Monday, May 19, 2008

Gas Prices & Healthcare

I know everyone is sick and tired of the gas prices and probably even more sick of hearing about it. But, since this is my blog and I can talk about whatever I want, that's what I am going to talk about. If you don't like it, don't read it! ;P

I have been so frustrated lately about finances. The thing is, we make a good amount of money. And we still struggle. I don't understand how people who make less than us or even as far as minimum wage make it! I have a gas-guzzling Ford Expedition, so I fill it every week at $90 lately. And I don't go anywhere! I drive the kids to school, I go to work, we go to church once a week. Occasionally I run an errand, but I try to limit that--go to the grocery store on my way home from work, pay bills over the phone or online, save up errands and do them all at once, etc. Add Chris' gas usage and we are over $150 a week. It's ridiculous. I've already told the kids that we are doing nothing this summer. We can't afford the gas! Last summer, even though it was high (though about $1 a gallon lower than it is now), we still went lots of places. This summer, if we are lucky, we will see the zoo and the YMCA occasionally. Any fun to be had, will be had in the backyard! I'd sell the Expedition, but we still have 2 years left until it's paid for!

Last year, I quit my job delivering newspapers because the gas was too high. I wasn't profiting enough to make it worth it anymore. And it has gone up since then! I don't know how the rest of them are still doing it!

And it's not just the gas prices--it trickles down to all the businesses and the price of everything else goes up! My grocery budget used to be $100 a week (not that long ago). I had to bump it up to $150 a week and now I can't even keep it in that range. I am closing in on $200 a week and I am skimping! Chris is always complaining that there isn't enough food in the house. We definitely aren't starving, but we could definitely do better, especially when it comes to fresh produce. I try to make the simplest meals so that the grocery bill won't be so high. A WalMart brand bottle of canola oil is up to almost $4! Milk is over $4 a gallon! Eggs are almost $2 a dozen!

My question is where is it going to stop? Will it ever stop? I have heard people predicting that it will keep going up, up to $7-8 a gallon! How can we afford that? When will it cost us more to go to work than what we make going there?

I was listening to an interview with a truck driver when they had their march on Washington and I was nearly in tears out of frustration and empathy. This guy and his wife live in their truck--they have no other home. They are putting all their money into the gas tank and barely have enough money to eat on.

What I wonder is what would happen if everyone in the country went on strike for just one day! Think about it. What would happen if no one could afford to go to work. Or even just one industry. What if all the truck drivers went on strike? How would anything be shipped? Mail, food, supplies, etc. Think of the perishable items that would be lost. What if the emergency vehicles couldn't roll out? Or my job--what if all of the postal workers went on strike? Or my husband's job--he works for a trash company (he does the commercial cardboard recyclables). I know the price of diesel has been through the roof and it has to be passed down to consumers. I heard the trash service cost has been steadily going up. What would the country do if all the residential trashmen went on strike? Think of all the trash piling up. And here in our area, we are under burn bans a lot because of dry, windy conditions that can spark wildfires. So we couldn't even burn our trash.

I was talking about the costs with the girl at the checkout counter at WalMart. We were wondering if we were going to have to go back to growing our own food, raising our own livestock. What about a step further--what if we start seeing horses and buggies on the streets because no one can afford to operate their motor vehicles any more? I'm beginning to think growing a garden isn't such a bad idea. And Chris has been talking more and more about buying livestock to put out at his friend's property. Or buying property of our own with room for livestock.

I've been reading a lot of books that take place in the early prairie days and the thing that struck me was that they didn't have to go far to get the things they needed. Yeah, it may have taken longer for them to get there since they used foot power or horsepower, but in our day and age, everything is spread too far out. If we went back to walking, biking, horse and buggy, it would take us forever to get where we are going. Chris' work is 13 miles away from our house. Even my work is 7 1/2 miles away. The kids school is 5 1/2 miles away. The closest store is a mile and a half away. My mom's house is over 8 miles away. My grandparents live 11 1/2 miles away. Our church is 13 miles away. Have you ever wondered how long that would take to travel? I did, so I figured it out. These figures don't take into account traffic or red lights, just a straight constant gait. If we were riding or driving a horse at a trot (average 8mph), it would take us 11 minutes to get to the store, 41 minutes to get to the kids' school, 56 minutes to get to my work, one hour to get to my mom's house, one hour and 26 minutes to my grandparents', and 1 hour and 37 minutes to get to Chris' work or our church. It gets way worse if you were walking. If we walked at an average walking speed of 2.5mph, it would take us 36 minutes to get to the store, 2 hours and 12 minutes to get to the kids' school, 3 hours to get to my work, 3 hours and 12 minutes to get to my mom's house, 4 hours and 36 hours to my grandparents' house, and 5 hours and 12 minutes to get to Chris' work or our church. Yeah, I can see Chris walking for 10 1/2 hours a day, plus working a 12 hour day!

What I want to know is when is the government going to do something about it? Do they all have expense accounts or are driven around by chauffeurs and haven't pumped their own gas in so long that they don't feel the pinch that we do? Why can't they pass some legislation to help us? That few thousand barrels they saved us from losing to the reserve--what does that help? Pass some legislation with incentives for auto makers to create vehicles that run on pure ethanol or other alternative fuels or electricity. My husband knows someone that drives a racecar fueled by ethanol, so why can't they make regular cars to run on ethanol? I know they are making flexfuel cars now that can run on both, but why not make it a standard, instead of the exception? And where are the ethanol fueling stations? You can find some that have a blend, but have you ever seen one dispensing pure ethanol? Or let's find a way to make the Delorean from Back to the Future a reality--run off trash! That would be a great recycling method...kill two birds with one stone! There's got to be SOME alternative, some legislation! There's some legislation now that requires auto makers to bring their auto production up to a standard miles per gallon by a certain time, but I think we need something more! Is it all about the oil money?! No one wants to help the average man, they want to help the rich get richer? If we had no need for oil and gasoline, then the oil guys would suffer. Something is backwards in this country if we are more worried about the poor little rich guy than the average American workers who shoulder all the work and responsibilities, whose backs this country was built on. Sorry, soapbox...

I feel guilty at the same time that I feel this anger because I know that we are still the richest people on the planet. Other countries probably wish they had this problem. They don't have enough food or shelter, education, or clean drinking water. It seems silly to gripe about gas prices when others are dying of starvation or other things that we know nothing about. But the thing too is that how can we help these other nations if our hands are tied because we can't make our own ends meet.

If all that wasn't bad enough, I am also frustrated with the cost of healthcare. I think the picture above could be hung on nearly every doctor's office, clinic, and hospital in America, as well as applying to gas prices. And it is getting worse and worse every year. Like I said before, we make a decent amount of money, but we can't afford to go to the doctor. I remember when my dad worked at Boeing and we had good healthcare. We didn't pay much out of pocket. When Chris and I first came back to Kansas and I was pregnant with Arrena, his work's insurance was great. I had a c-section and they paid it all. Now we have some ridiculous deductible and on top of that, we have to pay 20% of all services. One of my prescriptions was over $70 a month after the insurance reduced it! I don't take it--I can't afford that. And you can't just have one bill for one visit. You are billed for the hospital, the doctor that treated you, the lab, radiology, etc. We rarely go to the doctor--we have to be VERY sick before we go and we still constantly owe doctor bills. One visit I made, for an annual exam cost me over $700. So, now I skip the exam which is not the smartest thing for me to do because I had a LEEP three years ago when I had cervical pre-cancer. I am fine now, but it is possible for it to come back. I'm supposed to be checked once a year (for the first year following the surgery, it was supposed to be every three months). But, I can't afford $700 a year (let alone every three months), in addition to bills for the rest of the family. What if one of us got really sick or hurt? How could we afford that? Because of this, I have started looking into supplemental health insurance to cover what Chris' insurance does not.

I just think it's ridiculous. We make too much money to receive assistance with healthcare from the government, but don't make enough to be able to afford our doctors' bills! Our credit stinks, not because of credit card debt, but because of medical bill debt. And like I said, it's not like we go to the doctor much at all. I remember when Chris used to say, "we have insurance, take them to the doctor." But, now I protest. Just because we have insurance does not mean we can afford to go to the doctor. If it's a virus, all the doctor will say is "nothing we can do, it has to run its course, rest and fluids, blah, blah, blah." I can't afford to take three children to the doctor at nearly $100 each visit to hear that it has to run its course. So we don't go unless it is a dire emergency. And how do you sit there, looking into your sick child's face, trying to determine if a trip to the doctor is worth it? With three children (& even with us occasionally), you sometimes NEED a doctor or a trip to the ER. We just get medical bills paid off or at least DOWN and someone else gets sick and there's more medical bills. And if it was one bill, you could pay on that a little at a time, but when they send you several bills, for doctors, labs, etc., they all want their money and they all want it right now!

My grandma pointed out that Chris could receive healthcare at the VA. NO WAY! After what I saw of how they cared for my dad, I wouldn't send anyone I cared about to the VA for treatment!

It would be so nice if we had a doctor or a nurse in the family. At least someone to look at the children and tell me if it warrants a trip to the doctor or if it's nothing to worry about or can be treated at home. I wish I had the stomach--I would love to be a nurse. I would love to work with babies, especially, but I can't handle shots, blood, other bodily fluids, etc. I'd not make it a week, though I desperately wish I could. If I didn't pass out cold, I'd definitely lose my lunch. I don't like to push my kids to be or do anything when they grow up. I want them to follow Jesus, I want them to be good people, and I want them to be happy. Other than that, they can be anything they want to be--if digging ditches makes them happy, I'm fine with that. But, I'd sure love it if one became a doctor! If I had my choice, I think I'd have a doctor, a lawyer, and a mechanic, so we have all our bases covered! Ha, ha. We can count Arrena out for the doctoring--she's even more squeamish than I am! If we could pry Kimmy away from her love of animals, she's got the stomach for it! Ha, ha.

I know, I've been ranting, but it all irks me SOOOOO much! It literally brings me to tears of frustration and anger. Is there any light at the end of the tunnel?

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