Optimize November: Vote with care, plan holidays, scrutinize health coverage

votebanner-300x150As coronavirus infections rage unchecked from coast-to-coast, Americans may need to redouble the attention they pay to their health and safeguarding it.

To deal in optimal ways with what threatens to be a tough November, we all may wish to:

Vote as safely as possible.

If you plan to exercise your constitutional rights in person, precautions may be in order.

Cover your face, follow the distancing recommendations at polling sites, take your own black pen or potential stylus for marking the ballot, and, if it’s available, use the hand sanitizer or scrub up when back at home.

If you can, consider going at off-peak hours — in the middle of the morning or afternoon. Be prepared. Study the issues you’re voting on at home and be ready to mark you ballot and exit, fast. See if you can get notified if lines may be occurring. If they’re not too long and you can check out the wait time from your vehicle, you may wish to do some of your time-killing there.

Research to see if you need to bring materials with you, including ballots that may automatically be sent to you; you may vote provisionally if you forget to bring that needed document to the polls.

Is early voting an option for you still? Consult your local elections officials. Check out ahead of time, if you have gotten a mailed ballot, whether you can drop it off at 27/4 official collection boxes or at voting sites. If there are lines and waits, your patience is appreciated, as is your patriotism in your exercising your citizenship.

But here’s hoping this isn’t a mess, and you’re prepped for it if it is, including with any needed weather gear, a portable seat, reading material — and precautions about not guzzling a lot of coffee or tea.

Make healthy holiday plans.

Huddle up with friends and family, urgently, and set your strategy and tactics for the year-end holidays, starting with Thanksgiving. Health authorities in your area already may be cautioning you and yours against holding big, multifamily feasts indoors with guests traveling from near and far.

Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving earlier than do their southern friends. Our northern neighbors — who have done far better with the coronavirus — have seen a regrettable uptick in infections associated with holiday celebrations.

With many folks able to work remotely, travelers may be trying to minimize their risk by seeing if they can get on planes, trains, and buses at less crowded times. They still may need to deal with potential infection spots in terminals and boarding lines. Face coverings are now recommended by federal officials for passengers on public transportation, including airlines, and many transport companies and states and localities require them.

The end of November always was a fraught holiday return for college kids (Aww, ma, I’m grown up now and live far away, so stop telling me what to do!) But if you have young people who went away for school and hope to pop home for the break, or after an early conclusion to the fall term, please take coronavirus spread seriously — if not for the resilient and healthier young but for older or vulnerable folks in the family. Colleges and universities have tried to protect students on campus with aggressive testing and isolation programs. Young people may wish to get tested just before they head home — and determine with families an isolation strategy for the first bit in the house.

Dr. Lena S. Wen, the former Baltimore Health Commissioner, wrote an Op-Ed for the Washington Post on dealing with these quite different holidays — the article’s worth a read.

Drill down on your health insurance coverage

While the nation sorts out the elections and the impending U.S. Supreme Court challenge to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), this month — as it so often has — will be a big one for millions of Americans because it is the start of insurers’ annual Open Enrollment period.

Here is what USA Today reported about this important span:

“Open enrollment for 2021 benefits will kick off in November when companies ask their workers to pick everything from medical and dental plans to long-term disability insurance. While those are big decisions, it turns out workers typically spend just 17 minutes on their choices, less time than they spend picking a Netflix show, according to Voya Financial, citing research from Businessolver and Reelgood/Learndipity. This year, workers need to buckle down given the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, experts say. People are creatures of habit, meaning that more than 9 of 10 workers usually select the same choices as in the previous year, says Matthew Owenby, chief human resources officer at insurance company Aflac. ‘Having been in HR for my entire career, I wish I could tell you why they are on autopilot,’ Owenby says. ‘Our main takeaway is that workers need to stop assuming that what worked in the past will work for them moving forward.”

Here’s hoping all who read this do not need to address the issue in their coverage. But will workplace insurers pay for coronavirus testing, vaccination, and treatment if it is needed? (The federal government has moved to ensure these areas are affordable, but the savvy still may want to query companies and insurers before the need arises.) It also may be valuable to get an early read with the coverage you have as to whether a bout of Covid-19 will be considered a pre-existing condition that will complicate insurance in the days ahead.

For those who get their coverage at work, the persistent affordability challenge this season, as it has been for several years now, will be dealing with patients’ medical spending (yes, it is time to scrutinize what it has been for you and your loved ones) and balancing monthly premium costs with ever-increasing deductibles — the sums that the insured must pay out of pocket before their policies kick in. Too many Americans, even if they have workplace coverage, forego medical services because they can’t afford to pay for them with high deductibles. Some consumers are getting gulled into taking lower premiums for non-ACA policies — only to discover this insurance pays next to nothing when patients need medical services most.

Millions of Americans, sadly, will be seeking coverage through Obamacare exchanges (with subsidies) or through Medicaid. That’s because they have lost jobs, employer coverage, and can’t afford the pricey option known as COBRA to continue their work-provided policies.

For seniors, November also is a time when the window is open for patients to change their Medicare plans, notably “gap coverage” and Part D prescription drug plans. They also get to think about the pluses and minuses of Medicare Advantage programs.

All of this is not much fun to dig into, honestly. But it can mean a world of difference to you and your loved ones.

In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also their struggles to access and afford safe, efficient, and excellent health care. This has become an ordeal due to the skyrocketing cost, complexity, and uncertainty of treatments and prescription medications, too many of which turn out to be dangerous drugs.

The pandemic, and the shambolic federal response to it, has increased the pressure on all Americans to research carefully, think with rigor, and act with urgency about their health and the well-being of the nation. Please vote if you have not already and do so safely. Consider with great care whether holiday traditions can take a pause for this year to safeguard family and friends, or if alternatives can be found to keep your near and dear secure and festive. Considering how the political battles over affordable health coverage have consumed U.S. politics for a decade, it may not be too much to ask to take more than the span of half of a typical daytime soap opera to ensure the insurance you have for you and your loved ones is optimal, right?

Surveys for some time have found that Americans have regarded health care and health insurance to be among their top political issues for 2020. We have a lot of work to do in the days ahead to ensure that what we want as a people — that health care is a right and not a privilege for the wealthy few — comes to pass, in democratic fashion.

Patrick Malone & Associates, P.C. listed in Best Lawyers Rated by Super Lawyers Patrick A. Malone
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