AfterCorps

Posted this in my Peace Corps blog, but thought it was relevant enough to have a spot here, as well.

I was just talking to Lynn, another RPCV Vanuatu, and our conversation took a course that reminded me how much I wanted to write a post about AfterCorps before my memory of my experience with it dimmed.

AfterCorps is the health insurance policy that Returned Peace Corps Volunteers are covered by for one month following their COS date. Optionally, an RPCV can purchase up to two additional months of the same coverage if they so choose. The price per month at the time I COSed was $238.72, but Peace Corps Vanuatu was still passing out literature that listed the price as around $150-big difference. The reason that RPCVs can only receive three months of this coverage is because the plan does not meet the minimum standards of the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”). This is interesting, because technically, if you were not dropped from a plan that DOES meet the ACA standards, or did not have another qualifying life event (usually just a change in family status, employment status/income, or moving to a different state), you are NOT eligible to apply for coverage through the Marketplace (healthcare.gov) except during open enrollment (November 15-December 15).

I did all kinds of research when I came home, and especially after I came home from SE Asia (the crazy paralysis and neurological symptoms kinda cemented my already pretty solid desire for health insurance). I even wrote long, informed letters to my Senator, Congressman, and of course, the White House. What can I say, when I am inspired or impassioned by something, I write letters. It could be the new yogurt flavor from Fage, it could be immigration legislation, or in this case, our truly uninspired healthcare system. It’s what I do!

So back to AfterCorps. If you’re under 26, and especially if you’re going to be under 26 for a while, take what I’m saying with a grain of salt-you are in a much better situation than most, and are eligible to be covered under your parents’ employer sponsored health plan, yay! If you are not under 26, but live in a state that expanded Medicaid (28, at last count), you are probably eligible for Medicaid coverage. If you live in Virginia (apparently, one of the strictest states in the country with regard to Medicaid and its’ eligibles) or the rest of the Southeast (from VA to TX, and then right up the the middle of the country to SD, with a few rebels thrown in for good measure), Medicaid expansion is not happening. Curious, since the federal government agreed to pay 100% of Medicaid expansion costs through 2016 and 90% in the year 2020 and beyond. The basic rules for Medicaid eligibility in Virginia beyond low income are being a child, a parent, pregnant, disabled or elderly. Pretty straightforward, if not exclusionary.

Ok, so that wasn’t really back to AfterCorps, more like “what you’re eligible for”. Now, back to AfterCorps. Even if you live in a state without Medicaid expansion, or are otherwise ineligible, and are too old to enroll in your parents’ health plan, purchasing a plan through the Marketplace is likely still a better option. While you may pay slightly more (or slightly less, depending on what kind of coverage you choose), better and more complete coverage is available. Plus, if you have to complete any 127-C forms (if you don’t, God bless you, and I envy you!) or COS medical stateside, you will be very, very tired of dealing with and frustrated by the AfterCorps/Seven Corners system and staff. The lack of communication between their staff, having to send in receipts and invoices multiple times, and being told wildly varying information in response to important coverage questions, resulting in unwanted bills, while trying to reacclimate, stuff your face with lots of delicious American snack food, and see everyone you’ve known your whole life in the month following your return will get old fast.

Just my two cents. I read a few other blog posts about the worthlessness of AfterCorps, but none of them really spelled out any options (which, let’s be honest, at a certain stage, you just want someone to figure it out for you and have it be right!), and even if they did, the healthcare landscape in the US has changed dramatically just during the last couple of years (i.e. my service), so what little information out there may well be out of date.

Headed down off my soapbox now, but rest assured that I read the bejesus out of every Peace Corps manual, directive, and any literature out there, as well as becoming all too well versed on the new changes that the ACA brought, so if there’s any way I can help, shoot me an email. I may not be up on my current events, by by golly, I know my COS/ACA/PC stuff!

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Long time no see…

My goodness, it’s been quite a while since I blogged. Every time I thought about it, it seemed that there was so much to catch upon that I quickly excused my way out of updating…a procrastinator I have always been!

I had an amazing time traveling through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Vietnam was my favorite, and I enjoyed Thailand much more than I anticipated, in no small part due to having an opportunity to spend time with my college roommate, Tanya, and her family and the host of other really great people that the universe scattered along my Thailand path. I finally got to see tigers in northern Thailand, which has been on my life to do list for some time, so that was pretty epic, as was riding an elephant through hilly terrain and a relaxing ride on a bamboo raft along the Mae Taeng river.

I was super excited to get to Malaysia and back to Bali, which were the parts of the trip I was most excited for, but the day I got to Malaysia, my face became completely paralyzed on the right side. Yes, a completely random and incredibly scary kind of problem, I agree. I went to a hospital the following day and began seeing a neurologist the day after that, and began physical therapy and speech therapy the following week. All this meant that my plan to stay in Kuala Lumpur for three days before moving on to the Perhentian Islands kind of blew up, and I ended up staying in Kuala Lumpur until I was cleared by my neurologist to travel back home, weeks later. Trip, interrupted. I am super sad that I missed out on the second half of my carefully planned itinerary, but with that comes an incredible gratitude that I was able to get home to convalesce and continue care in the States where there are no language barriers, concerns about quality of care (well…) and everything is more familiar.

While they continue to try and figure me out, I am home sweet home, applying to jobs like it’s my job and substitute teaching at the wonderful Appomattox Regional Governor’s School. Available for playdates, phone calls and job opportunities as you wish!

Tiger and elephant pics below for your delight and laughter:

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Saigon

I started out in Ho Chi Minh almost a month ago, where I ate and drank my way through the city, had so much vietnamese coffee I’m surprised I can sleep, visited the Vietnam War Remanants Museum and the Cu Chi tunnels and mostly wore myself out.

I wrote a post about this part of my trip several weeks ago, but lost it, which is no big deal, because I have to say that visiting that museum as an America was difficult and left me feeling incredibly guilty, which is maybe a bit impractical, as I wasn’t even alive then and I’m a first generation American, so my family wasn’t even here then, but hey, emotions aren’t logical. I did some reading before I went, and many visitors criticized the exhibits for their “obvious anti-American propaganda”. Anti-American, yes, was it propaganda? I have no idea. It was certainly enough to make you pretty darn emotional about a topic that up until now, you were fairly ignorant of. Obviously a Vietnamese museum, whose people still feel so wronged by what many call a pointless war is not going to present the most balanced views of history, just as any other country would also share their perspective. There were legions of pictures of the millions of Vietnamese affected by the spraying of Agent Orange, and how that is still affecting people today. I personally had no idea that generations after the people who were exposed to the spray are still being affected. Like kids born in THIS decade. It’s horrifying and really sad.

Anyway, the Cu Chi tunnels were also a really cool day trip that I did from HCMC, they are these underground tunnels that were actually quite massive and served as the Viet Cong’s base during the Tet Offensive and a hiding place during combat. You weren’t allowed to go down into the tunnels if you had asthma, and I can’t say I was really disappointed-they are very, very small and narrow and that is AFTER as our guide so eloquently told us, they have been “greatly enlarged for you western people”. Awkward laughs all around! Here are some photos:

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Next up, Cambodia!

Cooking, it’s what I do

I am finally motivated to blog, ironically, when I’m dog tired after a long day of traveling, arguing with airlines, moving to a new hostel and a new city. I wrote a really great blog post while I was in Siem Reap about my travels that far, but the internet was really dodgy, and I couldn’t post it, nor did WordPress save it. Woe is me. Anyway, I got to Chiang Mai today, and met some new friends and decided to sign up for a cooking class together at the last minute, and it was so awesome that I was finally motivated to blog again!

Of course I love to cook, and quite enjoy Thai food, so taking a cooking class at some point was a given. I had planned to take one that an RPCV friend recommended, but then I met these three girls at my new hostel, ended up really getting on with them, and decided to join their instead. I am so glad I did! It was at in downtown Chiang Mai and was a half day class in which we could cook three courses: a curry of our choice (red, green, massaman, panang or khao soi), and any other dish from the menu within the two courses our group agreed on. That is a bit confusing, so let me explain further: we were allowed, as a group, to choose two courses to cook (appetizers, soups, stir fry, or dessert) and we could pick our own individual dishes from within those categories once agreed upon. Our group chose stir fry and soup, and I made pad see uw, a stir fry of Chinese kale, carrots, chicken and wide rice noodles. It was really good. I would have gone with cashew chicken or pad thai personally, and only picked it because we all wanted to cook different dishes so we could sample everything. I wasn’t so sure about kale, as it’s not something I generally enjoy, but I really liked the Chinese kale, and the dish. I was full at this point, but back to the stove we went.

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Next up, we made our own curry pastes (red, green, massaman and with some of the red we added cashews and re-ground it to make the penang) in a mortar and pestle, which made me feel like I was compounding drugs again! We used the fresh paste to make our curries, mine was the Panang, which consisted of garlic, shallot, Chinese ginger, coriander root turmeric, chilis, and a couple of other things I probably can’t remember, which we then cooked with coconut milk and chicken. All of us who made the Panang curry were kind of spiciness wimps so we held back at first, but then I tasted mine and it tasted like nothing, so I went whole hog…yum.

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We then cooked our soups, which I was MOST excited about, because tom yum soup (or so I thought…) was the dish that made me realize I really do like Thai food and just don’t love the curries (what can I say, I’m an Indian curry kinda gal!). My soup was not what I thought I was going to be making, it had a water base instead of coconut milk, and even though I only put half a chili in and didn’t even chop it up, it had a little too much kick for me! It was still yummy, and if I’d had a gallon of cold water handy, I definitely would have finished it. However, I am going to have to clarify what my favorite Thai soup is, since I think I was mistaken.

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In case it wasn’t clear, I had so much fun at the class, our instructor was amazing-gave great explanations and was hilarious to boot, which is extra special since our western humor doesn’t often convert to people in other part of the world, and vice versa, but that wasn’t the case tonight. Highly recommended.

Now, I’m bone tired and will have to tell you about my last three weeks another time, soon.