Tuesday, February 28, 2006
The day was October 9, 1999. My mother phoned me from a Little Rock hospital, whispering, “Your dad can’t feel his legs.” Following surgery to repair a hernia in his stomach on Friday, he subsequently suffered a stroke on Saturday while getting dialysis. It did not look good. I told my mother I would be there right away. Once I arrived, I realized the situation was dire. I called Eddie, who was not only my cousin but my surrogate “big brother,” and my dad’s best friend. I gave him the news, and I can’t repeat the word he uttered on the other end, but it was both colorful, and appropriate. He wanted to know what he should do, and I told him just to hang loose and pray… that I would get back to him. I am guessing it was about 5:30 p.m. Janette was away on a business trip in Mexico.
We went in to see my dad, and doctors came out to talk to us and give us their best guess at how to proceed. I sat in that ICU waiting room, feeling my whole world cave in. I knew in my heart that I had seen my dad for the last time, and we had exchanged the love of God, and love for each other. I felt the angels surrounding me. But what I didn’t know was that two of my biggest angels were on the horizon. We needed to get my dad's C-pap, a breathing apparatus for sleep apnea, from my mom's van. Greg offered to retrieve it. When he returned from the parking lot, the massive doors to the waiting area swung open, and in strode Greg, flanked by Natalie and Eddie. Nobody had asked them to come, but they could not have been a more welcome sight.
Why on a day when we honor Eddie would I tell a story about my own father’s death? Because you see, the story of our two families is so entertwined that it is often hard to see where one stops and the other starts.
Eddie was 10 when I was born in 1957, and he probably didn’t pay much attention to me for a few years, but by the time my sister and I were about 3 and 4, we were pretty entertaining, and of course, we thought Eddie was IT! I still recall one snowy day when Eddie and David Rector took us sledding. As we pulled our sleds up 8th Street, wearing our little red corduroy “car coats,” my Grandmother Ramsey admonished us from the front door not to slide down “Thrill Hill,” known to many today as Panther Hill. “Okay,” we said with a wave…pulling down one of the gargantuan icicles from her roof eave to slurp like a giant popsicle. And where did we go? Directly to Thrill Hill, of course! And then, a loose screw or nail on one of the sleds caught on one of our coats and snagged it! Oh, no…there we were, on the hill we weren’t supposed to be on, having the times of our lives, and we had torn our coat! The boys disengaged whichever one of us it was from the sled screw, and we moved on, considering that an omen!
When Ed and Janette married, Suzanne and I were the candle lighters… a job we took very seriously in our yellow dotted-Swiss dresses with smocked bodices. We loved it when they would come home to visit from Arkansas Tech, and then they moved right up the street, and we thought that was GREAT! Later, when Greg and I went to Tech, we had another set of topics for mutual conversation, rehashing classes with “double-E” Hudson, Doc Crawley, Coach Dempsey, and eating those famous, famous Whattaburgers! We laughed about shooting pool at the Bluebonnet in Morrilton, while eating pizza and drinking beer, although I have a feeling Ed made a few more trips there than I did in my college career.
When Natalie and Frank came along, Ed and Janette’s lives became more interwoven with my parents’ lives than ever. They spent many weekends together, eating out, and then shopping -- roaming through Wal-Mart or Penney’s or some other store in Searcy, Conway, or Little Rock. And then there were the wonderful trips to Canton, Texas… dubbed “the world’s biggest flea market.” Going to Canton was an event that we planned for all year. We saved up money. We made reservations for places to stay. We plotted and planned what we would buy and/or look at – purses and perfume and home decorating things and jewelry for the women – tools and gadgets and who-knows-what for the men. We would go on Wednesday or Thursday and stay until Sunday, and it was quite often a semi-annual event that colored every conversation in between… we had to discuss what we bought the LAST time, the things/people we saw, where we ate, etc., while planning the NEXT trip! In between trips to Canton, Mom, Dad, Ed and Janette fished a lot… especially on the White River. My dad would call and say, “We have room for 2 more in the boat!” and sadly, we never did do that with them. But I’ve heard the tales a thousand times, and I feel like I made many of those trips, if only vicariously.
Since we moved back to Heber Springs, we have enjoyed many family get-togethers, ranging from weiner roasts to holiday dinners to impromptu visits. Ed and Janette would drive out to our farm and we’d sit on the front porch and visit, just like people did when I was a kid. Or, Ed would drop in during the afternoon and sit and visit with us in our office. Often I’d make us a pot of coffee, and we’d drink every last drop. He and Greg might wander out to the barn to look at the tractor, especially if Daddy showed up, or they might take a look at a tree or two that Greg was watching for some malady. After Daddy died, Greg and I took our motorhome down to JFK one weekend, fairly soon after we got it. We called all of our family to come for a weiner roast. Some had plans, but Ed and Janette came… bringing a truckload of firewood with them “just in case we needed it.” I made a pot of coffee, and we sat in a bright full moonlight for hours, just talking and laughing and enjoying each other. It was comforting to know that Ed was still there, especially with the loss of Daddy so fresh.
When Natalie and Darrell married, Eddie was so proud. I know he may not have always shown it, but he was. I remember the day of the rehearsal when lunchtime came, and he gathered several of us and said, “Let’s go to Rustic.” There we were, in the middle of a really hectic day, enjoying a wonderful lunch and visit at Rustic, and Eddie was having a ball. He always wanted to make his children happy and do everything he could for them, and I think he did a great job in all respects. More importantly, he and Janette provided a loving, sound environment for their children, and they have two wonderful, mature, well-rounded individuals to show for it. And in today’s world, that might be their greatest accomplishment.
Eddie loved Heber Springs, and he had a mind like a steel trap for dates, who lived where, who worked in what store/business, and so forth. We enjoyed many holiday afternoons looking at old pictures and reminiscing. I never knew the great-grandparents we shared, but I feel like I did, because my family made them come alive again with tales and photos and heartwarming memories… and Eddie was a master at doing this. We must strive to do this same thing for Olivia, so that she always "remembers" her Grand-dad Eddie.
Eddie had a big heart, and he was always doing for others. When someone he knew lost a loved one, he’d put a big ham on the smoker and take it right over. When Tim and Dad died, I can’t remember a time he wasn’t with us for many, many days. He was there to step in and drive for my dad when Tim died and Daddy was so unsteady at the wheel. He was there to tell my grandmother that her only son was gone. He was there to help with anything and everything when Daddy was gone. He was there to listen when I had things on my mind and my heart that troubled me. I just can’t remember a time when Eddie wasn’t there.
I have watched Eddie go from the big strapping teddy bear I knew and adored to a more worn version… sorta like a bear Olivia would carry around until the stuffing starts to break down. The last time he visited me was probably about a year ago, when he showed up one day at our office, and we were thrilled to see him up and about. We enjoyed a few visits with him from time to time at his house, and we would always talk about old times, our favorite westerns and cowboy characters, any good movies we had seen, and of course, in the last year or so, we had to talk about Olivia, the new house, and Franklin’s latest construction projects. Just as one never loses the sentiment for an old worn Teddy bear, the delight of spending time with Ed never faded, either. He gave me so much joy and fun in my lifetime, and I hope that I was a deserving recipient, and that in some small way, I gave back to him just a little.
I know we don’t know what lies ahead for any of us. And I know that it seems that our time on this earth with people like Eddie is far too brief. But I also know that God has a plan, and that His hand has been evident in so many ways through the last few years. I know He gave me a strong, healthy Eddie to help us get through the losses of his grandmother Altha, his dad Leo, my brother Tim, and my dad. I know that He covered Janette in prayers so that she could endure all of the years of doctor visits, test, hospitals, missed work, trips to Memphis, and coping with the stresses of just plain old every day life at the same time. I know He orchestrated the timing, so that Natalie, Darrell and Olivia were settled in their house, Frank was established in his business and his home, and Granny Betty was safely resting in the arms of Jesus.
I know that tomorrow, when we wake up, God will STILL be in control… He will still be orchestrating our lives perfectly. And those we loved so dearly will be surrounding Eddie in heaven and welcoming him to their campfire and a cup of coffee (and maybe a roasted marshmallow!), as they remember the old times and smile down on us as we persevere.
Ephesians 6:13 says “Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground.” This is a sad day for us, but we must honor the memory of Eddie and all of our loved ones by truly living, secure in God’s promises, making the most of every minute of every day God gives us. Isaiah 40:31 tells us “Those who wait for the Lord, who expect, look for, and hope in Him, shall renew their strength.” It is my prayer that our strength would be renewed today, that we would remember Eddie fondly with laughter, tears, and faith that He is healthy, whole, and truly at peace in Heaven.
Friday, February 24, 2006
We then continued around the lake, driving through Sugar Loaf Park, and then on to Edgemont for a wonderful lunch at Jansen's. We then drove down Hwy 92 and veered off southward to Budd Creek, where we drove through the Budd Creek Baptist Camp (which housed victims of Hurrican Katrina -- we were impressed with the facilities!) After that, we traveled on to Drip Creek, an area where Greg's family owned a cabin that they visited in the 70's and 80's. Today it has been renovated and is for sale for over $135,000! This includes a boat slip nearby at the lake. We got out and walked around the cabin and looked it over, while Greg and his mother remembered the fun times the family shared there.
After that, we drove over the bridge at Prim and back, and took a side tour of Camp Bear Track, which is owned by members of our church, Jack and Olivia Dowell. The camp director is Colby Crow, assisted by his wife, Damitra. The Crows conduct some of the youth activities at our church, also. We got out and walked around the camp, and we especially enjoyed the views of Devil's Fork from the chapel and deck areas behind the dining hall. It's a great place, and it makes you wish you were a kid again so you could attend!
It was a nice, mild winter day, and the bare landscape allowed us to see all sorts of things we generally don't notice because of foliage. The photos were taken atop Miller's Point... looking over the lake and toward the northeast and east. The landscape photo is looking due east toward Heber Springs. You can see Sugar Loaf Mountain, to the left of Round Mountain. Eden Isle is in the foreground. The ridge over near McJester is in the background.
Sunday, February 19, 2006
Very cold here -- 21 degrees at 1 p.m. and feels like 13 with the wind chill. We dodged the really bad ice yesterday... roads cleared by sunset... seem to have dodged the northern snow today... we just can't seem to muster more than a dusting here, sadly!
The birds have been very hungry... and very entertaining. This little Carolina Wren (kudos to my friend Charleen, who properly identified him -- I thought he was a sparrow!) was just one of many birds, along with juncos, chickadees, tufted titmouse, cardinals, goldfinches, purple finches, and a very pretty red-bellied woodpecker who have visited our feeder the last 2 days and entertained both us and Mabel and Lucy. We even had a hawk perch briefly on our cedar rail fence and and in the trees!
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
At any rate, my hat is off to Donna Kyle, the Arkansas rep for Medicare in Dallas. She stayed on this with a vengeance until it was resolved, phoning me many times and keeping me abreast of developments. Mam-ma's pharmacist was able to go back and re-file all of her claims for January this afternoon -- and all came back with the appropriate co-payment!
So, what was a bill in the neighborhood of nearly $200 yesterday is today a bill of less than $10. And all it took was a month of phone calls and frustration, and letters to the Governor and our Congressmen! The pharmacist pointed out that this was one of some 2000 seniors he's dealt with this year who are struggling with their new prescription drug plan. I told him, "One down, 1999 to go!" For my part, I am just so grateful to my friend who directed me to the politicians, and those in Governor Huckabee's office who actually read my letter and followed through.
Monday, February 13, 2006
Friday, February 10, 2006
About an hour later, I got another call from Dallas -- from Donna Kyle, who is the Arkansas Representative for Medicare. She also apologized up and down, and she reiterated that Debra and she were working with the right reps to contact CignatureRx and get this fixed. She also said, "I just want to tell you that I read your letter to the Governor (much of what was posted here yesterday in this blog), and I have forwarded it on to several people, because it was the most detailed, easy-to-read and understand, well-organized chronology of events as they happened to a real person, and I felt others needed to see a firsthand account of what is undoubtably happening over and over again across the country." She was so nice, and she said that she had personally experienced difficulty signing up her own parents -- "and I work for Medicare!" She ended by giving me her direct telephone number, spelling her name again, and telling me NOT to worry -- that she would see that this was resolved and proper coverage was given and continued. She and Debra both assured me that someone from their office would keep in contact to let me know how this progresses.
So, I'm waiting for that call, but I feel a lot better. Maybe things will go better for the next person, and maybe this will help Medicare get their act together, and MAYBE this is going to soon be OVER for me and my Mam-ma!!! Yippeeee!!!!
Thursday, February 09, 2006
This is my 93-year-old "Mam-ma," who is on Medicare and Medicaid. Remarkably, and with the help of home health aides/nurses and family/friends, she still lives alone. Last fall, as soon as was permitted, I spent hours researching the various prescription drug plans, and I selected CignatureRx for her, as it paid for all but one of her six prescriptions, with a $1-$3 co-pay per prescription, and no premiums or deductibles, since she is a Medicaid recipient.
My grandmother draws less than $700/month Social Security. From this she pays for all of her utilities, food, household necessities, and first and foremost, 10% to her church! She receives $10 per month in food stamps. It’s very tight, but she does manage. While she does quite well on her own, I have Durable Power of Attorney and am her primary caregiver, and I manage her checkbook and pay her bills, etc. I made sure I chose the best possible coverage for her with regard to the new Medicare Prescription Drug plan (or so I thought!), and CignatureRx was the choice.
In late December, I received 2 separate letters from CignatureRx, explaining that $33.80 would be deducted monthly from her Social Security check as a monthly premium. I telephoned the 800# for support and was told to toss the letters – that I had received them in error. I kept them. On January 6, my grandmother had her most expensive prescription filled at her local pharmacist, and the bill was $150. The pharmacist suggested I charge this amount, as he was having difficulty with many companies getting things squared away, but he felt eventually he would be able to file this charge and get paid. He asked for my grandmother’s card, and I told him we had never received one. I did, however, have these letters with all of her account numbers. I telephoned the pharmacy later with these numbers, and he filed the charge for the prescription.
A couple of weeks later, subsequent prescriptions needed to be filled, and the co-pay applied, $1 - $3 per prescription. I asked about the initial prescription for $150, and the pharmacist said, “Something still isn’t right… it now says she owes $130.” He gave me a name and number to call, and about 5 persons (and 4 phone calls) later, I had found this person, who assured me she would give my grandmother’s CignatureRx information to someone in Ft. Worth, and get it fixed.
On January 31, I received a call from someone with Pacificare Prescription Services, wanting to know about my questions regarding my grandmother’s coverage. I was finally able to determine that she was NOT enrolled in CignatureRx as her primary coverage… Medicare had arbitrarily enrolled her in Pacifica, and that Pacificare does NOT cover her $150 prescription. The rep at Pacificare recommended I contact Medicare. I did call Medicare, and after several attempts to use their voice activation system and giving my grandmother’s Medicare number at LEAST 5 times, the auto-attendant reports that my request can’t be understood, so I’m being transferred to a customer service rep. Hallelujah!
By this time, I am wondering how in the world any senior citizen could possibly be expected to have the patience to continue this process. My Medicare CS reps shuffle me around. Someone hears my story and tells me they can cancel Pacificare and re-enroll her in CignatureRx, but I will have to talk to Pacificare about the $150 charge! I nearly blew a gasket, and this person connected me with a supervisor named Dontavius, who assured me that he had determined that, indeed, Medicare did overwrite my application to CignatureRx and enroll my grandmother in Pacificare. He cancels Pacificare, re-enrolls her in Cignature, and tells me to call Cignature on February 1 and get new numbers for my grandmother. He also advises me to have my pharmacist re-file the $150 prescription on CignatureRx after February 1.
February 1, I called CignatureRx and got new numbers… am told that all is well by someone named “Susan” and that I can have the $150 prescription charge re-filed… that my grandmother has a “value plan” with no premium and no deductible, and $1-$3 co-pays on her 5 prescriptions CignatureRx covers.
February 6, my grandmother received a letter in the mail telling her that $33.80 will be deducted monthly from her Social Security check as a premium. I told her not to worry - that wasn’t right. However, I phoned CignatureRx and was told that yes, she did have a premium. I insisted she did not, retelling my tale of the recent activities, and I was shuffled through several representatives to someone whom I believe was named Natania. She informed me that I would need to provide a letter from Medicaid proving my grandmother was a Medicaid recipient. I got irritated at this point and asked her how much longer all of this was going to take… my grandmother now needs the $150 prescription refilled again, and the first scrip hasn’t even been paid for. She put me on hold, and when she returned, she said she was “working it out.”
When she returned again, the connection was so garbled it was like a bad cell phone connection - times ten. I repeated back to her what I THOUGHT I was hearing her say, and she would say “that is correct.” According to what I heard, her supervisor agreed to temporarily accept that my grandmother is on Medicaid, and they will request proof from Medicare of this, and the deductible and premiums are waived, and she will be on the $1-$3 co-pay, so I can have her prescriptions filled this month on that plan.
Now… here’s the thing. This has cost me hours and hours of time and frustration. Thankfully, I have been able to keep this worry from my grandmother. But my question to the people at Medicare is… how in the world is the average senior citizen supposed to cope with all of this? I firmly believe that 90% of the time, they will give up, and either accept the charges or just refuse the expensive medications and suffer the consequences. I can’t imagine many of them would endure the endless reconnections and voice activated phone systems and being put on hold over and over. Furthermore, had the co-pay been somewhat in the ballpark on my grandmother’s prescription, I might never have caught that she was not on the plan in which I enrolled her last November. And if this system (and the online enrollment) are so darn wonderful, then why did it not work?
I feel like I am quite internet savvy, and I felt confident that I had successfully enrolled my grandmother in CignatureRx. However, at the time of enrollment, I voiced concern to many at the complex nature of the enrollment process and how I didn’t feel the average senior would ever be able to make his/her way through it. Now I can see that the average, internet-savvy magazine publisher cannot, either!
I am disgusted with how we treat our seniors. I see the way they are treated at the DHS office when I visit to file papers for my grandmother (and there were a TON of them in January). If a professional with a Master’s Degree in Education (me!) cannot figure out how to fill out all of these papers and handle this successfully, what makes us believe that a senior citizen, particularly one who is 93, can do this? My mother-in-law attended an in-service on applying for the prescription drug program last October, and the first thing they told the attendees was to look some information up on the internet. She is 79 and doesn’t even own a computer! How was that logical to recommend the internet to this group?
Frankly, if this is best that we can offer our seniors with regard to prescription drug coverage, we better get busy rethinking things. If we haven’t had illness or death result from this fiasco yet, we will. I can assure you that my grandmother would forego a $150/month prescription before she would spend that kind of money, if she had the choice. Thankfully, she has someone to advocate for her. I shudder to think about the countless Americans who have no one to assist them, and may not even realize that they NEED assistance. Incidentally, the reason I did not let Medicaid choose a drug plan (or so I thought) was that the plan I was told would be most likely selected did not cover ANY of the 6 drugs she takes. Now how is this supposed to be better for our seniors?
I have seen Senator Lincoln’s commercials where she assures seniors this will be BETTER. From my vantage point, there is NOTHING better about it, so far. I am told by 2 pharmacies in Heber Springs that many Medicaid recipients were switched to the plan of Medicaid’s choosing without their knowledge, as my grandmother was. Why did we do all of this if it didn’t matter? My grandmother’s ability to live at home depends on me having time to see to her needs. If I squander that time on this drug plan’s ineptness, she will suffer needlessly in the end… but nothing compared to that of countless others in this country who have no advocate.
Here's TODAY's portion of my saga to get my grandmother enrolled in a prescription drug plan. My grandmother had a medication refilled - the bill was $150. CignaRx co-pay was denied. After talking to her pharmacist, we tried EVERY number we've been given by CignaRx so far, and low and behold, the original ID number was accepted, and the co-pay was applied... my grandmother's cost is now $3.
I asked the pharmacist what he suggested I do about January's prescription bill for $150 for this same drug, and he recommended I call CignaRx and talk to someone who might be able to override and co-pay for last month. I did so, and a somewhat curt rep named Max informed me that I needed to provide CignatureRx with a "letter from Medicaid" stating that my grandmother is a Medicaid recipient... that she has temporarily been approved for CignaRx until February 15, pending receipt of this letter. Now, yesterday, the rep I spoke with at CignaRx said THEY would obtain this letter from Medicare. Today, Max at CignaRx says that I have to contact Social Security and get the letter faxed to me, and fax it to CignaRx before February 15. (He also informed me that I was going to HAVE to let him talk! He did NOT want to hear my story!)
I phoned Social Security... waited on hold for over NINE minutes for someone to assist me, and finally told my tale of woe to a very nice person named Jan. She informed me that the letter is a "letter of extra help" and that she might be able to connect me with someone who could assist me... that I should have received this letter last December telling me that Medicare would choose a plan, or we could choose our own. I very well may have gotten such a letter, but since I had chosen a plan for my grandmother, if I got it, I tossed it. Jan put me on hold, and I was subsequently disconnected.
I phoned again, and this time I waited on hold over TEN minutes for someone whom I believe was named Jackie. She was not interested in hearing my story, and she asked to speak to my grandmother. I told her my grandmother lives alone, and not with me, and she refused to give me ANY information without her verbal consent. I told her I have durable power of attorney and she told me that didn't matter, and if I wasn't the payee or the authorized rep, I couldn't discuss this with her. She asked for my grandmother's Social Security number and when I gave it, she told me she didn't know WHY Jan had spoken with me, but she could not talk to me about this. I asked her just what she suggested I do, and she said, "You need to call Social Services." She offered me an 800#, but I asked if that was the same as our local DHS, and she said, "If you want to go that route." I thanked her and hung up.
Thankfully, I have a lifelong friend who works at the DHS in Little Rock, so I called her in desperation, and she explained that Social Services has nothing to do with this... it is indeed Social Security, and that my best bet is to put my grandmother in the car and drive to Searcy (30 miles) and meet with the Social Security manager there and get this "letter of extra help". She said I should also get it down in her Social Security file that I am the authorized rep... something nobody has ever told me before in the many years I've been her primary caregiver.
So... Wednesday morning, I tried to contact Social Security in Searcy for an appointment. Meanwhile, I found a letter from 2005 that was sent to my grandmother explaining her new Medicaid drug coverage. I called CignatureRx to see if THAT letter would suffice... it wouldn't... need something current. I told him I had to put Mam-ma in the car and drive 30 miles to get that letter, and he said, "No, you don't. Call the Social Security office and have them fax it to us." He gave me a fax number. He also said that $150 charge from January can be refiled and co-paid, once this is all resolved.
Now, Tuesday night, in frustration, I had e-mailed this tale of woe to my congressmen, my senators, the governor's office, and even Hillary Clinton! Wednesday morning, someone from the governor's office e-mailed me and said she thought she could help. Subsequently, so did someone from Congressman Marion Berry's office. This woman in the Pharmacy Unit at the governor's office has been my angel. Seems she's been down this road with her parents, and she is more than willing to help me. She has contacted the Medicare office in Dallas, and we should hear something today (February 9). I am hoping this will all be completed by the end of today or tomorrow at the latest. If not, all of these fine elected officials will be hearing from me again! How sad that you have to practically kick and scream to get results. And again, who does this for all of those who have no advocate? Stay tuned... this saga continues!
Saturday, February 04, 2006
Way to go, Erin!
Listening to Coach.