Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I got a headache, and my insurance company caused it

I have thought very hard about the following post for a few reasons, chief among them that because Guåhan is small, the concept of burning bridges is not merely a cute anecdote but one that, in my opinion from my first two months here, can have very serious ramifications career-wise and personally. The fact that Guåhan is small exacerbates the niceties and drawbacks of close relationships, which themselves entail intimacy, gossip, nepotism, reciprocity, and lots of other facets too numerous to name here.

But the current debacle That Boyfriend and I are facing is one not unique to us nor lots of other people in Sanlågu, so I feel it’s worth sharing and trying to create some space for people to offer advice/receive information. This was written as a very long post and I’m going to split it up into sections for easier web reading. But this information is essential for any civilian who intends to relocate to Guåhan—or indeed, anyone who already lives here.

Essentially, I want to start posts that relate to health care on Guåhan. It’s certainly an ongoing challenge here, where Pacific Islanders’ health outcomes are some of the worst in the U.S.: high rates of diabetes, cancer (some of which are certainly related to environmental abuse perpetuated by the U.S. government), obesity, and heart disease. Additionally, from what I’ve observed so far, a high birth rate, meth epidemic, and culture of alcohol consumption stresses the health care system here in a unique way.

Our situation so far: we are part-time workers, currently on school group rate health insurance based in Sanlågu. We are looking for employment and think that our employment options are very good; we will get jobs (we’re very lucky in that way) but most likely our employment situation will most closely resemble that of a consultant or independent contractor. My coverage runs out this week, and so I’m currently shopping around for individual plans—which I expect to be more expensive than insurance through employers. I’m a very healthy young person under 30 years of age.

There are essentially four insurance companies on Guåhan, only two of them offering individual health care plans. One company would not give me a range of possible estimates for monthly payments for an 80/20 payment plan without me first paying $50. The $50 is a reasonable fee to research my medical history, but the fact that this company wouldn’t even give me an estimate for coverage prior to paying out this $50 strikes me as fishy. I essentially did, however, manage to beg out an estimate from an employee, who quoted me around $390 a month.

The second insurance company has an upfront estimate of individual monthly payments for a plan that offers similar benefits to the first company. The monthly estimate? $485 a month.

These benefits are generous, and probably too much so for the kind of coverage I need. For someone in my health and age, for example, I would probably want to pursue catastrophic health insurance, which has a high deductible (like $5,000) but low monthly rates (when I was in California I paid about $100-120 a month a few years ago). Yeah, I couldn't get basic doctors' visits covered, but if I got into a car accident (one of the leading causes of death for young people), at least my hospital stay would (maybe?) be covered. And I could pay up to $5,000--it's a lot, but manageable on a credit card if it came down to it.

The next post will delineate a little bit as to why these rates are so high. Some of the reasons are similar to those in Sanlågu (poor community health outcomes) and others are those specific to small markets. Any comments are very much appreciated, unless you’re just going to accuse me of being a communist because right now my gut reaction is to loudly proclaim love for single payer health insurance.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Gollai kalamasa (pumpkin tips)

In the interest of trying to eat a little more locally due to our lack of refrigerator space (most of the shelves are consumed by the rice and baking supplies to prevent mildew and rancidity), rising food prices, and a generally dismal state of imported produce quality, I bought some gollai kalamasa. I had never actually eaten this green before, but assumed that it would be okay in one of my favorite local dishes, gollai appan suni--otherwise known as taro leaves in coconut milk.

You can get a sense of how big the cut tips are here:

Before preparing gollai kalamasa, you first have to peel the slightly prickly skin from the stems.

As you can see from the thin threads that result from this peeling, you can imagine that this process takes a really long time. I think in the future I'll just cut off the stems since I didn't think they were particularly flavorful anyway.

The leaves are pretty large, so I would also suggest cutting them to quicken the cooking process and make eating easier.

The actual cooking process, according to Chamorro.com, is fairly simple. Essentially you boil the leaves with coconut milk, lemon juice, onion, ginger, and fresh hot peppers. You can find the gollai appan suni recipe here.

It was only after I had cooked the gollai kalamasa that I found out from locals that the tips are usually cooked in soups with chicken. Since it's a relatively tough vegetable with leaves that are a slightly furrier version of kale leaves, that would make perfect sense--but in my defense, I still think this version of gollai appan suni turned out pretty mannge'!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wishful thinking

Ha ha! Just kidding... turns out that this little pop-up thing-y window allows me to upload pictures after all and I can return to my irregularly scheduled posts.

On the recommendation of The Boyfriend, I checked out this website, which allows you to create your own avatar. I then wasted two hours of my life making avatars of various friends, family members, and, of course, myself. This is the avatar I made to represent me:

This is the avatar he made of me:

I guess I should be happy that he at least got the glasses right.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Technical issues

Blech. I have some pictures but Blogger is being very uncooperative, which is unfortunate since the idea behind this specific post is picture-centric. Hopefully this will get resolved within the next few days.

We signed up for phone line-based internet service a little more than a month ago once we realized that Marianas Cable Vision's advertised Internet 10.0 is a little slower than we were willing to pay $90 a month for. (Note: the speed test on the MCV website runs at least three times faster than it should, compared to other speed tests available. Also, MCV apparently knows this but doesn't really tell you that when you sign for service.) The Boyfriend started interrogating various workers at GTA Teleguam around July 10, and we have yet to successfully switch over to our hopefully awesomely fast internet connection. This is due in part to the previous tenants who ripped out the phone box--which required GTA to install both a new box and dig up part of the yard to install a new line--and also due in part to a general sort of slowness. On the plus side, only on Guam would the customer service rep who's been assigned to you after various complaints actually invite you to barbecue and a hike at Talofo'fo Falls.

We also called the local NBC affiliate and as of two fifty-something a.m. this morning, Guåhan officially has internet access to the Olympics. We missed all of goldenboy Phelps' shenanigans, obviously, but I guess our newfound participation in NBC's digital monopoly on the Olympics allows us to sit and enjoy synchronized swimming with my grandma. I can't wait.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

This is one way to sum up the Guam Experience

First of all, while that submarine in the previous post did leak radiation in Guåhan's waters, according to the U.S. government, the amount was a "weepage" as opposed to an actual leak. You can read about it here.

And in other news, of course the Olympics is happening. We don't have a working television (we do have one--it's on loan from an aunt, and it's in the closet) and decided that the internet is itself enough of a time-suck and so didn't get cable either. Consequently we're going to watch some Olympic events on the internets.

But we can't. Because we're not attached to servers in the stateside "U.S."/Sånlagu (according to NBC), we can't access Olympics coverage on the internet. (NBC has exclusive Olympics distribution rights in the U.S., so any coverage via the internet goes through NBC, so to speak.) But because the server we use on Guam is also not "international," we can't access Olympic coverage on YouTube, which has the international distribution rights.

So between the nuclear leak from a military vessel and this internet purgatory of between-international/U.S., you can pretty much deduce a significant bit about the relationship of Guam to the rest of the world.

Note: And yes, I used the term "Guam" here intentionally as opposed to my usual invocation of Guåhan.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Is this why Guåhan's waters are warm?

I went swimming today a mere few hours after reading this article in the Guam Pacific Daily News:

"Submarine leaks radiation: Navy says risk minimal; Guam tests due Tuesday."

I still get substantially fewer rashes here than I did when I swam in California.

Essentially, a nuclear submarine that is home-docked in Guåhan went to Hawaii for maintenance and was found to leak nuclear material-containing water. The leak could have been undetected for the past five months.

It is possible that the amount of water leaked contains "negligible" amounts of radiation, but I wonder what kinds of formal responsibilities the U.S. military has towards Guåhan's land and people when (and I write when, not if) more of these accidents occur.