I wanted

I wanted to write to tell you about our beautiful spring weather. I really WANTED to do that; unfortunately I can’t do that because we don’t HAVE any beautiful spring weather.  We have rain, cold and a bit of hail, with sneaky bits of blue sky and sun that show up to tease us, then disappear behind giant black clouds to leave room for more rain.

It’s nice for the rivers, which are running high and fast, but the humans are all beginning to feel as if they have mildew.

Last Monday, which was supposed to be Omelette day (an Easter Monday tradition), it was cold, rainy and miserable, so although we did participate in the Omelette with a bunch of people, we had to have it indoors instead of outside, and someone there was sick, so now many of the rest of us are sick too!

Then, when JM went up to the attic to look for something, he discovered that the roof was leaking!  A tile seems to have gotten broken when we were having a cable drawn from the satellite dish for Mom’s television, but no one noticed until the 40 days and 40 nights of rain hit.  Luckily, friend David is here and kindly went up on our roof to fix it for us, since it was a weekend and we all know you can’t call a roofer on the weekend.

So, life in the Possum Kingdom does not feel cheerful at the moment.  But, tomorrow is another day and the Depeche is promising us sunshine.  I hope they are right or we are all going to develop gills.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Carnaval, Easter and the Economy

A bunch of different things to mention today.

First; in the past I believe I’ve told you that our area, besides being in Cathar country, is also Carnaval country. Just about every village has a carnaval celebration at some point between January and mid-April. Limoux is the hot bed of Carnaval, with a celebration every Saturday and Sunday for all of January, February and March.

Here in the Possum Kingdom, our Carnaval is much more restrained. It’s a weekend at some point in March or early April. This year, it was this weekend. A giant, papier maché statue of Badaluc, king of the Carnaval, is built and paraded around town accompanied by revelers in all kinds of costumes. There’s lots of drinking, dancing, drinking, confetti throwing and, did I mention, drinking? This is the first time that the Carnaval has been on Easter Weekend, so it should have been a big event.

Unfortunately, our ever-changing, strange weather put a bit of a kabosh on the whole thing, as we have been having rain, and more oddly SNOW! They tried to brave it during the day yesterday, but a papier maché carnaval god just can’t hold up under the pouring rain, so they gave up. That is until sometime after 1 am, when either the rain calmed down or the participants were drunk enough not to care. We didn’t actually SEE them, as we were all tucked into bed, but everyone HEARD them banging drums, yelling and wandering the streets.

I don’t know how many Easter celebrations are being ruined today, given the weather. It felt a lot more like January when walking the Shmoo this morning than a spring day in March. Tomorrow is the day when people have the traditional Easter omelette, which is often held outside. My guess is it will be an indoor affair this year.

And, that brings me to the economy. I’ve been wanting to write about it for a few weeks now, but every time I set out to do so, I just get plain depressed and give up. That Easter Omelette is going to cost 20 to 30 percent more this year than it has in the past. Prices for food are skyrocketing, and 60 Millions de Consommeteurs (French equivalent of Consumers Report) followed the prices of 138 food items between September 2007 and the end of January 2008. They discovered that prices for some things (notably in the dairy, grain and meat categories) have risen by as much as 45% in the period! That is just shocking.

For those of us living on a dollar income, but spending in Euros, the story is far more dire. We are losing a third of our income to the fall of the dollar, but still paying the same rising prices as everyone else. This price increase for food and, dare I say it, oil, is global, so not limited to those of us here in France. Friends of mine from around the world are all feeling the pinch and we’re all afraid. I do feel that despite this, we are better off here than we would have been in L.A., because we are debt-free, which wasn’t the case there. You can always cut down on certain forms of spending, but mortgage, car payments, insurance, electricity, etc., are relatively fixed.

I don’t see an end in sight to what is going on in the world, so we will all have to find a way to deal with it; and I think we’re in for some bumpy times ahead.

Ciao for now.

Randy

French medical prices; part deux

I was going to answer this comment from loyal reader Dev Tobin, then realized it was too complicated to do it as a comment and it needed to be a whole entry.

Dev Tobin Says: March 15th, 2008 at 4:49 am e

Great post, you and/or JM might want to rework it some and share it with the world at Daily Kos and European Tribune.

nyceve at DKos would love it.

Are those remarkably low prices for medical procedures the co-pay, or the total cost that the national system pays?

If the latter, which I presume is what Depeche du Midi meant, no wonder the doctors are complaining.

House calls to take blood (and any non-emergency house call by a doctor) never happen in the richest country in the history of the world.

Thinking of a 1-to-1 euro/dollar parity is so 20th-century, much to my dismay.

When I visited you guys 14 months ago, it cost $1.28 to buy a euro; today it’s $1.56.

And the dollar gets cheaper every day. Tough luck for me, who hopes to return to the Aude/Ariege region some day, and probably for you, if you have dollar income of any kind.

The “current abysmal state of the dollar” is due to Bushite policies that cannot effectively be reversed until sometime next year, and then only with a Democratic president leading the way.

Best of luck to your mom in negotiating the bureaucracy, with your help.

Prayers and (((hugs))) for the sick boy.

First, Dev, JM did put a diary on Dkos, but I don’t know about Euro Trib.

As to the prices; those are the prices for the procedures themselves, whether paid by patient or insurance.  What we have here is actually a bit of a hybrid.  We all have to have it, and if we can’t afford it, we do get covered under a kind of global, national umbrella. But it is broken down into three principal regimes: the General, Agricultural and the one for Independent workers (although there are some “special” categories as well).  For example, when we first moved here, because we didn’ t fit into any special category, we were under the general regime, with me being covered as his dependent. Then, when JM briefly became a real estate agent, we moved into the independent workers, with me still covered as his dependent.  Now that he is no longer a “business” we are going back to the general regime, but because I worked for the city for 80 hours last year, JM is now MY dependent and the paperwork is being redone.

For most things, Social Security will pay 70% of the cost, although there are some things for which they will pay 100%.  I THINK that surgeries are covered 100%, but I have to admit that I’m not totally sure.  I do know that if one has a chronic condition, then all treatments dealing with THAT condition are covered 100%.

Now, to cover the difference in cost, most people have what is called a Mutuelle, which is basically a private insurance coverage so that we don’t have to pay that 30% out of our own pockets.  It is much less expensive than a private insurance in the U.S., and we can get different types of coverage depending on our needs. For people with income below a certain level, both the Social Security insurance itself, and the Mutuelle coverage are free, so those people never have to pay a penny out of pocket.

So, between one thing and another, those prices would be 100% covered for almost everyone, one way or another. And, as low as those prices are, no one here, including the doctors, think they should go up to U.S. levels!  Just maybe be reimbursed at a bit higher rate.

In a village like ours, with such a high percentage of elderly people, I don’t think there is much choice but for the doctors to make house calls for certain things.  In fact, we could have had a nurse come to take the blood, but our doctor thought that with JM’s sensitivity to the whole thing, it was safer for him to do it. It was funny, because I have gotten used to the idea that they do this sort of thing here, but JM, who doesn’t have much trucking with the medical world, found it extremely surprising as well.

As to the dollar; to be honest it makes us weep. Costs are going up here too for stuff like food, etc.  In fact, I’m just reading a magazine article in the French equivalent of Consumers Report, and for some things like milk, etc., prices have gone up as much as 40% since last September.  Now that I’m feeding three adults, I really feel the hit when I shop and I have to say that I’m seriously worried, along with everyone else I know.  You can only cut back so much and still manage to feed everyone in a healthy way.

Since we also lose money in the exchange rate, we feel it even more than people who earn their living over here.  I’m sure that we will see a summer with very few tourists, which will only hurt the local economy even more.

Ciao for now,

Randy

Doctors, Prices and why I’m still happy we live in France

The last few weeks have been filled with various stories on medical issues here, there and everywhere.

First, a couple of weeks ago, a Welsh ex-pat, married to a French nurse told me a story about their son. The boy, 17-years-old, was supposed to go out partying with some friends on Friday night. He didn’t feel up to it, so stayed home. He still felt rotten over the weekend, so went to the doctor on Monday, where the conclusion was that he probably had a virus. Monday night, he felt worse, so Tuesday his mother took him to the hospital for some blood tests. Tuesday afternoon they received an urgent call from the hospital that the boy must be brought back immediately. If it wasn’t possible for them to bring him, then an ambulance was going to be sent for him. A specialist was on-call, awaiting their arrival. It turned out the kid has leukemia and needed to be put into immediate treatment. No questions asked, no insurance companies making decisions, just the boy, his parents and the doctors. No update on this at the moment, but the family was told it is a type of leukemia that is usually successfully treated in the young, so prayers are out to the family.

Second little anecdote: JM finally agreed to get a check-up at our local Doc’s office. Like many people, he’s a bit sensitive about medical stuff, particularly having blood drawn.  We tried at the doctor’s office, but it just didn’t go well because he was too nervous.  Our doctor said it would be better if he came to OUR house to draw the blood, so that JM would be more relaxed.  He set up an appointment, came over, took blood (which went much better in the calm atmosphere of home), had the results the NEXT day, when we went back to his office to find out how things were and finish the exam.  This all cost EXACTLY the same thing as just an office visit.

Another friend came by today and told me that a few years ago he was in a serious motorcycle accident. His jaw was smashed up and in order to fully repair the damage, it was recommended that he have ALL his teeth pulled, and permanent dentures placed instead. He was young and didn’t want to do it, but after suffering for a year or so, realized he had no choice. The work was done, he didn’t pay a penny out of his own pocket and says he wishes he had done it sooner.

Now, the medical professionals in France are not happy campers. They feel that they have not been getting paid high enough rates for various procedures, and there have been various protests. There is all kinds of discussion of the best way to keep everyone happy and yet not have to scrimp on patient care, etc. A universal problem it seems. However, what I found interesting was a chart that appeared in La Depeche du Midi, showing the fees for the most frequently done medical procedures. I’m going to put the prices in Euros, without taking into account the current abysmal state of the U.S. dollar, because I believe that on a dollar to Euro basis, we have to think of 1 to 1 parity for this type of thing:

Cataract surgery: 271.7€

Glaucoma surgery: 83.60€

Pace Make implantation: 271.71€

Coronary bypass (this is the most expensive one) 1388.41€

Total hip and knee replacement: 459.60€ and 540.66€ respectively

MRI of spine and skull: 160.60€ to 239.79€

There were more, but I thought this would give you an idea. I can understand why hospitals and doctors think they don’t get paid enough, but I’m thrilled at the prices as a patient who hopes never to need any of these things, but still.

At the moment, my Mom is still in medical insurance limbo since her move here. Her Blue Cross/Medicare policy, will not pay for her regular medical care while she is here, but will ONLY reimburse in case she winds up in an Emergency Room. The supplemental policy we had to take out to satisfy the needs of the French government in order for her to obtain a visa, will not pay for any pre-existing conditions.

She IS eligible for French social security, however, the files of foreigners in the department are reviewed by 2 employees at the social security office in Carcassonne. At the moment, they have a backlog of 1200 files to go through! Clearly, if we wait in the queue, she isn’t going to be getting into the system tomorrow. Luckily, our local social security representative has said she will see if she can get them to push things forward a bit faster, given the circumstances.

After all, the woman is 84-years-old and not in the best of health. She takes a variety of drugs and needs to see the doctor, and, indeed, needs to be evaluated by a cardiologist to make sure that everything really is going all right for her. I have to say that seeing these figures reassures me, because IF we need to have a consultation and tests before the system kicks in, I know we will be able to afford it and not have to choose between medical care and eating for a month.

I think we have made the right decision in not only moving ourselves, but in bringing Mom here as well.

Ciao for now,

Randy

Winter–Take Two

So, after a January and February that made everyone feel guilty because they were so mild and wonderful, March has decided it’s time for payback.  Yesterday, some weird polar front started making its way across the country.  It has not decided to spare the Possum Kingdom, and the weather has been simply brutal!

Yesterday afternoon, we had hail, sleet, snow and wind, all in about a 5 minute time period!  The hail was major and actually covered the cars and ground and looked quite lovely until it turned to slush.  There have been snow flurries on and off since then, and some major, freezing cold winds as well.

Of course, the timing couldn’t be worse, as almost all the trees and flowers have started blossoming by now. The temperature today has not gotten above freezing as far as I can tell, so I would imagine this is not going to be good for the little growing things.

Also, of course, everyone in town is bringing out their old clichés about how having a nice Christmas means a lousy Easter, etc. We never lack for a proverb to fit the weather in the Kingdom! Meanwhile, proverbs or not, we are all feeling cold and I laugh when I think that JM and I tried turning the heater off about a week ago, because winter was “finished.” Yeah, right!

I’m starting to think that this is all my fault though, because the day before it all started, I had decided to take my winter jacket up to the closet and retire it for the year.  Glad I didn’t get around to that!

Ciao for now.

Randy