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Today's Opinions

  • Health care options for 65-plus

    If your 65th birthday is around the corner or you’re anxious about Medicare, it’s a good time to start focusing on your options.
    Healthcare choice is becoming a bigger factor in the lives of pre-retirees as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) — better known as Obamacare — brings significant change to employer-sponsored and individually purchased health plans.
    Though a separate federal health insurance system with no connection to Obamacare or its online marketplaces, Medicare is going through its own evolution in terms of plan offerings and customer access.
    Here’s a basic primer for future Medicare enrollees:
    • What is Medicare? Medicare is a government-provided health and hospitalization insurance program for people 65 and older and for some people under age 65 based on disability or particular forms of illness.
    • What does it cost? Though you’ve likely paid taxes into the Medicare system your entire career, Medicare isn’t a completely free program; you’ll pay premiums deducted from your Social Security checks for some portions of your benefits. There may be copays and deductibles for certain services. If you have health issues already, it’s a good idea to investigate coverage based on the services you’re likely to need over time.

  • Valles Caldera’s experiment finally comes to an end

    If the Valles Caldera National Preserve were a person, its epitaph would be: They tried.
    What a preserve brochure called an “experiment in public land management” will end with the signing of federal legislation.
    In 1997 owners of the Baca Ranch, aboriginal land of Jemez Pueblo and later a Mexican land grant, decided to sell. The 89,000-acre property might have been subdivided and sold but for the movement to keep it whole through a sale to the federal government.
    The Baca wasn’t just any chunk of real estate.
    Within its boundaries is the Valles Caldera, a gargantuan volcanic bowl created in the Jemez Mountains by violent eruptions 1.4 million years ago. The caldera’s green meadows, streams and ponds are home to a variety of wildlife.
    Congress bought the ranch for $101 million in 2000. Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman fashioned legislation that combined public and private, ranching and recreation in a national preserve governed by an appointed board of trustees.
    They were to maintain a working ranch but offer recreation, fishing and hunting while protecting the land and its creatures. And they had 15 years to make the property self-sustaining.
    It offered something for everyone, and that was the problem.

  • Happy New Year

    Like many men, my father wanted sons, and my mother was kind enough to endure the pain of giving him five.
    And like many women, my mother wanted daughters. One can understand why she was disappointed when I was born and my father was boasting yet another son to his buddies in the waiting room. But Mom was so upset over yet another XY-mouth to feed that she went into a tantrum with the nurses, throwing things and crying out that she wanted a girl.
    I still own the pink baby bracelet the nurses put on me in a chromatic effort to calm her down. I’m lucky Dad didn’t name me Katherine just to make amends for sharing the wrong chromosome.
    As Ma lay in bed huffing and puffing over how unfair life was, the nurses brought in her roommate’s baby boy. The baby had been born with no fingers, and yet the woman never once complained. She held her newborn with the accepting love that only a mother seems able to give in the worst of situations.
    My mother immediately demanded to have me brought back into the room so that she could check my fingers. And of course, she ceased her ridiculous tantrum.
    It was a lesson my mother never forgot, and one that benefited me by her sharing the story with me.

  • Sea change for the New Year

    “This is a sea change as our nation is finally embarking on a 21st century approach with Cuba,” said Tom Udall last week after President Barack Obama’s announcement that the United States is abandoning its half-century old policy of pretending the island nation 90 miles off the shores of Florida didn’t exist.
    Only recently, the Democratic senator and Arizona’s Republican Sen. Jeff Flake had traveled to Cuba and met with Cuban officials, proof if proof be needed that Cuba does indeed exist.
    What hasn’t existed for decades now — at least in Washington — has been the common sense and political courage to admit that a policy fashioned in the 1950s when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president had long since demonstrated itself to be an abject failure, punishing to the Cuban people without serving the interests of these United States.
    To their credit, the majority of New Mexico’s congressional delegation, including Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich, appears to favor the president’s decision.
    Democratic Rep. Michelle Luján-Grisham was decidedly mealy-mouthed in expressing her support, but only 2nd Dist. Republican Congressman Steve Pearce actually came unglued upon hearing the news, complaining that it set “an extremely dangerous precedent.”

  • Getting St. Nicholas right

    St. Nicholas is, in fact, the greatest saint in the history of Christianity. Forget Peter, Paul, or Mary; St. Nicholas has them all beat. No other saint enjoys his unique relationship to all three branches of Christianity — Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant — nor his persistent presence in secular culture.
    Archbishop Nicholas of Myra and wonder-worker of the late third and early fourth century, has been and continues to be venerated ecumenically by all the various households of the Christian faith. Although rites and customs vary, some begin their remembrance of St. Nicholas as early as Dec. 6 (his feast day on the liturgical calendar) and continue to celebrate him all through the Twelve Days of Christmas until Jan. 5.
    The mode or means of veneration can vary as well. The Orthodox and Catholic churches through hymns and litanies ask him to pray for us and recount the miracles attributed to his intercessions or direct intervention. Outside of church in Orthodox and Catholic cultures, children can usually expect gifts to be given in the name of St. Nicholas. It is in this tradition of giving that St. Nicholas persists in Protestant cultures. And it is unmistakably St. Nicholas even in the most dogmatically Protestant of countries (e.g. “Sinter Claas” in 17th century Holland).

  • Guidelines on holiday visits for long-term care residents

    Holidays can be a challenging time for residents of long-term care facilities and their families. Two questions are often asked: Can I bring my loved one home, or to a holiday celebration, and what can I do to ensure a successful visit that doesn’t feel awkward?   
    Regarding visits away from a nursing home, residents receiving skilled nursing care may participate in short visits away from a facility without danger of losing their Medicare coverage. The Medicare Benefit Policy manual outlines rights of residents granted a short leave of absence to attend a family or religious occasion without jeopardizing their Medicare status. As long as a resident returns to the nursing home by midnight on the day of the leave, the facility may still bill Medicare for their stay. For families wishing to have a loved one home for an overnight visit, residents can leave a skilled nursing facility for short periods without losing their coverage, however, facilities may bill residents to hold their beds. For more information, visit medicareadvocacy.org/you-can-leave-the-nursing-home/. Residents who utilize Medicaid for long-term care services may also be allowed to leave a nursing home for brief periods. The state Medicaid plan covers three reserve bed days for brief home visits without prior approval. A physician’s order is required for this arrangement.

  • Planning a home remodel that actually pays off

    There was a time when contractors building McMansion-style home additions or Michelin-worthy kitchens were a regular sight in many neighborhoods — until around 2006, when the Great Recession began to take hold.
    Here’s the good news: home improvements are starting to add value in a rising housing market. Here’s the bad news: you have to be very careful about the renovation or remodeling projects you select to avoid over-stretching your budget.
    In 2014, completing successful home improvements comes down to two critical questions, will you get most of your money back when you sell your property (the days of 100 percent-plus returns on renovations are over, at least for now) and how will project costs affect your overall financial plan?
    Here are questions to fuel your planning:
    • How long you plan to live in the home after the renovation. The Great Recession proved many homeowners didn’t recoup elaborate — or sometimes modest — improvement costs when selling their homes. Even in a recovering market, it’s good to be wary. For now, renovate for the long haul and your personal enjoyment, not overnight sale.

  • Unsustainable subsidies and an unstable system

    On Dec. 3, while 190 governments were meeting for two weeks of climate change talks in Lima, Peru (which, after 30 hours of overtime, produced a compromise deal that environmental groups said “went from weak to weaker to weakest”), Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet agreed to a package that continues Germany’s optimistic ‘ though unrealistic — goal and increases subsidies for measures designed to cut emissions.
    Regarding Germany’s “climate protection package,” Barbara Hendricks, Environment Minister, admitted: “if no additional steps were taken, Germany … would miss its targets by between five to eight percentage points.”
    The results of the German agreement will require operators of coal-fueled power plants to reduce emissions by at least 22 million tons — the equivalent of closing eight of them. The Financial Times (FT) believes the plan will “lead to brownouts in German homes.”
    With the goal of generating 80 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050, Germany has aggressively pursued a green dream with unsustainable subsidies that have produced an unstable system described by FT, on Nov. 25, as: “a lesson in doing too much too quickly on energy policy.”