Guest writers

              Bob Jackson

By guest writer Bob Jackson

A  bill has been introduced in the US congress to change the law and allow health insurance companies to charge older people premiums that are five times more than they charge younger people, instead of the current limit of three times as much.
Make no mistake, this is an “age tax” that severely penalizes people between ages 50 and 64 while providing a very small benefit for younger people.
An individual’s insurance premium is determined by how much risk is associated with that person. It is because younger people pose less risk than older people that their premiums are lower. The current three-to-one age rating spreads total risk across all of us in a way that is fair to everyone. Five-to-one isn’t fair.
Here’s why: Going to a five-to-one age rating will increase premiums for 50- to 64-year-olds by between $1,500 and $3,200 per year. For the oldest among that group, that would mean an annual premium of more than $19,000.
On the other hand, the current three-to-one age rating raises the premium for a 20- to 29-year-old by less than $700, with an annual premium of $4,700.
The three-to-one rating spreads risk across all ages in a way that costs younger folks a relatively small amount while saving older people a considerable amount.
Premiums aren’t the only healthcare cost either; older people already spend much more for out-of-pocket costs like deductibles and cost sharing. In the long run, younger people are set to benefit from the three-to-one system and, if it stays, they’ll be glad for its fair sharing of risk and cost.
If the five-to-one age rating becomes law, 4.8 million 50- to 64-year-old Texas voters will feel the sting of the “age tax” as many will struggle to pay for the healthcare they need at the time they need it most. That means they might forego adequate coverage, making them less healthy at age 65 when they qualify for Medicare, a personal tragedy and a senseless cost increase of $6.4 billion to care for our older citizens.
Members of congress need to stop talking out of both sides of their mouth and work to reduce healthcare costs for everyone. Don’t take money from Americans to increase insurance-company profits. Instead, save citizens and Medicare money by allowing the program to negotiate lower drug prices instead of taking all our money to ensure outrageous profits for big drug companies.
Congress could also allow the safe importation of prescription drugs, so Americans don’t have to pay the highest Rx prices in the world.
There are 2.3 million AARP members in Texas. AARP and its members work with elected officials of both parties to find responsible solutions for rising healthcare costs. If you agree with us, please contact your members of congress – senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and house representative Randy Weber – and ask them to stand up for healthcare fairness, not for insurance companies.
Bob Jackson is the director of AARP Texas, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing people age 50 and older throughout the state.

          Natalie Wolff

By guest writer Natalie Wolff

Nonprofit youth organization Texas Brigades is now accepting applications for this year’s wildlife and natural resource-based leadership programs – and the spaces are filling up fast!
The deadline for applications to attend any of the camps is March 15.
The eight leadership-development camps are for teens from ages 13-17 and each is an intense, all-inclusive, five-day experience led by some of Texas’ top wildlife and natural-resource professionals. Typically, they attract some 200 youths from throughout the state each year.
The programs feature quail, deer, bass, redfish, waterfowl or livestock, with the aim of equipping our youth with the resources and determination needed to make a difference in conservation and land stewardship throughout their lives.
Through the camps, participants are introduced to habitat management, led to hone their communication skills and taught to work together as a team and to develop a conservation ethic.
To provide such a comprehensive experience, Texas Brigades works in partnership with Texas Wildlife Association, the state’s parks and wildlife department, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and USDA-NRCS, as well as universities, conservation groups, local soil- and water-conservation districts, private businesses and individuals with an interest in wildlife and youth leadership development.
Camp applications can be completed online at texasbrigades.org. The all-inclusive tuition costs $500 per cadet per camp and applications for tuition assistance are also available.
For more information, you can contact Texas Brigades at camps@texasbrigades.org, call our office at 210-556-1391 or find us on Facebook, Twitter, IG and Snapchat.

Camp dates and locations
June       Brigade                                 Location
10-14    Rolling Plains Bobwhite      Centennial Lodge, Coleman
11-15    South Texas Buckskin          Welder Wildlife Refuge, Sinton
23-27    South Texas Bobwhite          Buck Horn Creek Ranch, McCoy

July
5-9        Bass                                    Warren Ranch, Santa Anna
16-20    Waterfowl                           The BigWoods on the Trinity, Tennessee Colony
17-21    Ranch                                  Warren Ranch
23-27    North Texas Buckskin          Warren Ranch
25-29    Coastal Brigade                    Sea Star Base, Galveston

Natalie Wolff has 13 years of professional conservation experience in natural resources and land management and began volunteering with Texas Brigades in 2007, becoming its executive director last October.

              Dale Schlundt

By guest writer Dale Schlundt

Debates, heated arguments and social tension defined the era. People were scared of what they had thought was going to be a thing of the past, too much power in the hands of just a limited few.
We had all witnessed inequality, power exerted
by people who seemed so far removed from us, perhaps distanced by both proximity and, ultimately, ideology. By the time we were finished, we had come to a consensus but it was one that left certain factions feeling dissatisfied.
This description could fit numerous contexts in American history, specifically the revolutionary era, illustrating the point that social and political tension is nothing unique or new.
Essentially, it gives us some solace during times of conflict, as the framers of the US constitution gave us tools to address these circumstances.
The founders were not remotely close to being a united body, yet they all had one thing in common – two fears. They feared mass movements by what they perceived as an uneducated public negatively influencing policy and thus they gave us the electoral college as one of the checks and balances they believed would keep our system in order.
Contrasting that, our nation’s founders feared that an excessively limited democratic structure within the new republic would turn into an authoritarian entity. That was perceived through their lens as being similar to Great Britain in relation to its colonies. So they framed a government structure that distributed power. Recently, that system has been put to use in regard to president Donald Trump’s executive order limiting travel and immigration from certain regions of the Middle East. It featured one independent branch of government interpreting the constitutional validity of another’s policies.
The study of history is based in seeking out change. An aspect of that focus, depending on the area of study, is to conclude whether we are progressing or regressing as a society.
The discussion of concentrated power was nothing new at the time of the Constitutional Convention. Conflicting ideas among the framers about the role of the judicial branch in the new republic has led us to interpreting the results. Consequently, today they alter society to a large degree.
Despite our governmental system’s shortcomings throughout history, we are indeed progressing. For instance, who would have thought the US supreme court would have cited the 14th amendment, a constitutional revision focused on African-American liberties from the latter part of the 19th century, to uphold gay rights in the 21st?
Still, executive orders are typically controversial simply because they can bypass one of those checks, the legislative branch. Let us remember president Abraham Lincoln’s criticized executive orders during the Civil War, orders that he utilized in an effort to silence his political critics in the press.
Executive orders are within the legal powers of the president and are, at times, both necessary and appropriate.
At other times, they are called into question. Thus, the judicial process picks up the slack, if you will.
Most observers argue that the current debate about travel and immigration has the potential to arrive at the supreme court. However, individuals on both sides of the issue should keep in mind the fact that this is part of the American experience. While political tensions rise, it is the debate that promotes growth.
Perhaps more significant is that these experiences are nothing new. Let us allow the framers’ system
to interpret our constitution and applicable legislation, while respecting our fellow Americans regardless of their political affiliation.
Dale Schlundt is an adjunct professor for Palo Alto community college in San Antonio and an occasional contributor to The Post.

           Jennifer Newton

By guest writer Jennifer Newton

About a third of high-school seniors across the country report using an illegal drug at some time in the past year and more than 10 per cent report non-medical use of a narcotic painkiller, according to NIDA, the national institute on drug abuse.
Here in Texas, marijuana
is the most commonly used illegal drug, with 9.1 per cent of students reporting past-month use, according to the Texas schools survey of 2014.
Drugs can put a teenager’s health and life in jeopardy but many teens are not aware of the risks. Today’s popular culture is filled with inaccurate information about drugs.
During National Drug And Alcohol Facts Week last month, Bay Area Council On Drugs And Alcohol was part of a national campaign titled Shatter The Myths, joining with schools, community leaders and scientists across the country to spread science-based facts about drugs through our county community coalition.
For example, one myth that has persisted for years is that marijuana is safe because it is “natural”. This myth has been disproven time and again by scientists. According to NIDA, marijuana use as a teen can impair brain development, reducing IQ and keeping the brain from reaching its full potential.
Contrary to popular belief, marijuana is addictive. People who begin using the drug before age 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana-use disorder than those who begin later.
Events such as National Drug And Alcohol Facts Week arm teenagers with science-based information on drugs and their impact on the body, helping them make well-informed decisions before engaging in risky behavior.
But keeping our children aware of such facts is not just a one-week-a-year exercise. BACODA never stops delivering the message throughout our community. For more information on how you can involve yourself in helping us promote drug and alcohol facts, contact our community liaison, Jennifer Hart, at Galveston.CCP@bacoda.org or go online to bacoda.org.
Jennifer Newton is communications coordinator for Bay Area Council On Drugs And Alcohol, a nonprofit founded in 1974 to fight the effects of drug and alcohol abuse in the Galveston Bay area.

Well spoken – Each month dentist John Hackbarth reveals the way to a perfect smile and confident conversation

COUPONS can save you, the consumer, money. So can a Black Friday or Cyber Monday sale.  Each has the common goal of moving products off the shelf. The amount of discount you’re offered depends on an agreement between the company that makes the product and the retailer.  
It is a situation in which everyone benefits and a fun game that everyone understands. On the other hand, unlike those sales or discount coupons, dental insurance is misunderstood by almost everyone. No one but the insurance company writing the policy understands its plans. While many people have benefited from the advent of dental insurance, it has often been a hindrance to others.
A sad fact about dental insurance is that it is not insurance. I think the best way to understand dental insurance plans is to think of them like a coupon that you can sometimes redeem to help pay for some needed dental services.
Unlike medical insurance, which has very high maximums – usually more than $1 million – for a lifetime, dental plans have yearly benefit limits. Usually, these limits are in the $1,000-$1,500 range per year and do not roll over to the next benefit period.
Some 35 to 40 years ago, insurance plan yearly limits were $1,000. At that time, everything cost considerably less but today’s plan limits are, for the most part, still at $1,000.
In 1980, patients could have quite a bit of needed dental treatment done and have a substantial part of that treatment paid for by their dental coverage. That is not the case in today’s world.
Dental plans can be helpful to help maintain one’s dental health or to aid with occasional repairs but, unlike insurance, they don’t do much to cover catastrophic loss.
If you run your car into a brick wall and inflict $10,000 damage, you will pay your $1,000 deductible and the insurance company will pay $9,000 toward repairing the car. If you run your teeth into the same brick wall and do $10,000 worth of damage, your dental insurance company will pay $1,000 toward the repair of your teeth and you will be stuck with paying $9,000. It’s not insurance!
Plans cover different services at different rates and they often have hidden limits within the coverage for different procedures.
Sometimes, a plan will tell the insured that the company will pay for something like a dental cleaning at 100 per cent but the 100 per cent is limited by the amount its “allowable” fee schedule approves for that procedure. One plan I have seen pays 100 per cent of the company’s allowable fee for a dental cleaning, which is $1.57. Everyone but the insurance company knows that is ridiculous. You can’t even buy a toothbrush for that.
There are dental PPOs, dental discount plans, dental DMOs and indemnity plans, as well as fee schedule plans. And there are guys on TV who tell you that you can buy coverage today and use it today. Does that even make sense?
All those guys do is recruit a few desperate dentists willing to severely reduce their fees for people who have signed up for these plans. The plans do not pay the dentist anything toward your dental care. What kind of care do you think you would be given under those circumstances?
I am often asked where one can buy private dental insurance. So far, there is no private plan I have found that is worth the money.
Dental insurance is a nice benefit, if it comes bundled with an employer-provided medical plan, one for which the employer pays the majority of the costs.
Wow, are you confused yet? I bet so. We deal with all sorts of dental plan at my practice. One key thing to remember is that it is the insurance company’s “plan” – not yours or the dentist’s.
Let me tell you a basic fact. The “plans” of insurance companies is to make money for themselves, not to take care of your health.
I often have patients tell me that they haven’t been to the dentist in years because they didn’t have insurance. Now, I am the first one to agree that good dental treatment is expensive, but the loss of one’s health is even more expensive.
Skipping needed dental care for years will not save you money. Even with insurance plans, it will end up costing you more. It is much more cost effective to maintain your dental health than to recover it when damage has been done.
We now know that poor dental health is a factor in many health problems ranging from cardiac disease to strokes and many self-immune diseases like arthritis. It is also a factor in preterm, low-birth-weight babies and has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease and even erectile dysfunction. Yikes! – this is all stuff that no one wants to have to deal with.
Simple preventative care is always more cost efficient, easier and more comfortable than any treatment to restore your health and function.
If you are lucky enough to have dental insurance, be sure to use it to help maintain your health.  But, if you don’t have it, don’t let that keep you from the care you need to stay healthy.
John Hackbarth is a Texas City dentist who believes in prevention rather than cure. Readers with oral-care questions can call him at 409-935-2111 or go online to his website, texasdentalhealth.com.