Coping: With Obamacare

A number of readers have taken me to task for mentioning the reader strategy of not signing up for Obamacare and just paying the penalties later.  That’s not me, but there are a lot of people who do want the option of considering that.

The biggest problem with signing up when you think you might need care in the future is that it doesn’t work:  If you’re in a traffic accident – one that makes local headlines, for example – you won’t be in any condition to sign up.  Then there is some delay until paperwork finalizes and money is paid.  You could be on the hook for a couple of weeks of hospital bills and that would be plain dumb.

I want to make it perfectly clear that I don’t advocate this approach – I was merely sharing it so you’d be able to look at where some other people are putting down stakes – because that’s how the “playing field” gets defined.  That’s one reader’s “corner” of the field.

A more measured view of things is offered by reader Keith:


Just need to weigh in on the “pay the penalty and get insurance when I need it” letter you printed.

There are numerous problems with that thinking under Obamacare.  First, the initial penalties stiffen sharply in subsequent years.  Second, you don’t get to sign up whenever you get sick.  It actually works like most employer plans–they have to take you preexisting conditions and all, but only in the open enrollment period.

The initial open enrollment is extended; subsequent years that will not be the case.  For example, let’s say you decide to pay the penalty and do without insurance in 2016.  In say, February 2016, you suddenly discover a discomfort in your groin and, lo and behold, you have colon cancer.  Now you are in the unenviable position of already having paid $2900 for a colonoscopy (going rate in my area) and you haven’t even started treatment.  The earliest you can sign up for insurance is October 1, 2016 for coverage that is effective January 1, 2017.  So until then, you’re on your own.  Unless you’re a broke old fart like me, in which case maybe I get Medicaid–but since I’m over 55, that’s a debt recoverable from my estate.  Or, your whole plan is finger-crossing and prayer until January.  Then you might discover that what was treatable in February 2016 is not so much in January 2017.  On the bright side, you have insurance to pay for the hospice and morphine.

Look, I’m not going to tell anyone how to live–or die for that matter.  But it would be a huge disservice to your readers not to give them all the facts, or at least advise them to seek all the facts before making such a potentially important decision.  BTW, that was the problem Washington State had with the guaranteed issue thing when they tried it–get pregnant, pay premiums until the baby is born, dump insurance and stick insurance company with bill.  Repeat as needed.  And that is why Obamacare was designed to mitigate that problem with open enrollment periods.

I am in Washington, and if my experience is indicative, I would at least suggest looking at the exchange.  I’ll be getting better coverage and it will cost quite a bit less than I’m currently paying.  (As you may know, health insurance in Washington is among the most expensive in the country.)

Anyway, as with all insurance–may you never need to use it, and if you do, may you have purchased right.

Like damn near everything in America, it pays to shop.  And that includes health insurance and political parties, too, seems.

I plan to wait another three or four weeks and then get online, see what the cost comparisons are…then quickly finish up my Medicare application!

Are (House) Windows Toast?

My notes yesterday on “electronic windows” yielded a number of reader remarks.  A couple of especially good ones:

“Most of my working life, 35 or so years, I did drafting and other tasks for architects, so I know construction.  The cheapest way to do an economical glass wall is to use thermal break aluminum frame or wood frame sliding patio doors with insulating e glass.  Then, all placed on east, south, and west sides need sufficient roof overhang or awnings to provide shade during daylight.  I know men thrill about electronics, but fake windows?”

And even more on point…several readers took me to task for failing to mention the key role that windows play in fire safety.  Point taken!

But the real gem to emerge from the emails on topic: Electronic “windows” are already here!  Go ahead, click the video demo on the website.  It totally rocks.  The license for the underlying software product is just $35….this is totally a no-brainer for us.

The hard part, as always, is the money…

ATR: Adventures of the Three-Armed Framer

Around the ranch: That’s me…one arm short and hanging on a ladder, trying to get trusses dead vertical while holding them and screwing in rafters…

IN yesterday’s column, I presented a snapshot of the little project which will be going on for a couple of weeks around here, as I turn what had been a 10 x 20-foot deck into a 10 x 20 for library and audio room. 

Off in the background what’s really going on is that I need more space because my office is being overrun with books and it’s forcing me to “get creative” about where to put things.  Which here lately has included the treadmill, which I really do enjoy.  At the moment though, it’s not terribly useful, since it’s piled high with about  2- feet of books, office supplies and boxes.

To be sure, a rational approach would be to “go electronic” but there’s something about a book when looking up information that is more, well, tactile than just thumbing through a Kindle.  Not that Kindles are bad, but there are over 100 books on it now, too.  Books are addictive, particularly if you’ve ever read any of my “learning machine notes” because most people really do have an unlimited capacity to learn.  It’s just that we program ourselves with a bunch of self-limiting crap that handicaps us in lift.

Perhaps that deliberately so; since if we were all learning machines, the quality of humans about would be better, but also a lot more unruly and difficult to “Rule” which the PTB figure is their province and it’s why we have fluoride in the water, but let’s not go down that path this morning….

Instead, a few learning notes born of the construction project ongoing.

1.  The quality of wood at Lowes is really first- rate lately.  I’ve been throwing this lately project together using some of the finest s-by-4’s I’ve seen in my life.  I mean these puppies are almost clear wood.  There’s not hardly a knot to be found, and not of them are loose and all the edges are good.

Maybe it’s due to the downturn in the housing industry, but let me tell you, this is just damn fine wood.  If for no other reason, it’s worth a trip to the store to look at material quality lately.  It’ll wow yah.

2.  When we get to the installation of plasterboard (on schedule for about 2-weeks out) I’ll be trying a new kind of wallboard tape.  I don’t know how much construction you’ve done, but the general order of events is:

a.  You put up the wallboard (using screws or ring-shank nails, but (band pun alert) I prefer screwing, thanks.

b.  Then you lay a thin bed of tape joint compound, a/k/a mud, down and then…

c.  While it’s all still wet, you put down your tape and then seal it in with?

d.  A topping coat of mud.

The trick-shot to all this is you have to use the right knife, otherwise the knife will grad the tape, or you’ll press too hard and the tape will come unraveling off the wall, and you’ll end up with the more ghee’ed up, rannygaboo you ever saw in your life. (A firehouse term from my youth which I’ve never found a satisfactory source for…)

Back to point: There will be bubbles, voids, and about 10-minutes after the joint compound dries past workable, the whole sorry mess will fall off the wall and you’ll have to start over again. Either that, or it will require six weeks of sanding to get ready for the next coat.

The answer?  Well, it MIGHT be Grabber GWNS125 Wet-N-Stick Water Activated Adhesive Joint Tape which is applied after you do a basic fill of the void, moisten this stuff in cold water, press it over the joint, wait for it to dry, and then feather on a couple of layers of mud and finish.

Elaine insists that I’m really pretty good at mudding and taping, but like I told her:  I’m pretty good at paying taxes, too.  When push comes to it, being good at a “disenjoyable task” doesn’t me like doing it, or want to do more…ever.  I put tape joints in the same Life Box as paying taxes and saying “yes” to the boss.  All disagreeable, but there’s little way around them.

imageSo yesterday’s task,  which was putting the trusses up and into position, installing the  rafters. 

Then it was tossing up the sheet roofing (taking care not to hit the low power line that runs over the roof) .  Last, but not least, Panama did the installation of the umpteen roofing screws, so we’re now ready for windows to go in next, to be followed by a nice steel door (with full glass) and then siding.

As I’ve said:  There’s nothing particularly difficult about construction.  It’s just a matter of process and you just work your way up and down a few times.  There is one “sideways move,” too.

The first up is  decking.    If there’s going to be plumbing in a room, you at least get the drain pipes in before, or as you go in your construction.  Floor insulation is always fun.

The second up is framing the walls.  Then setting your roof trusses, which wraps up the first up.

The down series starts with the roofing materials, doors and windows, followed by siding, and then flooring underlayment.

About here, with the room  or building weather-tight, you can do the sideways work:  Electrical and plumbing, if any.

With the juice flowing and tested (and speaker wiring in this room’s case) done, another quick top-to-bottom as you put in insulation.

Then you go up again and put in your plasterboard on the ceiling, and then board your way down to the underlayment.  Some people put a layer of luan (1/4” ply) on top of the underlayment at this point, this being a matter of taste.

Then you go up again, and paint from the top down to the floor. 

Then you polish it off with trim and about the only thing left is the floor and once that’s in, you’ve got a room.

There’s a rhythm to it which is quite enjoyable, save the wallboard joints.  I’m not really keen on painting, either, but Elaine rocks and rolls there, so to speak.  Doing this kind of project yourself is vastly less expensive than hiring it out.  You can figure a solid job on construction these days is going about $100 per square foot, but if you have a deck (as we did) and you “donate” all the labor, the cost of construction for the do-it-yourselfer isn’t too bad.

Realize this doesn’t include the cost of the basic deck (not cheap!) but the material costs pencil out something like this.  With the disclaimer that it’s early and I no doubt forgot a lot of items (fasteners, tools, and beer, lol):


But that’s how this project started to evolve…and since our house in smallish (1,500 SF, the addition of a room which could be counted as a bedroom creatively if we ever sold the place)  is not a bad deal.  Metal roofing is cheap and if I were building a ground-up house, I would do a lot of things differently. This, however, is square footage on the cheap which is why I bring it up for your consideration.

The key thing to remember is that building materials are still such that a person who wants to, can still build something of value and break even, if not come out ahead in this world. 

Most building departments are very helpful, but you need to keep an eye on material costs and the actual building code.  In some places, building departments seem intent on enforcement of appearance issues (some places ban plain clear-finish metal roofs, for example)..

OK, off to work on client projects today…we’ll have a cold snap roll through Texas today which will press us down to the freezing area overnight so Elaine will be covering up the tomatoes up in the garden. 

After I catch up on real work, then its back to work on this project, but who knows when it will be done.  It’s always a matter of time and one (not enough of either, lol).  But once we get the place weather-tight this week, the pressure is off, somewhat and we can polish it off at our leisure.  We means guess who won’t have any…But that’s OK, too.  Plenty of time for resting in the grave, goes the old saying…

Write when you break even…


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