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River Views

by Malcolm Macdonald, January 23, 2013

Two items from the first week in January that barely registered faint blips on the media radar: First, Huell Howser has died. If he is unknown to you, I’m sure PBS stations throughout California will run his California Gold series until the DVDs wear out. That program, and Videolog before it, celebrated some of the most unique yet seemingly commonplace people and places of the Golden State. Spoiler alert: not the plot kind, but Huell Howser’s excitement and ebullience at finding a rock in the middle of a sagebrush wilderness can be a little hard to take in long doses. So I don’t recommend renting a weekend’s worth of California Gold episodes all at once.

However, Howser’s sense of wonder was no act. A favorite show involved hunting down the exact spot of California’s northeastern corner (the rock amidst sagebrush). Huell (His parents were named Harold and Jewel.) Howser clambered to the top of the Hollywood sign, giant wind turbines, and well up the Golden Gate Bridge. An ex-Marine, he derived more pleasure from getting to know the workers who continually paint the high wires of the bridge than the officials who run it. He once reunited an octogenarian animal trainer with the elephant he’d given up 15 years before. Of course, the elephant remembered the man and his voice, sitting up with front legs raised at first command. Huell gushed something like, “What a glorious day when two friends get to relive the old days and share a last goodbye.”

Goodbye, Huell. You truly were a nugget amongst California’s Gold.

The second piece of unnoticed news: The federal government conditionally approved California’s health care exchange. By October, individuals and small businesses will be able to work with the California Health Benefit Exchange to buy what hopefully become competitively priced insurance plans. This is one of the final steps in the Affordable Health Care Act, or as it is known on Fox News, Obamacare. (Buck up readers, the computer does not recognize Obamacare as a legitimate word.) Huell Howser’s ghost would be excited to find out that California is among the first seven states approved to run their own health insurance exchanges, already being called “Covered California” and administered by a board of directors appointed by the governor.

Federal subsidies will be available. A family of four earning $90,000 per year may even qualify for a slight subsidy. A family of four with earnings of $75,000 annually could expect a Covered California subsidized health care plan costing approximately $555 per month, a little less than 9% of their income. Subsidies will be prorated based on incomes compared to the federal poverty line. The 2012 federal guidelines placed the annual poverty level income for an individual at $11,170; for a family of four at $23,050.

I happened upon all this information about Covered California et al when I received an end of the year notice from Anthem Blue Cross that my individual insurance would be going up 21.4% as of February 1st. Keep in mind, my plan is “grandfathered” in by the rules of the Affordable Health Care Act. In other words it existed before the law was passed. Anthem Blue Cross does not offer it to new customers. This plan has a deductible of nearly $6,000. I’m switching to a non-grandfathered plan for about $30 less a month, with $100 higher deductible, but one which pays for preventative exams and procedures. Come October I’ll be hunting, not for the southeastern corner of the state, but, instead, through the new plans offered by Covered California.

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