Archive for February, 2018

Injured in America

I broke my ankle. It’s winter, which means ice and snow in Maine. Thanks to that wonder, Climate Change, it’s more ice than snow this year. I stepped on what I thought was snow that would give me footing. It wasn’t. I went down hard. I didn’t look at my foot, but according to the EMTs, it was laying at an abnormal angle.

I have insurance, luckily, so this is only a mildly horrifying story, instead of a really horrifying one. But in order to limit the damage to my $14 per hour income, since I’m generally in good health, I picked the high deductible plan.

I’ve been out of work for a month now. Luckily, my employer does offer short-term disability pay at full pay, which is apparently unusually generous. I do not, however, qualify for federal protection of my job since I haven’t been employed there for a year. I had been doing the job for 10 days short of a year when I got hurt, but since the first four months were as a temp employee, that doesn’t count as working there. Human Resources has confirmed that my job will be safe as long as I don’t stay out longer than “an ankle usually takes to heal.”

As it is tax season, and I’m not able to do much else, I got that out of the way. It also gave me some good information. Last year, I made $30,300.03. My health insurance deductible is $5,500. That’s 18.15% of my pre-tax income and does not include my premiums. My after-tax income, after adjusting for my tax returns, was $24,613.68. That bumps the deductible up to 22.35% or $211.54 per $946.68 bi-weekly paycheck.

Let’s think a little bit further about this. I don’t pay rent because I can’t afford to if I’m going to be making any other financial progress in my life, but if I did, we’re told to budget about 30% of our income for that. That’s $284 per paycheck (after tax, since that’s what I actually have to work with) and I’m only able to rent a room for that amount. My commuting/car expenses average about $384 per month last year, or about $192 per paycheck. (Ouch, tires are expensive even over 12 months.) I spend $50 per month on my cell phone, $25 per paycheck. Last year I spent about $60 per month on primarily work clothes, or $30 per paycheck. The food I purchased was about $300 per month, or $150 per paycheck. The total for not very extravagant living expenses comes to $681 per paycheck. Adding in my health insurance premiums of about $36 per paycheck brings me to $717.

946.68  total after-tax income -717.00  basic living expenses = 229.68 – 211.54 to cover my annual deductible = $18.14

This tells me that on average, after covering my basic living expenses and my healthcare deductible, I am left with less than $20 per month to cover electric bills, internet bills, random book purchases, extra gas because I want to go to the fair, and any random awshit that might crop up. Like being out of work for a month with a broken ankle if my employer didn’t cover short-term disability pay.

But, hey, once I’ve been there for a year, my company will match if I put 6% of my income into my 401(k). Because I have $70 to spare from each paycheck to set aside for retirement.

My doctor’s sister apparently broke her ankle recently, but she’s living in Canada. She told him coming down was too far, but I have to wonder if she also didn’t want to end up paying two or three months’ income for the pleasure of American healthcare.

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What the Health Documentary

I’m rather torn about this one. I really, really disagree with the final assessment that going vegan will fix everything, but the research inditing the food industry is impressive. The commercial meat and pharmaceutical industries are terrible and the people that should be protecting us from dangerous food and practices are in the pockets of the companies we need to be protected from.

American medicine works on the disease model. In other words, you get sick and go to the doctor to be treated. We don’t go to the doctor to learn how to prevent getting sick in the first place. I, and the documentary, really don’t blame doctors for this. Between having no time with patients, patients that only come in when they’re sick, and never actually being taught that what you eat can do you good or harm, modern American doctors aren’t in a position to be able to prevent disease. This, of course, works very well for the pharmaceutical industry. If you don’t ever fix the problem then you may well be medicated for the rest of your life. Each of those medications that you take has a profit margin. Unfortunately, according to the documentary, the folks in charge of deciding what doctors learn appear to be actively opposed to changing this and teaching nutrition.

There is, actually, an up side to doctors not providing nutritional advice. If they did, there are a limited number of options they can give without risking being called a nut job and being sued for bad advice. The first place they always turn is to the current food pyramid which is created every five years by the US Diatary Advisory Comittee. This committee is made up of folks who have taken money from one or more of the following: McDonalds, Kraft, Mars, Dannon, the beef industry, the egg industry, the dairy industry, and Anheiser Busch. I’m not really sure why a beer company felt the need to contribute, but I’m sure they had their reasons.

Of course, it isn’t really any sort of secret anymore that government is run for and by big business, so let’s look at non-governmental bodies who care about our health. If you can wade through enough pages, the American Diabetes Association promises to give you food tips to help manage your blood sugar. I’m sure they aren’t influenced by the money the group gets from Dannon, Kraft, or Bumblebee. According to the documentary, chicken is actually the worst meat for carcinogens since we eat it far and away more than any other. Surely the American Cancer Society . . . Oh, they take money from Tyson and Yum who owns KFC. The American Heart Association is totally against red meat and cholesterol. There’s no way their beef recipes in the healthy eating section are influenced by the income from pretty much every beef congress in the country, along with Tyson, Subway, and Domino’s Pizza. (I am having a hard time finding their list of corporate sponsors to link.) As a last ditch effort, surely Susan B. Komen, that pure, pink bastion of cancer research and cure effort can be trusted to only put their stamp on things that are good for you! Like Dietz & Watson, makers of processed deli meats which are a Group 1 carcinogen like cigarettes. (They aren’t actually equivalent, but they are in the same group.)

Then there’s the direct influence that the big food companies have on government. The meat and dairy industries apparently disclose spending $138 million annually on lobbying. This has resulted in things like ag-gag laws where you risk being branded a terrorist if you record the current state of corporate animal husbandry and share it. It is, of course, the big companies that enforce it, not your neighbor with 75 laying hens and a milk cow. I’m sure they don’t have a single thing to hide behind a law like that, right? That amount actually pales in comparison to what the pharmaceutical industry spends. At $238 billion annually, they spend almost twice what the oil and gas lobbyists spend. I can’t be the only one that finds that frightening.

They do go through the usual song and dance about us not being carnivorous apes and being anatomically frugivores. And, of course, if you have trouble with a veg*n diet it’s not because there’s anything wrong with the diet, but you’re obviously doing something wrong. What I can go along with is that there are major changes in people’s bodies within the first couple of weeks of going vegan. Positive changes. That actually makes a lot of sense if you’re pulling someone off a standard American diet. All of a sudden the body is being given fiber and vitamins. It’s being given the building blocks of life instead of fast food and soda. This is no different than feeling better on a juice diet or fasting. It’s being given a break from the daily abuse it’s been absorbing. What I have to wonder, though, is if a veg*n diet is being used in place of medication and one is expected to then be veg*n for the rest of one’s life, is this really different than being medicated for the rest of your life?

In the end, the documentary leaves me impressed with the facts that support their final conclusion, I just think they came to the wrong conclusion. Get off the standard American diet, eat more vegetables, think about where your food comes from and who is paying the people that are telling you what to eat. Just look at all of your options before you decide exactly which whole foods diet actually makes sense to you.