Monday, March 28, 2011

why mail order pharmacies can be dangerous and what you can do about it

5 days of "being able to play nice with others" left...

I sure do hope that refill comes soon, and I'm sure so do my co-workers and others that have to interact with me on a daily basis.  That's the problem with Aetna's mail order pharmacy, I'm never sure if my drugs will arrive in 3 days or not at all until I call up and complain. When an inhaler or birth control or something else important like the above pictured generic happy pills do NOT arrive and you call them and reach a call center in New Delhi, you often get some strange excuse, after being kept on hold for several minutes, like they switched suppliers and something is backordered.  This would be inconvenient enough were you warned of it,  but when you don't get an email or a call to let you know there will be a delay it really is maddening. It can be dangerous as well, depending on the medication.

While many Americans have employer-sponsored plans that mandate that they buy their drugs from mail order pharmacies, my problem is my health plan makes it too costly for me to buy my prescriptions at my local pharmacy, where I can call and get a live person who knows me and my profile.  At Falls Pharmacy, which is a stone's throw down the hill and is owned and operated by two of my neighbors,  I can pick up my drugs when I need them with virtually no waiting.  If I order from Aetna, my medications can sit in my hot or cold mailbox, depending on the time of year, because I never know which day they are going to arrive and I do have to occasionally go to work.  They can also get stolen off my porch, like my debit card and my IRS refund check did this year.

Despite these problems, Aetna waives one month's co-pay if I buy a three month supply, so I end up paying a third less if I use the mail order service.  It's hard to pass that benefit savings up; especially if you have multiple medications.  

Here is a very good article by Jeff Gelles printed in the Philadelphia Inquirer business section last October about the current debate about mail order houses versus bricks-and-mortar pharmacies, which paints a pretty good picture of both sides of the debate.  There are currently 2 pieces of legislation under debate, House Bill 511 and PA Senate Bill 201, which aim to give Pennsylvania pharmacies the same right to offer multi-month discounts to consumers like me so I can choose which service to use based on other important factors besides price; like my desire to have a relationship with a health care professional when questions arise concerning my medications.  Or my desire not to go through the hassle of tracking missing orders.

This website has more information regarding the current national debate about mandatory mail order medicine and other issues regarding mail order pharmacies.  There are links so you can take action and contact your legislators regarding your feelings about this.   More here.

As for me, I just switched our entire company over from Aetna to Keystone because I was sick of the service  I was getting with Aetna.  It's nice to be the Company Administrator I guess; but not everyone can vote with their feet as easily as I did.   In the meantime, I'm crossing my fingers that my dopamine enhancer will be in my mailbox when I get home today.  Wish me luck.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

how do you feel about going to work today?

So after my latest angst-stricken self-deprecating diatribe against my choice of careers (no you did not miss anything, this was executed offline) I decided to poke around on the internet and see what new job search/recruiting sites were out there.  I mean, lets face it, whether your job is a good fit or not, the most talented people in any industry keep their resumes polished up and always have an ear to the ground.  Partly to keep their careers on track, partly to prepare for the worst, and partly to make they are earning what they are worth.  None of these things, I might add, I have done, as my spare time is spent riding my bike, writing in this blog, cooking, walking my dogs, and well, basically living my life.  My priorities have been different I guess. 

So I heard about The Ladders which is a recruiting site for 100k+ jobs. I thought I would check it out. I signed up and each Monday there is a new email in my inbox and I have to admit they are very well-written and informative.  It's pretty nifty marketing.

So this past week I got this one:

Good Monday morning, Andrea,

We've got over 400 people working here at TheLadders to make your job search faster, easier, less stressful, and more effective. Fortunately for you and for me, my colleagues are geniuses, and inventing new stuff all the time.

This past week they launched "Profiler". It's a single multiple-choice question you'll see when you log in. You don't have to answer it, but when you do, we'll show you how many other people on TheLadders answered it the same way. The Q&A looks like this:

After each answer... we'll ask you another question!

It might be a question like any of these:

- How do you feel about going to work today?
- Would you relocate to another state for a 10% increase in pay? 
- How's your boss doing? 
- How soon are you looking to get a new job?
- If you were offered a better job in another industry, would you take it?
- When you go into work in the morning, what are you most grateful for?
... and more and more and more.

Each time you answer one, you'll be helping recruiters understand you, and the opportunity you're looking for, even better. Each bit of information adds to a fuller, more complete picture of you.

We'll be writing more questions over the coming weeks to get to know you even better. Keep answering for better results!

And if you think of a good question that we're not asking, hit Reply and let us know. We are all ears...

OK, Readers, have a great week in the job search. I'll be rooting for you...

OK, fair enough.  The only issue is if I answer the questions the way I want to answer them I'm not sure if the recruiters will be pounding down my door.  Let's try it.  Here are the questions again and the first answers that came to my head, I swear.

- How do you feel about going to work today?  I feel stressed and anxious.  A lot better than yesterday.

- Would you relocate to another state for a 10% increase in pay? Are you kidding me?  I'd relocate to another state for a 10% decrease in pay.

- How (are) your boss(es) doing?  Let's start with #1:  well on the upside I think he has been taking his medication, however he has been mighty distracted lately and that always worries me.

- How soon are you looking to get a new job? Sometime BEFORE I lose it and tell Boss #2 what a complete insult it has been to work for him for 5 years and AFTER I finally hire an assistant.

- If you were offered a better job in another industry, would you take it?  I would take a better job in just about any industry....wait, is this a trick question? Are we talking the porn industry? Define "better?"

- When you go into work in the morning, what are you most grateful for?  That I was able to get my indoor interval workout done and the dogs walked before I spend the next 7 hours having the life sucked out of me.
... and more and more and more.  

Maybe we should stop here for now. Boss #1 and I went to high school together and we are FB friends, so sooner or later he IS going to read this stuff.  Boss #2 I am not convinced can actually read, so I might be off the hook there. However, if I do get shitcanned, I will finally have the time to browse over to The Ladders for a resume critique and a bona fide stab at "The Profiler."  If they recommend I go see a therapist I will let you know.  Luckily I've got that covered already.

Friday, March 25, 2011

spring hath finally sprungeth

Spring is officially here this week in Philadelphia, which might mean a frosty morning with an afternoon sun which beckons the mercury up into the fifties for a few measly hours, followed by a day like the past two where it hovers in the 30s and 40s and just keeps raining or even snowing.  It’s hard to get in a groove. Planning trips to chiropractors and Whole Foods around bike commuting days that float around the week with the unpredictable atmospheric conditions can be challenging. Last Friday the 18th however, was a gift to us weather-weary cyclists for sure.  High of 78 degrees and sunny!

Friday morning I was so excited to ride in on the bike.  But then I realized of course I would actually have to work once I got there, so I procrastinated by taking the dogs out for a "quick" morning walk.  It was an afterthought; I was already in my kit and windvest; sunscreen applied, backpack stuffed, ipod ready….when I thought,  I have to get these pups out this morning. Madison was following me around the house wagging her tail, trying to catch my eye to remind me that yesterday it had rained and they did not get out.  She keeps track of these things the little rascal.
So I took them out; knowing it would make me even later.  Walking in my bibs made me feel as if I was ready to jump on my bike at any moment, so there was no need to feel guilty that I kept walking farther and farther away from my house despite the time....until the three of us had meandered our way past countless crocus heads brandishing their purple crests on a two-mile stretch of east falls.  That's what spring does to you.  It's a good thing.

I finally got on my bike and headed south toward the airport where Liberty is situated in the 6.019 square-mile cultural, culinary, and intellectual wasteland known as Lester, Pennsylvania. Work was not too bad; the day went quickly and I could not wait to get back in my bike because as nice as it was on my way to work it was going to be 78 degrees on the way home. Yeah I mentioned that already.

I had a last minute guest that evening: my young teammate Charles Hanlon was arriving with his girlfriend Jen.  He was racing the Philly Phyler race on Saturday; and Jen was a Marshal-in-Training, so I offered my couch and floor for them to stay so they would not have to get up as 4 am to get Jen to the race on time driving from Kutztown.  By the time they got here I had already had a fire in my backyard pit for half an hour in the garden.  The dogs were in their usual summer positions in the yard: Chloe nestled in a den of ivy, Madison sniffing the air sphynx-like on one of the carpet squares, surveying the perimeter.  I was typing away but was having a hard time putting sentences together.

Charlie, between sips of the Golden Monkey I had offered my underage guest, might have thought it was strange to see me typing on my laptop on a Friday night.  After all I was not in school anymore, that kind of stuff was optional.  He asked me what I do for a living.

I hate that question.  Especially lately.  I replied that I worked as a Controller for Liberty Flooring, the commercial flooring company that has been sponsoring our team for the past 4 years.  I added that since it's a small company I wear many hats so my job duties go beyond accounting.   He nodded, taking it all in, this surreal balmy March evening whose largesse threw the three of us into the illusion of a mid-summer soire.  Jen quietly unwrapped an apple blossom in the flickering light, licking her fingers gingerly.

"I'm writing in my blog right now.  I'm really a words person more than a numbers person.  I was actually an English major in college, I did a lot of creative writing back then..." my voice trailed off as I fondly remembered all those college writing workshops.  "You know, it's funny, I love numbers too, because they don't lie, and I like their structure.”  Jen smiled and agreed with me.

“….it's really the creative aspect of words that really turns me on; how they can be manipulated" I continued.

It's funny, one could say that it was the manipulation of numbers that caused the financial crisis of 2008 that still casts its shadow on our economy, but in my opinion the numbers don't lie; it’s the people interpreting them who lie, and they usually use letters to complete their subterfuge. Numbers can be fudged, yes, but it's a person committing that crime, not the data itself.  The data is just a stream of information reflecting truths quantified by numerals.  There is no guile there until a person comes along and manufactures the distortions.

"I would really like a career change, " I said, "but I don't want to take a huge pay cut.  I have some expensive hobbies." Charlie smiled, because he knew one of them was bike racing.  Not to mention luxury cars, raw-fed naturally reared dogs, my organic holistic vegetarian lifestyle with the $200 a week food budget, or maybe just being single when you are, well, long past the age where the last of your peers has succumbed to the two-earner household.  All of them add up.  I can't just quit my job and start freelance writing while leading bike tours in Europe, although it would be nice.  

"I've developed a expertise in a industry that I don't want to work in anymore." The last few words I sort of swallowed, staring at those wavering orange embers and pondering the tragedy of it all.

Charlie caught this and said, "I'm sorry about that."

I was taken aback that I might have sounded bitter.  I quickly pointed out that although it was not exactly what I wanted to be doing, the skills I have gleaned from scaling up several small businesses will serve me well when I start my own.  He asked if I had done this yet, and I said I had, but I had to put it aside in the past 3 years when I started having all of my medical problems, which, I remarked, are now resolved.  The words hung in the air for a bit between the pop and crackle of the fire.  As if stating them aloud like that would make them come true.

And there it is, just like my therapist said, I am totally at a crossroads in my life.  She said I have a “clean slate” now to construct the rest of my life, as much as I can, in the direction I want it to go.  It was one of those trite phrases that therapists use such as “seeking closure” but nevertheless it was apt.  Nothing tying me down.  I can find a job somewhere else and start the next big adventure.  I could keep on going with the mid-life crisis theme here but you get the point.

The opportunity to shape your own destiny, of course tempered by the vagaries of the lot thrown in your lap at birth, is one that many fortunate people have when they are Charlie and Jen's ages; but for me, it has come later in life. But that's just the way it goes sometimes.  Not much I can do about it now but rearrange my relationship towards it a bit; that is to say choose to view it in a way that renders me appreciative, not regretful.  That’s right, appreciation…. of the deepening of character forged from that hardship and experience.  The other option is I can allow it to embitter me, which is what I started to do as I built the fire and waited for my young guests to arrive.  Regret and self-recrimination are always a temptation for a perfectionist like myself who is prone to melancholy I suppose, but a fruitless one. 

Now I was staring into those flames and thinking how simple an idea it is just to change my perception of my past so it enriches my present rather than diminishes it. A simple idea, but not always simple to adopt.  For many years now I have feared the question, “what do you do for a living?” and chose not to think about the circumstances in my past that have led me down this path.  It is like my twenties were a lost decade in my life that didn’t really happen, and their absence has left an odd gap in the tapestry of my personal history.  I will have to dust off a lot of those experiences for the novel I’m planning on writing, so I will have to embrace transparency sooner or later.  I might as well work on it now, and allow the light of this renewed perspective to illuminate the past that I have pushed away for so long. 

Maybe this entire night was a gift.  This invitingly warm evening, my young guests and their innocent question, and the crackling fire; a crucible reminding me not to be afraid of truth, illuminating the darkness that had settled gently upon us the way it falls in summer, despite the fact that just beyond my fence the last of winter was waiting to claim us again for a few last desperate weeks.

Monday, March 7, 2011


walter inglis anderson
"Although I may not be able to prevent the worst from happening, I am responsible for my attitude toward the inevitable misfortunes that darken life. Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself.”

Walter Inglis Anderson, 1903-1965