub: A person’s Social Security benefit—which is the value of the monthly check she will receive in old age—is based on having a total of 35 years of paid employment. F
or each year worked, a certain number of “credits” are provided. You need to have 40 credits to be eligible for your own Social Security retirement and Medicare health insurance benefits. (At the current four credit maximum per year, that requires at least 10 years of employment.) To calculate the value of a person’s retirement benefits, the Social Security Administration totals the earnings from the highest 35 years of income, and then divides that number by 35. Using various rate sheets and tables, that sum is then translated into a benefit. Men generally have no problem meeting or exceeding a work-life of 35 years (unless of course they die). Women have a tougher time.

The unfairness of the benefits formula is that a woman gets zero — zippo, nada, a big N.O.— benefit or recognition for the years she works around the clock as a stay–at–home mom. As women are more likely than men are to step in and out of the workforce, a woman’s 35 years often includes many years of zero or near zero income, which drags down her average and is one of many reasons a woman’s Social Security check is commonly smaller than a man’s.

Naysayers argue that because stay-at-home moms don’t earn an income, they don’t contribute to the economy or the Social Security coffers. A counterargument is that stay-at-home mothers do contribute mightily to the economy as consumers and as part of a taxpaying couple. Because there is no “official” benefits-related recognition of the work of stay-at-home mothers, women (as well as an increasing number of men) are essentially having to choose between their children’s immediate needs and their own need for financial security in old age. Politicians, religious leaders and society-at-large drone on about the importance of family, and the importance of parents, especially mothers, to be at home caring for their children. If we value children, and value women, we need to figure out a way that parenthood doesn't financially harm women.


In an article for the advocacy organization Mothers and More (mothersandmore.org), its president at the time, Kristen Maschka, calculated that by leaving the workforce for seven years to stay home with her child, she would be forfeiting $2,000 a month in future Social Security benefits. “Assuming I live to be eighty-seven,” she writes, “that’s nearly half a million dollars.” (Another great advocacy organization for moms is MomsRising.org.)

The cost of an unpaid stay–at–home career—or a paid career that makes accommodations to parenting responsibilities—varies for each woman.

You can calculate both your future benefits and losses by visiting www.ssa.gov/planners/calculators.htm.

THE 50 PERCENT SOLUTION
In lieu of recognizing that stay–at–home parenting is work, the government allows a married woman to collect off of her spouse’s work history instead, if receiving 50 percent of his benefit amount calculates to being more than 100 percent of hers. (And this scenario is also true in the other direction, with the husband collecting based on his wife’s earnings.) So if a woman and her spouse make it to retirement together and an anniversary of more than a decade of marriage, she can collect either her benefit or, if he's of Social Security age, an amount that’s half of his. For example: If John gets $5,000 a month, Jane gets $2,500, so as a couple living together they bring in $7,500 monthly.

A divorced woman can collect spousal benefits, so long as the marriage lasted 10 years. In such a scenario, a divorced Jane who had 10-plus years vested in a marriage can still claim the 50 percent spousal benefit, but since she’s no longer in the same household as John, unless she remarries, the Social Security income coming into her home is just $2,500 instead of the $7,500 she would have had access to had the marriage not dissolved.

Unfortunately, because of the decade rule, a woman who stayed home with her children for nine years of her nine-year marriage receives no spousal-linked Social Security or Medicare benefits. An unmarried stay–at–home parent who has children with a partner has no protection. If she has her own work history, she may have access to a benefit of her own. But if she were a teenage or young mother and continues to have a minimal employment history, she’s at risk of becoming a very poor old lady.

Another inequity: Stay-at-home parents don’t qualify for private disability insurance because such insurance is for replacing income from work, but sometimes it's their work that needs replacing. If something terrible happens to a stay-at-home mom and she can’t work for a year (as a stay-at-home mom) will her family be able to afford the $122,732 needed to hire her replacement?

For more information about your Social Security eligibility and benefits, visit the Social Security Administration website at www.ssa.gov or www.ssa.gov/women.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Make sure your baby isn't too fat to be insured


Incredibly enough, a health insurance company in Colorado denied coverage to a four-month-old baby because the child measures in the 99th percentile for weight. Born at 8-1/4 pounds, Alex Lange (left, in a photo provided to the media by his family) is now about 17 pounds and 25 inches long. Click here to read the story from The Denver Post.

Apparently, health insurance policies sold on the individual market routinely deny coverage to babes who top the 95th percentile. Chubby babies whose parents have access to insurance through an employer, or other group plan, cannot be denied coverage as those policies are typically not allowed to discriminate or make exclusions for preexisting conditions.

We've all heard that there's an obesity epidemic in the United States, even among children. That's one of the many reasons people need health insurance and medical care, especially preventive care. But the way our insurance and medical system works, those in need of care are precisely the ones for-profit insurers don't want to insure.

By the way, after all the bad press received due to denying insurance to (big) baby Alex, the insurer changed its "mind." (As if companies, not profit-seeking people, make corporate decisions.)
"If health care reform occurs, underwriting will go away. We do it because everybody else in the industry does it," said Dr. Doug Speedie, medical director at Rocky Mountain Health Plans, about the company's initial denial of insurance.

Sounds like underwriting needs to go away.

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P.S. The website MOMocrats just
posted an essay I wrote for them
about health insurance.
Click here to link there.


Friday, October 9, 2009

The latest "truth" about Stay-at-Home Moms


Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that stay-at-home moms are disproportionally low-income, young, non-college educated women, most of whom are Hispanic or foreign-born. According to the statistics, they are women who stay home with children because they have limited skills and limited child care options.

This picture is in sharp contrast to the reports of a few years ago, which depicted the typical stay-at-home mom as an educated, formerly career-oriented woman who, upon marrying well and becoming a mom, decided to quit her job to stay home with her children, nanny and housekeeper.

As in previous work-family discussions and Mommy Wars skirmishes, the theories and questions pour forth: Are educated women who leave the workforce to care for children "opting out," copping out, or being forced out? Are they spoiled rich girls? Are they women without the ability to do anything more than care for children? Are they women who can't participate in the workforce because they have children? (The truth is within all of those statements, and in many not said.)

New York Times blogger Judith Warner made many good points in her recent post "The Choice Myth" (October 9, 2009). I especially appreciated her acknowledgment of how the "all-or-nothing non-choices of our workplaces" often force women into stay-at-home motherhood. Here's a link to her article as well as to a Washington Post blog post of October 2 about the issue.

But my favorite comment among the many posted by readers of Warner's New York Times piece is #238, which was the second to last response before the blog closed for comments.

Herewith I quote "Jen," who sums up why women often feel they're damned if they do, damned if they don't.
"Hmmmm.

You need to have a child before you’re 27 years old, because your fertility decreases after that time.

But…

You should wait until you’re financially stable to have children. And in this economy, you’re not going to be financially stable until you’re at least 40, unless you’re very, very lucky.

But…

Oh! You need to have a baby before you’re 35, because after that age the risk of birth defects really increases.

But…

Don’t get married too young, because you might regret it. Also, don’t have a child on your own. Also, meet all these other conditions in order to be the perfect mother/woman/wife.

OH! And I almost forgot…

If you go back to work after having a child, because you genuinely enjoy your career and may be your family’s primary breadwinner, you’re a bad mother.

Also, if you choose to stay home and be with your child all the time and give up your education and all that you’ve worked for, you’re still a bad mother, for setting a bad example. Even if you’re married.

Have a nice day."
Thanks, Jen, wherever you are.

Image from istockphoto.com

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Among the Top 10 Nations—We're Number 13!?


In the United Nations Development Programme's newly released Human Development Report assessing quality-of-life around the world, the United States placed 13th. The rankings are based on 2007 data (that's before the global economic meltdown) for criteria such as literacy, gross domestic product and "a long and healthy life" as measured by life expectancy.

The three very worst places in the world to live
(from worse to slightly less horrible) among the 182 nations studied: Niger, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone.

Although being 13 out of 182 is in the top 10 percent, it doesn't put the U.S. in the esteemed Top 10. What's interesting about the Top 10 is that those nations have the types of health care systems a vocal segment of our society is screaming against.

Here's the list of the Top 10 nations. Each one features universal health insurance coverage for its citizens (i.e. every person has health insurance and access to medical care).
(1) Norway (2) Australia (3) Iceland (4) Canada (5) Ireland
(6) The Netherlands (7) Sweden (8) France (9) Switzerland
(10) Japan
For instance, Norway treats health care as a government responsibility, like national security.

In nations including Japan, Switzerland, France and the Netherlands, the government provides funding for coverage by private insurers with care from private practitioners.

Canada and Australia combine the two systems by having the government pay for services performed by private practitioners. (The last option is used by Medicare, the widely appreciated U.S. health care plan for senior citizens.)

None among the Top 10 has our employer-based, for-profit health care insurance and delivery system.
"All other industrialized democracies guarantee health care for everybody—young or old, rich or poor, native or immigrants," reports health writer T.R. Reid in a September 21 Newsweek article titled No Country for Sick Men. Another fact from that piece: "22,000 Americans die each year because they lack insurance; likewise, the U.S. is the only developed nation where medical bankruptcies occur."

Although I lived in Japan for a while, and received very good, low-cost health care, and I love Paris, I feel very lucky to live in this country. But having spent time abroad, I can both appreciate what's great about America and recognize what's not. We can learn a lot about fixing our broken health care system by looking abroad. People I know from other countries are surprised that Americans accept the scattered, bankruptcy-inducing system we have, and they're stunned that we're actually fighting with one another about providing a health care safety net for all.

Here's a link to an AFP news story about the UNDP report.

 

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