Rebecca's Blogs

Rebecca's Blogs

Some musings, mental notes and generally some ramblings from author Rebecca Warner.

 

 

Have you ever had a destination in mind, but were waylaid, and ended up where you were really meant to be?

We left for a family Christmas in Louisiana, intending to visit the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Alabama on the way. My husband had confirmed it would be open on December 23rd, so we were there at 10 a.m., waiting for the doors to open.

When we were told by an employee that the Memorial Center would not be open that day, we were of course disappointed. But another, greater opportunity opened up when he suggested we visit Dr. Martin Luther King’s Church, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, one block away.

The church door was locked, so I gave it a short rap. A lovely woman opened the door, and when we told her why we were there, she drew me into her arms for a righteous hug, giving me one of the warmest welcomes I’ve ever received anywhere. She invited us to take in the mural painted on the wall to our left. We were drawn into the mural, studying the images, slowly taking a walk through the tumultuous life of MLK. It was beautiful and painful and unforgettable.

 Would we like to see Dr. King’s office, she asked? I wasn’t sure I understood—did she mean the office in which Dr. King wrote some of the most moving speeches ever voiced? Where he wrote sermons that lifted hope and shifted generational thinking? Surely we couldn’t just walk into that office, could we?

When she ushered us in, I burst into tears. I have no idea what came over me, what powerful, poignant force rushed into my heart so that I was unexpectedly and uncharacteristically crying in the middle of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s office.

She left and came back with tissues, and that’s when she said I could go around his desk and sit in his chair. But I couldn’t, I just couldn’t, because I wasn’t worthy. In one sense, I wanted to, thinking I could absorb the molecules that shimmered in the air around us, the particles that held this man’s essence fifty years later. I wanted to hold onto what I was feeling forever. My husband pointed to a Bible on a shelf, and though I wanted to reach out and touch that lovingly-worn book, I couldn’t. Again, I didn’t feel worthy of touching the Bible MLK used to divine his purpose, and to reckon his spiritual and scholarly understanding with the true meanings within the teachings of Jesus.

My husband and I were raised Christian, but we are not religious people. We don’t attend church. We don’t read the Bible. We simply live by the Golden Rule, and figure that covers most of how Jesus would want us to live. We believe, as Dr. King did, that we are all children of God, and brothers to each other.

But my spirit has been sorely tested this past year, and has become weakened and wearied as I’ve witnessed this administration’s assault on “all God’s children” who aren’t white, or straight, or male, or Christian. I have never been able to reconcile how 80% of Christian Evangelicals voted for a man who not only lies, but spouts racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, and divisive rhetoric as readily as he draws a breath. Even more perplexing to me is how, after a year of his bludgeoning the world with bombastic bigotry, they still support him.

So my Christian soul, formed in childhood and not well-nourished of late, was flagging.

But then, we walked upstairs and stood in the sanctuary where a true Christian, a true man of God, a shepherd, a leader, a teacher and a dreamer sought to make his dream, which was our founding fathers’ dream, "That all men are created equal," come true.

King challenged black Americans to believe in this dream, and to fight for it. He advocated peaceful means, though he understood many black bodies would be given up in the fight, as they had been throughout their history in our “land of the free.”

He challenged white Americans to believe in his dream also, and to fight for it to become a reality through legislation and its enforcement, as well as by living it in word and deed.

The docent—a different woman than the one who greeted us and led us into Dr. King’s office—spoke to us and another couple whom we’d briefly met downstairs. They were black, from Savannah, and on their way to New Orleans. When we met, we shook hands; when we parted, we embraced. And what happened in between was what we needed to revive our belief in the goodness, the kindness, and the true message of Christianity.  

The docent asked us to join hands and sing, “We Shall Overcome.” The man said he wasn’t sure he knew all the words. I said my husband and I had terrible voices. She overrode our protests. We would join hands and sway side to side as we sang, she said, starting on our left foot. Her beautiful voice carried us through our inadequacies. Immediately after, she said, “Someone say a prayer.” Now, I’m the last person who wants to be called upon to lead a prayer. I’m the one who quickly points to someone else at the holiday table and says, “Jim, will you say grace?”

But it was as if a lightning bolt shot through me, from the top of my head to the soles of my feet, and so without hesitation, I uttered the words, “Our dear heavenly Father...” I don’t remember what else I said, but for the first time in my life, I knew what it felt like to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

When I finished, the others exclaimed about the beauty and power of the prayer. The docent called for hugs, even though she didn’t have to, because we were all needing and wanting to embrace each other and relish the feelings of pure love and brotherhood that abided within that sanctuary, and within ourselves.

So yes, on that day, when the door we sought was closed to us, the one we really needed to go through was opened unto us...and what we beheld was glorious.

Tuesday, 09 January 2018 19:19

The 2020 Vision of Oprah as President

Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globes was the unchallenged highlight of the evening. There she was, an icon who was saying the words that had to be said, in a tone that resonated with strength, not rancor, and at a time when we most needed to hear them.

But President?

To hear once again a well-spoken, knowledgeable orator who told the unvarnished truth without rubbing us raw, was like drawing in a breath of fresh air and having it fill our deflated selves. Such an intelligent, on-point speech was reminiscent of President Barack Obama, who not only made sense, but made us think.

Some could say that we are just hungering for an articulate person to state things in a dignified manner. I often read comments that lament the loss of a president who was thoughtful, intelligent, and articulate—and Oprah, true to her character, was certainly all of those things at the Golden Globe Awards.

But President?

Perhaps we’re drawing parallels between the two that lead to the conclusion that if anyone can do the job, it’s the woman who did as much as anyone to put Obama in office.

 Oprah Winfrey bridged the divide between black and white, rich and poor, classy and trashy in this country for more than 25 years. She embodied the sentiment of Rudyard Kipling’s formula for success, foremost among them:

“If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch...”

From residents of the ghettos to residents of the White House, Oprah connected with all on a humanitarian level. More than that, she dispelled a lot of racist and misogynistic misconceptions:

“See, I’m black, but I’m not: 1) a welfare mom; 2) a crackhead; 3) a ho’.”

“See, I’m a woman, but that hasn’t stopped me from achieving every goal I’ve set out to achieve.”

“See, I’m welcomed everywhere and not discriminated against because of the color of my skin.”

With both the implied and spoken tag line....”And you can be, too!”

But President?

“I’m Every Woman,” her theme song for years, induced women of every color and nationality to consider that, inside, we are in fact the same. Our skin color is different, but we harbor many of the same goals, dreams, challenges, disappointments, and the desire to better our lives. Oprah blurred the lines in the coloring book, so that we all bled out onto the same page, making a much more interesting and beautiful picture.

I have stated my belief to whomever would listen to me that, without her helping us to see that blurred lines can result in a more beautiful picture, Barack Obama would not have been elected president.

She saw his potential, and cultivated it. She announced on her show, with an enthusiasm we got caught up in, that she was supporting him for President of the United States. She had been laying down groundwork for the acceptance of people of color in powerful positions, with her being the most worthy of not only our acceptance, but admiration.

So when she pushed Barack Obama’s face into our TV rooms, in living color, and said, “This man!” we believed in him also. She had convinced us over many years that anything was possible, so why couldn’t a black man be president?

We trusted her. We knew she was smart. We knew she overcame adversity and used steely will and determination to build and empire. We admired that she had a glamorous life, but was enormously philanthropic. And she accomplished all of this wearing black skin and having breasts. Oprah shut down our excuses for, “I can’t.”

And that’s what she did again at the Golden Globes. The worldwide reaction to her speech underscores how much power, sway and admiration she still holds in the world. We’ve missed her, and we want to embrace her again.

But President?

Oprah also reminded us that graciousness, class and strength are what we are deserving of in a leader. She looked and sounded like a leader because she is a leader, but she also knows that there are other really smart and capable people who can advise her, as they’ve done in her rise to wealth, fame and power; and she’s not an egomaniac who would ignore that advice.

Does that mean she would make a great president? Let’s ask ourselves: Do we really want someone who is not political in the sense that she knows how to work the gears in D.C.? Do we trust that she could be as brilliant in running the government as she has been in building and running her empire?

Most of all, would she earn our respect as president, just as she earned it as a mogul?

There are some parallels between her and our current president (ouch, quit throwing stuff, hear me out!) Both are well-known public figures, famous for different reasons, but still famous. Both have absolutely no governing experience.  Both are wealthy enough to live a leisurely life, so we have to wonder what would drive them to want the headaches that come with that office.

But President?

But it's the divergence between Trump and Oprah that goes to the core of their characters that makes her a much better choice for president: Oprah wants to unite us; Trump wants to divide us. If Oprah were to run for that office, it would be because she sees a need to bring the country back together, and all that that includes and implies. That’s what she’s done throughout most of her remarkable life. She used the power of her platform to transform the racial, sexual and even the political landscape. She helped empower millions of women from every walk of life, and she knows that those women--because of powerful, misogynistic male politicians--are on the brink of losing their empowerment. She knows we’re sinking back into the quicksand of racism, and we need someone to pull us out before we’re pulled down so far into that gritty vortex that we can’t be rescued.

If Oprah can work her special magic in bringing us together again, then she would be an ideal president, because that's what we need here, now, again, more than anything else in this country--unity, inclusion, and tolerance and respect for diversity. She may not have the political experience, but she has more people experience than possibly anyone on earth. And that’s what the governance of this country is meant to be: Governance of the people, by the people, for the people.

People want their welfare (a life in which they fare well) to be the central consideration of the government; and in that respect, Oprah’s looking mighty good as being the person to give them what they want.

But President? Maybe so.

Sunday, 25 June 2017 19:38

How Low Can They Go?

It disturbs me that with every stroke of his pen, Trump is pulling another plank from the platform that upholds the lower-and-middle classes of this country. From hobbling workers' rights to decimating healthcare, his and the Republican’s policies are making it tougher for people to live with dignity and be fairly paid for their hard work. So many hard-won fights over so many decades are disappearing before our eyes--workers' rights, women's rights, LGBT rights, minority rights, healthcare rights.

Now the Republican-majority House and Senate are proposing a new healthcare law that guts the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and threatens to leave up to 23 million without health care coverage.

Those between the ages of 50 and 64 will see premium rate increases that will drive many of them to forego insurance altogether. Whereas the ACA prohibited charging older people more than three times what young people were charged, the American Health Care Act (AHCA, aka Trumpcare) will increase that difference to five times as much.

The House Republican Trumpcare plan eliminates the income-based tax credits and subsidies available under the ACA, replacing them with age-based tax credits ranging from $2,000 a year for people in their 20s to $4,000 a year for those older than 60.

The Senate plan is different in that tax credits will vary by income at a lower eligibility level than under the ACA. Sounds good, right? But the credits are smaller because their value is tied to the cost of less-generous insurance than under the ACA. What does “less generous” mean? 

 

Currently, insurance companies are required to provide coverage for what the ACA termed, “Health Essentials.” These include:

  • Ambulatory patient services (outpatient care you get without being admitted to a hospital)
  • Emergency services
  • Hospitalization (like surgery and overnight stays)
  • Pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care (both before and after birth)
  • Mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment (this includes counseling and psychotherapy)
  • Prescription drugs
  • Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices (services and devices to help people with injuries, disabilities, or chronic conditions gain or recover mental and physical skills)
  • Laboratory services
  • Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management
  • Pediatric services, including oral and vision care (but adult dental and vision coverage aren’t essential health benefits)

Under the AHCA, states can waive essential health benefit requirements, allowing insurers to exclude coverage for health care products and services.

So while Republicans—and particularly Trump—are promising lower premiums, they’re also allowing the stripping away of basic services we’ve come to expect for our premiums. Take a look at that list again. Imagine not having coverage for prescriptions, laboratory services, or even hospital stays, and tell me how much “savings” one can really expect in paying for health care. The catch is, these services can be covered by health insurance companies, but for each covered service you “order,” you’ll pay dearly.

  • The proposed defunding of Planned Parenthood for one year will affect millions of poor women who rely on the Medicaid-reimbursed care they receive now. 97% of all services provided by Planned Parenthood include basic wellness and early intervention procedures. This, taken from their website, describes what they do to ensure women’s and men’s health.
  • Planned Parenthood health centers focus on prevention: 80 percent of our patients receive services to prevent unintended pregnancy.
  • Planned Parenthood services help prevent an estimated 560,000 unintended pregnancies in a single year.
  • Planned Parenthood provides more than 295,000 Pap tests and more than 320,000 breast exams in a single year, critical services in detecting cancer.
  • Planned Parenthood provides more than 4.2 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including more than 650,000 HIV tests.
  • Planned Parenthood affiliates provide educational programs and outreach to 1.5 million young people and adults in a single year.

The proposed plan makes deep cuts to Medicaid. It ends the Medicaid expansion under the ACA. States will receive less federal Medicaid funding overall. The Senate bill includes deeper Medicaid cuts than the House bill.

These cuts will throw hospitals, doctor’s offices and medical facilities into a tailspin. Expect to see rural-to-mid-sized hospitals close their doors, and doctors discontinue their practices. Expect to see exorbitantly higher premiums for those who are insured, because those folks will, once again, be picking up the cost for those who will no longer be covered by Medicaid. Until the ACA, those who were insured were subsidizing those who were not. Without Medicaid, those who are insured will be doing more heavy lifting than ever.

To explain why this is so, I’ll use my personal history with insurance.

I have made a health insurance premium payment every month of my life since I got out of college. I am now 62, and fortunate to be very healthy. I liked the ACA insurance mandate (gone with this Republican plan) because everyone had some skin in the game. Even if they refused to buy insurance, they had to pay a tax. As a result, for the first time ever in my life, my health insurance premium actually went down in 2017!

It was only eight dollars a month, but it went up year after year before the ACA, sometimes as much as 28%. I rarely even met my then-low $1,000 deductible, yet when I got the dreaded annual letter from my insurance provider, it always said, "This rate increase is not due to your use of health benefits, but the use of health benefits by those in your area." So for decades, I subsidized those who used the hell out of their insurance, as well as those who didn't have insurance.

Finally, with the ACA payments that were made to health insurers by the federal government, it wasn't up to just me and other subscribers to keep subsidizing the costs. The ACA was a relief valve, and the curve flattened. It wasn't perfect, but it was working!

Now that will be gone, and I can't imagine how much my premiums are going to go up between now and when I am eligible for Medicare. But they will go up for everyone, because once again we’ll be subsidizing the uninsured. My insurance provider had originally anticipated 8% increases in 2018, but when the House bill passed, it revised that to 22% increases.

And who will benefit from these massive increases imposed upon the lower-and-middle classes?

The 1%. According to the assessment was made by the Joint Committee on Taxation, a nonpartisan panel that provides research on tax issues, two of the biggest tax cuts in Republican proposals to repeal the Affordable Care Act would deliver roughly $157 billion over the coming decade to those with incomes of $1 million or more. People making $200,000 to $999,999 a year would also get sizable tax cuts. In total, the two provisions would cut taxes by about $274 billion during the coming decade, virtually all of it for people making at least $200,000, according to a separate assessment by the committee.

Repeal-and-replace is a gigantic transfer of wealth from the lowest-income Americans to the highest-income Americans.

Maybe when enough of the lowest-income Americans—many of whom voted for Trump—get  huge increases in their 2018 premiums, they'll wake up and realize that their president, their party, caused their suffering.

I just hope the Democrats ram this fact home and run on nothing but this issue during the 2018 election cycle.

How low can they go? We don’t know yet, but they are plumbing the depths of decency, and we can expect more muck to be heaped upon us as they do.

Friday, 01 July 2016 19:38

You Deserve Pleasurable Post-Menopausal Sex Featured

A friend of mine, at the age of 55, was in a new relationship that was heading towards sexual intimacy. Concerned because she had not had sex in three years, and knowing from experience that it could be a painful encounter because of vaginal dryness, she asked me—a sexually active woman in a twenty-seven-year marriage—what I used to combat that discomfort.

I had a great recommendation, based upon my own experience. The first time I had painful intercourse with my husband, I was astonished. Vaginal dryness came on seemingly overnight, and our lovemaking had to be halted. The next morning, I called my gynecologist’s office and asked to be worked in that day. You see, I love having regular sex with my husband, and I was certain there was a medical remedy to keep that viable, and there was.

My doctor prescribed Vagifem 10 mcg, and after using that small vaginal suppository only a few times, I was back to normal, and so was our sex life.

Vagifem is an estrogen replacement suppository consisting of estradiol. It treats the underlying cause of menopause-related vaginal changes by helping to replenish the vagina’s lost estrogen. It’s used primarily after menopause to treat changes in and around the vagina, including atrophic vaginitis (dryness and soreness in the vagina) and dyspareunia (pain during sexual intercourse.) It is also beneficial in preventing UTIs. The cells lining the vagina are basically the same cells that line the urethra and the bladder. When the vagina is dry, the bladder is dry, and UTIs occur with greater frequency.

There are other such treatments for these afflictions, including patches, ointment, and vaginal rings; but the Vagifem suppository has been very effective for me, so I happily recommended this simple treatment to my friend. She saw her doctor, got a prescription, and began using it. When sexual intimacy occurred the following week, she experienced no discomfort with her new beau. Wonderful, right? I mean, here’s a medical solution for a painful condition, a remedy that can be prescribed by your doctor, and it is covered by insurance.

Until it isn’t.

That same friend called me a few days ago to tell me that her insurance company would no longer cover the cost of Vagifem. She said her out-of-pocket cost for a 90-day supply (24 tablets) would now be $425. My insurance company still covers it under my grandfathered plan, but I have a high deductible, so my out-of-pocket cost for a 90-day supply is $546. But because it is a covered medication, it at least goes towards my deductible. Not so for my friend. The total cost is now hers to bear. Thankfully, my friend and I can afford Vagifem, but many women cannot.

The Affordable Care Act did a great thing in mandating that plans in the Health Insurance Marketplace cover contraceptive methods and counseling for all women, as prescribed by a health care provider. Plans must cover these services without charging a copayment or coinsurance when provided by an in-network provider, even if a woman has not met her deductible. If her employer is granted an exemption to pay for a plan that covers the cost of birth control based on religious reasons (Hobby Lobby) the insurer will provide birth control coverage to the company’s female employees at no additional cost to the company. Birth control addresses both pregnancy prevention and women’s health issues, such as regulating periods, stopping menstrual migraines, easing endometriosis, helping with polycystic ovarian syndrome, and reducing the risk of endometrial cancer. Vaginal estrogen replacement medication address multiple symptoms related to women’s health, so why shouldn’t it be covered as well?

In doing some research, I ran across plenty of forums with discussions that date back years, with post-menopausal women complaining that their health insurance would not cover treatment for their symptoms, because they consider “hormone-level decline a normal part of aging.”

Medicare Part D covers much of the cost for Vagifem, but atrophic vaginitis and dyspareunia occur in women much younger than 65. So why would some private insurance companies not cover a medication that is essential in alleviating a post-menopausal woman’s painful dryness symptoms? Are vaginal dryness, UTIs, atrophy and the related pain not legitimate medical conditions?

Or is it just that the vaginas of women who can no longer reproduce are considered—well, not worthy of  consideration? Are we just supposed to dry up and blow away?

Aging takes enough of a toll on women mentally and physically, and our desire to stave off this particular painful biological effect of aging should not take a large financial toll as well. Aging gracefully simply cannot occur if a woman who wants to have sex cannot do so without pain. Which makes me wonder: How did insurance companies arrive at the conclusion that women should personally bear the cost of treating the medical conditions known as atrophic vaginitis and dyspareunia? Which executives decided that women not of child-bearing age should pay such a high price to maintain a healthy vagina, one that is still primed for pleasurable intercourse? This isn’t plastic surgery, an optional choice for looking younger. This is a medical issue of alleviating pain and maintaining the health of the most vital area of our feminine realm. It should not be optional based upon affordability.

If we remain healthy, we can enjoy sex long into our “old age,” given the availability of erectile-dysfunction pills and vaginal atrophy treatment. If women want to enjoy sex after menopause, but before age 65, they may have to pay dearly for it. Our sexuality is being devalued by tight-fisted insurance companies. The ACA gives us the right to appeal such insurance company decisions through an internal appeal or an external review. If every woman who is denied coverage for FDA-approved atrophic vaginitis remedies appealed, we might be able to reclaim our right to painless sex for decades before we are eligible for Medicare.

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