Thursday, September 12, 2013

Have Medicare? Don't worry about Obamacare.

There seems to be a lot of confusion in the retiree community regarding what Medicare participants need to do when the Obamacare "exchanges" start doing business on October 1.

The answer is simple: If you currently are participating in Medicare, you do not need to do anything! Medicare will continue uninterrupted for you. Enrollment in health insurance in those "exchanges" you'll be hearing about on TV is for those under 65 who are not covered by Medicare.

There is something happening in October, however, that Medicare participants need to think about: The annual "open enrollment period." Between October 15 and December 15 you can change your Medicare coverages for "medigap" policies and part D drug coverages. You can also switch from traditional Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan (or vice versa). All of this can be accomplished at See "I saved $700 in 45 minutes last Sunday."

Here's an article from the Wall Street Journal titled Seniors: Obamacare marketplaces don't change Medicare.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Hell froze over and I missed it?

It's been one month since my last blog post. During that time we finalized the sale of our Fredonia home of 40 years and have taken up full time residence in central Florida. For those of you interested in watching snow squalls only in HDTV, I may do a blog post or two in the future about "lessons learned" during our 16 month adventure.

For now, however, I need to share a jaw-dropping article from a recent edition of the NY Times. The article was titled "At charter schools, short careers by choice." The thesis, to paraphrase a famous movie line: Experience? Teachers don't need no stinkin' experience!

"As tens of millions of pupils across the country begin their school year, charter networks are developing what amounts to a youth cult in which teaching for two to five years is seen as acceptable and, at times, even desirable. Teachers in the nation’s traditional public schools have an average of close to 14 years of experience, and public school leaders and policy makers have long made it a priority to reduce teacher turnover."

The article notes that Teach for America introduced the idea of a short stay in a teaching job for high-achieving college graduates before moving on to their "real" careers and the rest of their lives. TFA provides its teachers with a few weeks of training during the summer and then they agree to teach for 2 years in low-income schools. 

"'To become a master plumber you have to work for five years,” said Ronald Thorpe, president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, a nonprofit group that certifies accomplished teachers. “Shouldn’t we have some kind of analog to that with the people we are entrusting our children to?' "

Critics argue that charter schools are taking advantage of the enthusiasm of young teachers to work them long hours for low pay and burning them out quickly in the process. The article points to YES Prep charters as an example. This group of 13 schools provides new teachers with 2 and one-half weeks of training in the summer before they begin work. The average experience level of YES teachers is 2.5 years. "At YES Prep... all teachers are assigned a cellphone to answer any student call for homework assistance until 9 p.m."

Just when did experience become a bad thing? How would you feel if you learned that your heart surgeon was "enthusiastic" about your case because yours would be their first solo surgery? Would you be interested in going to court having a lawyer handling their first case? Didn't think so. Do you remember how long it was into your teaching career before you felt you weren't groping for solutions in the darkness?

This particular article generated 715 online comments. As usual, I found many of these comments made excellent points. Here are just a few:

1) "Encouraging high rates of turnover in the teaching profession seems to me to be a very clever way to ensure that no one looks upon teaching as a lifetime career commitment anymore, thus divesting schools of ever having to worry about the costs of paying for teachers' health care and retirement. When you put 'em through boot camp, employ 'em for a few years, burn 'em out and send them packing for a new career, you need not be concerned that they're going to expect something like paid hospitalization, or a pension."

2) "As someone who once taught in an inner city for a short stint, and had an alternative career in software design, I can tell you one of the driving forces toward short careers is money. I took a 50% pay cut to be a teacher, and when I gave it up, went right back to where I was.

How many people out there would make such a huge financial sacrifice or have the means to do so. There's a reason why the folks in these careers are right out of college, single and mobile. And the reason they don't stay is money.

One of my fellow teachers once told me that all of the reforms in the world of education were simply ways of looking like they (politicians and bureaucrats) were doing something without spending any money."

3) "Why do I have this sick feeling in my stomach it's the education of minority and low income kids that's been shafted, that middle and upper-middle class parents won't send their children to these factories?

This is reprehensible. It's a vicious circle. Kids who are already disadvantaged because their parents don't have resources to support their education, are now being sent to be educated by people with very little professional and life experience, who want to move on to "something bigger and better". This is so immoral and unfair."

4) "From everything I read in the [article], this is simply corporate rubbish. The reality is that these "eager young" teachers are grossly overworked and underpaid. And that's just fine with the corporate elite that is behind the charter school movement. It is impossible to be a "great" teacher - for most people - including myself - without experience. This is nothing more than the "Walmartization" of teaching, including the lavish campaign contributions from the "charter school community."

The interest in this topic was so intense that the NYT put together a "Room for Debate" piece a few days later offering a variety of opinions from those qualified to comment on the subject. We'll get to their opinions in the next blog post.