by Chris Quilter
A couple of Saturdays ago, Kaiser Permanente lined up 10,000 members and shot them at its Sand Canyon Drive-Thru Flu Clinic. I know this because (a) I asked, and (b) I was in the middle of a pack of thousands of cars snaking through those parking sheds by the 405—the ones that appear to be topped with solar panels. Let’s hope they offset the carbon footprint of what was otherwise a nifty blend of convenience, preventive medicine, and health care cost containment.
(Just to be clear: I did this for you. If you make it to Friday, Nov. 9 without getting your flu shot, there’ll be one extra at the Susi Q’s free shoot-’em-up from 8:30 to 11 a.m., with seniors and at-risk pre-seniors getting priority until 9:30.)
Like the avalanche of holiday decorations on the day after Halloween, flu shots are one of the early warning signs that winter is icumen in. Too bad they don’t provide immunity to the plague of informational mail marking the start of Medicare open enrollment season. I don’t mean the 150-page “official U.S. government Medicare handbook” or the equivalent phone book I get from Kaiser. I mean the mail from the other insurance companies who promise me everything short of immortality if I will switch sides. After all I went through? Good luck with that.
With or without Obamacare, we are in zero danger of ever having a straightforward national health care system. Kaiser was as close as I could get, but there are a score of Medicare Advantage competitors. And there are real advantages to traditional Medicare (if you also get supplemental insurance). Whatever your age, however, the last place you’ll find unbiased health insurance advice is in your mailbox.
That’s why I’m a big fan of Consumer Reports, the Council on Aging’s Health Insurance Counseling & Advocacy Program, and the Medicare website. They make it possible to compare apples to apples and lemons to lemons—and no salesperson will call. You may have to pay for CR, but HICAP is free. It’s holding an open enrollment one-on-one computer clinic at the Susi Q on Friday, Nov. 30, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Space is limited, but there’s a ton of evenhanded advice on its website at coaoc.org and by phone at 1-800-434-0222. Medicare.gov also has a handy tool for sorting plans in our ZIP code by ratings and features.
Another sign of winter is when a steady trickle of charitable appeals becomes a torrent. Some are easy to deal with: if it’s addressed to the person whose house I bought six years ago or some guy named Occupant, it goes into the circular file. Almost as easy is mail from the alumni association at Nameless U, which hopes I’ll be grateful that the place became a first-rate institution after I graduated.
More problematic are my occasional charitable gifts made at the request of people I love, or for a chance to not win an Audi or spring some butterflies from captivity. Thanks to my time on nonprofit boards and fundraising staffs, I understand how even the most modest charitable act upgrades one’s donor status to “Bird in the Hand.” So—with apologies to the trees that get sacrificed—I’ve made my peace with endless mailings because (a) they can be recycled and (b) I believe in philanthropy.
The trick is to give with our heads and hearts, and the best way to do that is to “give where we live.” For one thing, we have a much better chance of making sure our money is spent wisely. For another, our town is knee-deep in deserving nonprofits doing praiseworthy work in human services, education, the arts, and the environment. So if the local causes you care about are [add the names of your favorite charities here], lucky them and good for you.
The Susi Q Senior Center is named after the author’s mother.