Thursday, September 19, 2019

You're probably asking the wrong questions

While I was quietly minding my own business, controversy about Christian gender roles and relationships began heating up and, if the social medias are any indication, has reached a rapid boil. I am old enough to remember when the term "complementarian" was created in order to put a warm and gentle face on what was widely considered an outdated and sexist (even if Biblical) understanding of the husband-wife relationship. Now it appears "complementarian" has become a synonym for "male chauvinist pig-dog" and is indistinguishable from the irredeemable "patriarch."

(By the way, this is why I never label myself with terms created by evangelicalism or the broader culture. Their meanings tend to drift without warning while the phrase "Westminster Standards" remains entirely stable, and "presbyterian" mostly so.)

As I've tried to get up to speed on why so many pairs of undies are bunching up, I've been surprised to see that discussions are centered around the same old Biblical texts such as Genesis 3:16, 1 Timothy 2 -3 and Ephesians 5. Some might think me cocky, but I honestly believe there's not much more to be discovered in these texts: they say what they say and have been pretty well exegeted; while some wingnuts may apply them improperly, the spiritually and mentally stable know how to answer those misapplications.

To be clear, I'm surprised not because a goodly number of Christian folk are generally dissatisfied with common understandings and applications of Biblical principles of gender and role relationships. With them, I feel very strongly that something is missing. What surprises me is that so many are asking the same old questions and expecting different answers.

To be even more clear, I don't have answers. But I do have questions, questions which I am shocked to find that very few are asking but which are manifestly apparent from even the most cursory reading of 1 Corinthians 11.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

my 2018-19 struggle

A few months into our debacle with Connect for Health Colorado, Mrs. Curmudgeon asked me to write an account explaining what had happened. I maintained it thereafter to help me keep track of all the twists and turns along the long and winding road which led us directly to the depressing, healthcare-less outcome which had been our starting point. I post it here so that you, too, may be discouraged from ever trying to right any wrong and instead simply accept the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. You won't be happy, but neither will you be consumed by impotent rage.


•We received notice from Connect for Health CO, dated August 11 2018, that we should update our registration information (this may have been triggered by the fact that Thing 3 is covered by Medicaid separately from the rest of the family). I called C4HCO several times to sort out its coverage vis-a-vis the rest of us. I updated our income to $74,000.

•In a letter from C4HCO dated August 28, 2018, we were notified that Mrs. Curmudgeon and I no longer qualified for subsidies because we now qualified for Medicaid/Health First Colorado. (Things 1, 2 & 4 were already covered by Health First.) In a letter dated Sept. 8, 2018, Kaiser Permanente informed us the premium for our policy had been increased to $938.16/month because we would no longer receive a subsidy.

•In a letter from C4HCO dated Sept. 18, 2018, we received notice that we qualified for tax credits. This update was reflected in a letter from Kaiser dated Sept. 21.

•Through phone calls with C4HCO, it was determined that someone had entered our annual income as $47,000 and backdated this change to the beginning of 2018. This false information had been forwarded to Kaiser, which updated our account accordingly.

•We received a premium bill from Kaiser, due Sept. 30, 2018, for $8051.76. This amount was based on a new monthly premium of $938.16 which had been backdated to the beginning of 2018. What we had actually paid to Kaiser for the premiums we had been actually billed each month ($147.76) was subtracted from the total: i.e. we now owed $790.40/month, January-September, and $938.16 for October. According to this new version of reality, all the money we had paid for premiums in 2018 only went towards January 2018.

•We had earlier received and paid a premium bill for October of $147.76. In a letter from Kaiser dated October 5, we were told we had until October 15 to pay $7904.00 or our coverage would be terminated effective February 28, 2018. However, a letter from Kaiser dated October 1 shows our coverage terminated on Sept. 30, 2018.

•A letter from C4HCO dated October 12, 2018, stated we qualified for a tax credit of $620.70/month for 2019.

•A letter from Kaiser dated Oct. 17, 2018, stated our coverage had been terminated as of Feb. 28, 2018. This is also reflected in HIPAA certificates dated Oct. 22, 2018.

•A Kaiser premium bill due Oct. 31, 2018, stated we owed $7920.98. This new amount appears to be calculated with a different subsidy amount.

•In November 2018, we began receiving bills from Kaiser for medical services received in 2018 for which we had already paid our copay. We were receiving new bills because our coverage had been retroactively terminated and, accordingly, we had to be billed as though we were not Kaiser members.

•On Nov. 30, 2018, I was told over the phone by a Kaiser representative that we now owed nothing for unpaid premiums.

•I was on the phone throughout this period with C4HCO. I was told by one of their representatives that I really was covered by Kaiser and therefore should get my prescriptions refilled. The statements which came with my prescriptions (Dec. 11, 2018) indicated I was billed not at the member copay rate, but for the medications’ “regular” non-insured cost.

•Mrs. Curmudgeon refilled a prescription on December 13, 2018. She appears to have been billed at the member copay.

•During December 2018, I enrolled us in a Kaiser plan for 2019. We qualified for a tax credit of $651.64/month.

•A premium bill dated Jan. 17, 2019 stated we needed to pay $477.57 to begin coverage on August 1, 2018. We paid this.

•The next premium bill we received from Kaiser indicated we owed premiums of $477.57 for October-December 2018 and $466.57 for January 2019. I made repeated calls to Kaiser and C4HCO during January and February 2019 to try to sort this out. I was told by [REDACTED], the C4HCO representative, that corrections were still being made to the C4HCO database and therefore Kaiser did not have correct information.

•On February 25, I was informed by [REDACTED] that the corrections had been processed.

•On the same day, we received two notices from Kaiser. One dated Feb. 19, 2019 stated our premium amount would be $466.57. The other, dated Feb. 21, 2019, stated our premium amount would be $477.57.

•Our March premium bill stated we owed a total of $4862.86 for previous and current premiums. As with January and February 2019, we paid the premium for the month of March ($466.57) in hopes that confusion would be sorted out soon.

•We then received another March premium bill for $3958.94. A subsequent March premium bill was for $2378.14. I cannot account for this discrepancy. These two bills had a due date of February 28, but were received in the first week of March.

•On March 15, we received notice that our last day of paid coverage was Oct. 31, 2018, and coverage would be terminated effective November 30, 2018 if payment of $1911.57 was not received by March 14, 2018 (the last day of our 3-month grace period).

•On March 18, I called Kaiser and asked for an in-person appointment to go over these latest premium bills, compare them with the premium bills we had actually paid in 2018, and come to an understanding of how that all related to C4HCO. I was referred to [REDACTED]  a financial counselor at the Centrepoint office. I left several messages, but we were not able to connect until the afternoon of March 25. [REDACTED] told me she could not help with premium billing. I then called member services and was told there was nothing Kaiser could do to help me. Kaiser “does not offer the resource” of meeting in person with someone familiar with premium billing. Furthermore, since our coverage was terminated effective Nov. 30, 2018, Kaiser will reopen our account; we would have to wait for another open enrollment period. I was told our only recourse is to contact C4HCO.

•On March 26, I left a voicemail for [REDACTED] explaining our situation.

•On March 27, I received a call from [REDACTED] (C4HCO), who explained that C4HCO had informed Kaiser that our monthly premium bills should have been $147.76 from January through July 2018, and then $466.57 from August through December 2018. This inaccurate information submitted by C4HCO is what led Kaiser and/or its computers to determine we had not paid our full premium amounts. I informed him that in fact Kaiser had billed us $147.76 through October (which we had paid), and that because we were not covered during November and December 2018 (because Kaiser had terminated coverage effective February 28, 2018) we had not been billed for premiums during those months.
[REDACTED] will attempt to fix this himself; otherwise he will begin a “1095 dispute.” I should upload our documentation proving that we paid our premiums through October to the C4HCO website. He said he will try to get back to me with an update by Friday, but that this will be very difficult to fix.

•On March 28, [REDACTED] called to tell me the case was turned over to the 1095 team and I should expect to hear from them in a few weeks.

•An e-mail from CH4CO dated 3/31 stated our issue is under review as Ticket Number [REDACTED].

•I scanned our premium and bank statements into a .pdf file, but was unable to upload it to our account despite trying three different browsers. On April 19, I was contacted by “[REDACTED],” who said CH4CO was waiting on our statements to resolve the issue. He told me I should try faxing them. I downloaded a program to do so from my computer, and then faxed them to 855-346-5175; I marked the fax with account #[REDACTED] and ticket #[REDACTED].

•On May 22, we received a corrected 1095-A which reflects our actual experience in 2018. On May 23, I got an automated call from CH4CO stating our case had been closed.

•On May 29, I called CH4CO to learn whether Kaiser had been updated on the corrections to our 1095-A. I was told that information is not available on our file, and that there is no way for me to get in contact with the 1095-A team; no sir, none at all.

•On June 10, I called Kaiser and verified that we do not have coverage at this time. I called CH4CO and informed them that we are still not covered. A new inquiry to Kaiser will be initiated, as the resolution of last year’s “discrepancies” should have resulted in Kaiser once again granting us the privilege of sending in hefty premiums. Kaiser shows CH4CO that we are covered. It is referred to the carrier liaison and we should get a call back by the end of the week. The new ticket number is [REDACTED].

•An e-mail from CH4CO dated June 26, 2019 stated that our issue with ticket number [REDACTED] had been resolved. On July 2, I called Kaiser Permanente and verified that we still do not have active coverage. CH4CO told me that they had informed Kaiser Permanente of the correction, but they are still denying coverage for nonpayment so I have to file an appeal. I must go to the website, download the appeal form and then file it.

•On July 3, 2019, I filed the appeal form through the CH4CO website.

•On July 8, I received notice that we have been turned down for an expedited appeal. I left a phone message for [REDACTED] [REDACTED] requesting an in-person attempt at resolution.

•On August 20, I had my second conversation with Ms. [REDACTED]  She again told me that our appeal was not timely and there’s nothing that can be done under federal law. She again told me she will refer our case to one of their attorneys.
I called Kaiser the same day to find out whether they have any appeal process. They do not, but a complaint is being filed. Someone should get back to me in 15-30 days.
A few days later (I was out of town and driving) I received a voicemail message from Kaiser telling me the complaint was being processed.

•On August 29, we received a letter from [REDACTED] [REDACTED], dated August 26, stating that our appeal to CH4CO had been denied due to untimeliness. From the content of the letter, it appears that the focus was on November-December 2018 and not on our current lack of coverage.
I contacted the CO Dept. of Regulatory Agencies, Division of Insurance, and was advised to file a complaint. I did so on Aug. 30, 2019.
I tried to update our income information (due to having been fired) on the CH4CO website, but ended up having to call. Our information was updated over the phone.

•On September 9, we received a letter from Kaiser Permanente stating that our complaint had been denied because KP could find no evidence that financial hardship precluded us from making payments in a timely manner.

•On September 10, we received a letter from CH4CO dated Sept. 6, 2019 stating that Mrs. Curmudgeon and I now qualify for Health First Colorado (Medicaid) due to the drop in income brought on by my unemployment and Joanna’s reduced work. Our benefits started on August 1, 2019.

•On September 11, we received an e-mail from CH4CO stating “[our] selection for insurance coverage was successfully submitted on September 11, 2019 for Plan Year 2019.” It stated that we are now covered by Kaiser Permanente at a monthly premium of $1130.30.
The same day, I received a voicemail from the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies stating it had begun investigation of my complaint. By e-mail, I received a copy of the investigation letter sent to Kaiser Permanente.
According to the CH4CO website, Things 1 & 4 do not have health coverage because my income is too great. I submitted a request to investigate the peculiar situation of heads of household and one child qualifying for Medicaid due to income but two other children in the same household not qualifying for Medicaid due to income.

Thankfully, I've been fired

It's been nearly ten months since I last posted on our struggle with Connect for Health Colorado: not because there was no action, but because any and all action was just more of the same and so had the same dispiriting effect as running on a hamster wheel. For those coming late to the story, someone at CH4CO incorrectly entered our income into their system in August of 2018 and backdated that change to January of that year. Consequently, the Kaiser Permanente billing computer was told we had never received any subsidies and thus were on the hook for the entire amount of our 2018 health insurance premiums. The KP billing computer decided we had been delinquent in paying our premiums since January of 2018 and so terminated our coverage, effective February 2018 (even though this came about during September 2018). Mrs. Curmudgeon and I have been without health coverage ever since.

I have, of course, spend hours beyond count on the phone over the last year (because the CH4CO website rarely, if ever, works) and was eventually advised to file an appeal with CH4CO and a complaint with KP. The former was denied because it was not "timely;" that is, because CH4CO's error had occurred in September 2018, my appeal was filed too late even though I had spent the entire intervening time exhausting every other avenue to resolve the matter. KP denied our complaint because its billing computer was quite adamant on its version of events and KP has no mechanism by which we might submit in evidence the bills and bank statements demonstrating we had faithfully paid our premiums each month in 2018. With that, we've exhausted every possible recourse at both Kaiser Permanente and Connect for Health Colorado.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I should add that I have filed a complaint with the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies. One might understand why I am not optimistic.)

So there you have it. We did everything we were supposed to do, but someone at CH4CO made a mistake and we have been blamed for the outcome. KP has billed us the full cost of several doctor visits which occurred during the period we were covered in reality but not covered in the imagination of the billing computer. At this point, I'm going to pay them to forego the misery of being turned over to bill collectors and small claims court. You can't win an argument with a billing computer which won't consider real-world evidence.

On the plus side, I was fired in June of this year. With the subsequent drop in income, we now qualify for Medicaid and so have health insurance that way. For some unknowable reason, however, while Mrs. Curmudgeon, I and one of our children qualify for Medicaid, two other of our children do not. So there's still that to resolve.

So all's well that ends well.

Sort of.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Core Christianity

Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story, by Michael Horton. Zondervan, 2016. Paperback, 192 pages, list price $14.99.

“The purpose of [Core Christianity] is to help you understand the reason for your hope as a Christian…” (p. 14). Thus, Michael Horton’s purpose is not to introduce Christian doctrine to the uninstructed, but rather to correct and expand the understanding of Scripture of Christians who have been poorly instructed. One might then hope this book would suit the instructional goals of our congregations.

Horton presents “…the Christian faith in terms of four Ds: drama, doctrine, doxology, and discipleship.” Core Christianity’s especial strength is emphasizing the history of redemption  (Horton’s “drama”) and the believer’s place in it (especially in chapters 5-10). From God’s saving work in Christ, and its revelation in Scripture, flow doctrine, the Christian’s response in faith and worship, and a life of obedience to God’s commandments. The first four chapters lay groundwork by explaining (in order) the Incarnation, the Trinity, God, and Scripture. 

For the most part, Horton writes clearly and for a Christian audience weary of doctrinally weak evangelicalism. (I lost track of the disparaging references to “your best life now.”)  Throughout, he attempts to show how many popular Christian conceptions are in error, although not always successfully (as in his chapter on the Trinity). For someone who has not yet thought through these issues, Core Christianity is sure to be a gentle and helpful corrective.

Although he leads his readers out of the wilderness of evangelicalism, he doesn’t quite bring them into the promised land of presbyterian faith and practice. He describes Church courts (p. 78), but neglects to point out that they are found in reformed and presbyterian communions. While he teaches the necessity of Church membership (pp. 140-43), the book ends not with recommendations of faithful Churches, but an invitation to join “The Campaign for Core Christianity” by visiting a website.

That website contains Bible studies and other resources, most of which are made freely available to those who register (which, yes, I did, because I forswear no inconvenience in my commitment to producing a thorough review) and are based on this book. In substance, I couldn’t find much difference between “The Campaign for Core Christianity” and the Gospel Coalition. If the latter encourages evangelicals toward a reformedish doctrinal consensus which can be affirmed by conservative baptists and presbyterians alike, the former points them toward a reformationish consensus agreeable to the confessional traditions of Anglicanism, Lutheranism,  Reformed, and presbyterianism (as evidenced by the denominational affiliations of its Pastors Advisory Council).

In my opinion, that’s a vast improvement over the doctrinal mushiness of evangelicalism, but is still a far cry from the clarity and helpfulness of the Westminster Standards. For example, Horton begins chapter 5 with an illustration of the suffering illness brought into the world by the Fall, but then describes the effects of Adam’s transgression purely in terms of sin. He never explains, as both the Shorter and Larger Catechisms do, that “[t]he Fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery” (WSC 17, emphasis added). Sadly, this omission leaves God open to the accusation, made by a grieving parent on page 81, that he made “a messed-up world” full of the misery which causes young children to die.

Members of the OPC who are encouraging friends to more deeply explore Biblical doctrine might like to give them a copy of Core Christianity. Sessions of the OPC would better serve their members by teaching them through our Shorter Catechism.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Why the OPC?

He's not the first prominent pastor in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to commit suicide, and I suspect he won't be the last. I know of another during the 20th century, and wouldn't be surprised to learn there were still more. Of course, suicide is rarely mentioned in obituaries, which made the e-mail we received on Thursday all the more surprising. Unlike that previous case (or cases), the family clearly decided to announce the cause of death: "[he] took his own life at the age of 67 after a lengthy struggle with depression." Strangely, I can't decide what to make of their decision.

I don't know whether it's the most prominent, but is representative of current voices insisting that the best way to remove the stigma on mental illness is to talk about it; or, more precisely, for those who experience mental illness to make their struggles known. Just as cancer is no longer considered a character defect, depression and suicidality might be accepted as amongst the common risks of living in a fallen world. In that hope, I decided to come out about my own struggles, with decidedly mixed results.

On the one hand, a fair number of people reached out in sympathy. On the other, some used my admission to attack both me and my assurance of salvation. Saddest, I think, was another OPC pastor with a history of depression who tried to reach out with encouragement while warning that discussing my mental condition would make it nearly impossible for me to receive another call; indeed, he said he wouldn't recommend a pastoral candidate with depression to any session. I pray for him.

It's possible yesterday's sobering news will make sessions and presbyteries realize the severity and ubiquity of depression amongst pastors. I have three colleagues with whom I've openly discussed our suicidal thoughts, and I think it's only been three because most are afraid to make themselves vulnerable. Congregations and presbyteries are some of the harshest, judgmental and most unforgiving groups I've ever encountered: to show them weakness is to risk an abbreviated career. Maybe congregations and presbyteries will become more solicitous of pastors' mental health, but I think it more likely that ministers who struggle will now be thought of as even greater liabilities. What session wants to deal with a sudden pulpit vacancy?

This week's shocking suicide was accompanied by the surprising death of David Haney (by heart attack), the moderator of our most recent General Assembly and, more importantly, one of the few truly good guys working at the OPC's denominational level. I say that not to diminish others but to praise Dave, who worked for decades as the OPC's finances guy and always extended himself to help and serve others (and bought me a couple beers that one time). Of late, he led a successful effort to create a denominational Committee on Ministerial Care which consolidated all the OPC had been doing, across its sundry committees, to look after pastors. You couldn't talk to Dave without seeing his heart and recognizing his earnest desire for the OPC to do better by its pastors.

Dave's death makes this week's suicide all the more sobering. He could have provided the leadership to help us all not only mourn, but also to work towards a better future in which pastors are not alienated from their congregations and presbyteries by a reasonable fear of victimization for the crime of being a fallen human being. I can't think of anyone with the standing, courage or vision to succeed him.

Over the last couple years, I've had occasion to become more disillusioned than ever with the OPC. This week's deaths have underscored that for me. If our Church can't provide Spiritual care for all its members, then I'm not sure there's a good answer to "Why the OPC?"

Sunday, June 9, 2019

A big two hearted ale

At last, a beer to drink whilst reading my favorite Ernest Hemingway story ever.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Frankly, he was my third favorite Monkee

But I hasten to add that Peter Tork was a very strong third. Arguably the Monkees' overall best musician, his hippie charisma (sort of a real-life Maynard G. Krebs) made him more interesting than the manic Mickey Dolenz whom I preferred during my misbegotten youth. His banjo licks and laconic vocals made many a B-side as worthy as the titular single. If you haven't heard the spoken word piece Peter Percival Patterson's Pet Pig Porky, you haven't heard Peter Tork.

Go listen to it now. I can't think of a better tribute.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The handmaids understood the Lord's plan

In 2 Samuel 6:20-23, Michal accuses her husband, King David, of embarrassing himself by freely and ecstatically worshiping the Lord in public. Indeed, even the lowest of the low, the "handmaids of [David's] servants," witnessed his shameless, empty and foolish behavior. By implication, Michal's father, the deceased King Saul, never would have opened himself up to mockery in that way.

It was the women, however, who first recognized that David was greater than Saul (1 Samuel 18:6-9). This provoked Saul's envy and led to the sequence of events by which the Lord would replace him with David on Israel's throne. Therefore, David was wise to put his confidence in the opinion of handmaids over that of Saul's daughter (2 Samuel 6:21-22).

Godly discernment is far more important than royal blood or social position.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

English majors in the State Department

I'm planning on taking the oral assessment for Foreign Service officers in early February (should Great Leader permit the federal government to resume all its regular functions by then) and have been reading the U.S. State Department's official study guide. It appears to be written by a bored English major: a country made up for the purpose of hypothetical exercises is run by a president for life and his "consultative council of cronies."

Apparently, alliterative ability is an admirable attribute amongst those aspiring to government work.