Health Care Card Process Astounds US Citizen!


I’ve been spending more time in Barcelona lately. There is a great system of shared bicycles here, called Bicing, and I’ve been using it a lot to get around the city. It’s terrific, especially late at night when it’s cool and there’s not much traffic. I love cruising along the wide Gran Via, or floating through Parque Ciutadella past the Arc de Triomf, along with other anonymous riders thinking their own late night thoughts.

But reality intrudes: what if I crash and get injured? Not likely, but certainly possible. Or cut my finger while slicing bread? Or get sick? I’ve never visited a doctor here and had no idea where to go. My health insurance from the US might reimburse me for emergency care, but I’m really not sure about that.

I turned to the internet and quickly put together a plan.

On Tuesday I went to the branch of the Ayuntamiento (town hall) in my neighborhood. The line moved quickly; in about 20 minutes I was talking with a very pleasant woman who offered to take care of my request for Empadronado status. That simply means that you have registered as a resident of the city.

I presented my NIE (Número de Identificación de Extranjero or Foreigner identification Number) document, obtained when I bought an apartment here a couple of years ago. The NIE is sort of a tax number, useful for many transactions like opening a bank account. You do not have to own property to get an NIE. The woman helping me also asked for my passport and some indication of my residence in the city. I presented an electricity bill in my name. A rent receipt or similar document would have been acceptable too. She turned to her computer screen and in a couple of minutes handed me a printed official Empadronado document – name, date, address, etc. Registered! The entire process was conducted in a cordial, helpful, professional manner and took about 10 minutes.

On Wednesday I went to the CAP (Centro de Asistencia Primaria) in my neighborhood to request a medical card. There is a CAP in every neighborhood. Medical care is provided in these modern, attractive centers. If you need more specialized care you might be sent from the CAP to a CAC  (Critical Assistance Center).

At my neighborhood CAP there was no line and someone immediately offered to help me. She asked for my NIE, my Empadronado (of course!), and my passport. After a few questions and a brief conversation with her colleague about which doctor to assign me to, she entered my data into the computer system. She printed a temporary tarjeta medica showing the name of the doctor and nurse who will be my primary care providers. The permanent card will be sent by mail in a couple of weeks. I was at the CAP for about 15 minutes.

That’s it. I now have medical coverage in Barcelona and all of Spain. Amazing to me, a citizen of the USA, with its bizarre, convoluted, employer based health insurance system. And it’s mean spirited reluctance to make health care available to all of its citizens, especially low income folks.

I’m going to continue to wear my bike helmet (even though almost no Bicing riders use them) when I pedal through the city. With my tarjeta medica in my pocket, I may enjoy coasting through the Barcelona night even more!

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Posted in Barcelona | 4 Comments

The New Workplace


A friend told me what his job is like these days. He works for a big technology company doing all sorts of projects. He says that the first thing he does every day is to check his email. And somehow, these days, the first email in his inbox is always from the company, lamenting the fact that he is still working there.

He says that almost everyone gets similar emails. It’s kind of weird because there is a lot of talk about completing personal development plans and making sure to get enough training on new technologies, business savvy, and personal interaction skills. He is supposed to become a better team player and more of a self starter. But then the email says,

"We really wish we could replace you with someone cheaper. We are pursuing various resource activities that should soon result in several thousand jobs, probably including yours, moving to India. In the meantime, since we are stuck paying your salary, we expect you to work longer hours so we can avoid filling those vacancies on your team".

The email isn’t the same every day, although it almost always starts with something like “We really wish we could just eliminate your job all together” or "We must all strive for lowest cost solutions to maintain the competitive position of the company". Then it will go on to say something like, “We don’t want to pay for your work cell phone anymore, so if you need to call into a meeting after hours or while you are on vacation, just use your own cell and your own minutes.” I guess that does contribute in some way to a lowest cost solution. Not for him, but at least for the company.

Occasionally my friend buys a book on technology and has always been able to submit a simple expense form for automatic reimbursement. The company keeps saying that he should ‘sharpen the saw’ to remain valuable to the organization. But now the email says that, despite his advanced degree and 20 years of experience, he must get his manager to pre-approve any book purchase. He hasn’t tried to sneak ‘Best Erotic Writing of 2009’ through yet, but I suppose pre-approval will make sure he never does.

My friend thought it was pretty reasonable for the company to cover the cost of a home Internet connection, since he was told to avoid working in the office. Working from home cuts down on the number of desks needed and the associated cost of floor space. But then the email informed him that since he probably already had an Internet connection, he should just use that for work and there was no reason the company should pay for it.

At first he was pissed off last week when the email told him to report to the 2nd floor conference room that morning to begin training some guys from India to take over his team’s work. After a few weeks, if he does his job well, the Indian guys will be able to return home and do the work from there, cheaper. He was so angry that he decided to refuse, until he read on – to learn that he would have three months of work training them, and then would be eligible for some severance pay and unemployment benefits. If he refused he would just be fired.

It’s kind of funny because he still feels some loyalty and responsibility. It’s hard to shake the idea that if you work hard, do a good job, be productive, and contribute then your efforts will be appreciated and rewarded. Now he says he realizes that is not always true, but he still wants to make sure those guys know what they are doing before they leave.

Posted in Working | Leave a comment

Tipping


I went to the local deli to get lunch the other day. I made myself a salad from the salad bar, selecting the medium size plastic container, carefully choosing which items to add to the container (potato salad, yes; beets, no), and snapping the top in place. I took the filled container to the check out. The cashier, who is also the owner, put my plastic container in a plastic bag, added a plastic knife and fork and a napkin, took my five dollar bill and gave me 36 cents change. With 36 cents in my hand I now had a decision to make. Should I drop the change in the jar on the counter labeled ‘Tips’ with some scrolls and curlicues? Should I add additional coins to make the tip 10 or 15 percent? Should I skip the tip and put the coins in my pocket? It might be considerate or polite to tip, but what had the cashier, the owner, or the deli done to deserve a tip? Isn’t a tip supposed to be for service received? Does that include accepting payment for a salad you assembled yourself? Or is the tip supposed to show your appreciation for the quality of the components of the salad bar? Or the positive attitude of the staff and owners? Shouldn’t those things be included in the price of the items offered for sale by the deli? Maybe a tip is only appropriate if the staff makes a sandwich for you. Many questions.

The next day I found myself at Starbucks, buying a ‘Grande’ for $1.94. There, right by the register, was the Tip jar. $1.94 is pretty expensive for a cup of coffee, yet I was being asked, gently, to contribute an additional sum in the form of a tip. And I couldn’t just put the 6 cents change in the tip jar – too cheap; I would have had to come up with more change from my pocket. True, the tips are to benefit the hard working staff, many of whom are short on income and trying to build lives for themselves. But why should I be asked to subsidize the wages of folks working for a corporation making millions of dollars ($672,638,000 net income in 2007). If the tip is for service, what service did I get? Having someone fill up a paper cup with coffee so I could buy it, and then add my own milk, sugar, and top? Maybe a better tip would be to write to Starbucks suggesting the company pay a higher wage and get rid of the tip jars.

The most popular local coffee shop in town is a gold mine. People lined up all day for coffee and drinks, pastry, and sandwiches. The owner has good business sense and must be making a ton of money, probably doing better financially than many of the customers. Yet many of those customers are dropping money into the tip jar. I suppose that could be considered a sort of sliding scale pricing. You can increase the price you pay for your coffee or pastry if you feel you can afford to, or just pay the minimum if you feel the need to be more frugal. But I think even the limited income people – perhaps especially those folks because many of them may have been on the other side of the counter – feel they should contribute to the tips.

I went to the local ‘gourmet’  ice cream shop. Sure enough, there was the tip jar right next to the register. The next time I went to the same shop there was a line doubling around the counter and out the door. Too long a wait, so I went to the ice cream chain up the street. Quicker service, less pretension, lower prices, ice cream just as good, and no tip jar.

Why not tips at the Stop and Shop supermarket checkout? Those people do a lot of work for the purchaser, ringing up and bagging the groceries.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Paella and Waste


Today’s waste story: It was lunch time at the financial behemoth in Hartford where I work. So I walked through the tunnel to the cafeteria in the home office building.  As I approached the food dispensing area a woman with a chef’s hat and a Spanish accent stopped me. It was Hispanic Heritage week and she was urging me to try a sample of paella. I’m not sure why – there was  nothing to buy like there usually is at Costco when free food samples are offered to shoppers. But I gladly took a small plastic cup of paella and a plastic fork.

I ate the paella as I continued the remaining few steps to the food area. Pretty good!  The paella consumed and the cup empty I looked for a place to dispose of my recently acquired sampling kit. Thoughtfully, the paella provider had located a trash can, dedicated to receiving the cups and forks, along the route to the food area. I tossed my utensils in and noticed that mine were not the first. In fact, the paella samples had generated a whole pile of abandoned plastic. And the lunch period was just starting. How casually all of us tasters accepted and disposed of our contribution to this growing pile of waste.

As you drive into Hartford, there is a huge hill beside the interstate – the landfill. Tomorrow it will be a little bigger after my discarded cup and fork have been added.

Posted in Waste | Leave a comment

Success!


When I started my other blog (http://danb99.blogspot.com/) I did not really think it would have much impact on national politics. Boy, was I was wrong! My first success was getting Republican Senator George Allen defeated (see my post 9/25, http://danb99.blogspot.com/2006/09/another-racist-republican-senator.html). Of course, his idiocy did not help him nor did the fact that Jim Webb, his opponent, turned out to be a decent guy with something worthwhile to say. But it was my blog post that made the difference, and resulted in the Democrats taking control of the Senate. 

I was pretty happy about that, but still underestimated the power of the (my) pen, or keyboard. Since Allen’s defeat, a bunch of Republicans have announced they would not run for reelection, lots of other Republicans have revealed themselves to be true hypocrites (Senator Craig comes to mind), and the probability of further Republican losses in Congress in 2008 has soared.  The Republican party is in shambles. The crumbling Republican juggernaut has given new meaning to the word fissiparous.

People don’t even talk much anymore about how bad Bush is. They are just waiting for him to go away.

So a word of advice to all you aspiring bloggers out there who lament the lack of readers and your failure to make an impact: don’t give up. You too can be someone special with a lot of clout!

Just write brilliant stuff, like I do, and eventually people will notice and you will become very influential. It happened to me; it could happen to you.

I’m taking on consumerism next.

Posted in News and politics | Leave a comment

Success!


When I started this blog I did not really think it would have much impact on national politics. But I was wrong. My first success was getting Republican Senator George Allen defeated (see my post 9/25). Of course, his idiocy did not help him nor did the fact that Jim Webb, his opponent, turned out to be a decent guy with something worthwhile to say. But it was my blog post that made the difference, and resulted in the Democrats taking control of the Senate.

I was pretty happy about that, but still underestimated the power of the (my) pen, or keyboard. Since Allen’s defeat, a bunch of Republicans have announced they would not run for reelection, lots of other Republicans have revealed themselves to be true hypocrites (Senator Craig comes to mind), and the probability of further Republican losses in Congress in 2008 has soared.  The Republican party is in shambles. The crumbling Republican juggernaut has given new meaning to the word fissiparous.

People don’t even talk much anymore about how bad Bush is. They are just waiting for him to go away.

So a word of advice to all you aspiring bloggers out there who lament the lack of readers and your failure to make an impact: don’t give up. You too can be someone special with a lot of clout!

Just write brilliant stuff, like I do, and eventually people will notice and you will become very influential. It happened to me; it could can happen to you.

I’m taking on consumerism next.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fidelity Out of Sudan


I just sent the letter below to Fidelity in support of the Fidelity Out of Sudan campaign. See http://fidelityoutofsudan.googlepages.com/ for more details

 

Fidelity Investments
P.O. Box 770001
Cincinnati, OH 45277-0035

Dear Fidelity,

Please sell all shares of Fidelity Contrafund in account #xxxxx and invest the proceeds in Fidelity Cash Reserves.

Although I am pleased with the performance of Contrafund, I cannot continue to invest in a fund holding securities of companies such as PetroChina and China Petroleum that enable the genocidal policies of the government of Sudan.

I have contacted Fidelity previously to express my concern over your failure to divest from such companies. I plan to continue to work for the Fidelity Out of Sudan campaign by urging my friends, co-workers, employer, and family to learn about Fidelity’s position. I am also considering moving all my Fidelity investments to another company, such as Calvert, that does support the divestment goals.

Sincerely yours,

Daniel Burke

cc. Anne.Crowley@fmr.com

customer.email@fidelity.com

info@FidelityOutOfSudan.com

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment