I got the “moving-my-kid-into-college” blues

I did not anticipate how difficult it would be to move my hostdaughter into her University of Kentucky dorm room last Saturday morning.

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This has been a very event-filled summer for Pam and I as hosts of high school exchange students for the past five years.
For reasons good and, in one case, tragic, this summer, four of our five hostdaughters have returned to their Kentucky home for a period of time.
Because Pam and I have no children of our own, we have a tendency to form strong bonds with these young women and have worked to extend our relationships beyond the exchange year.
Our efforts, apparently, have paid off.
Iris, our first hostdaughter, has spent the entire summer with us. She is doing a work internship until the end of September.
Lea, our youngest from Switzerland, completed her school year at Nicholas County and returned home.
She has vowed to return, and I believe her.
Lotta came back for a week to wish a dear friend rest.
But with the beginning of the new school year, Pam and I are taking a break from hosting a high school student. That does not mean a quiet household, though. Maria, our hostdaughter from Norway, enjoyed her time in Kentucky so much that she has enrolled as a freshman at UK.
If I examined this closely, I think this is a thing Pam and I hoped would happen with one of our hostdaughters eventually. However, on even closer inspection, my wife and I may have wanted this to happen for different reasons.
At least that is the impression I have when I reflect on my unanticipated reaction when we were packing the car Saturday morning to take Maria to her dorm.
It began when Iris and I were figuring out the best way to pack Maria’s dorm stuff in the back of my Ford Escape. Stacking cardboard boxes on top of each other, I found myself recalling how I managed to fit five wooden crates of records, a stereo system and a whole dorm room’s worth of other junk into the back of my Nissan Sentra.
I even bragged to no one in particular about how there was only room for myself in the driver’s seat when I finished.
Arriving on campus, we followed the signs guiding us to Maria’s dorm, unloaded her belongings to a long table, then moved everything in. My first thought upon entering the room was how I would decorate ….
No, wait, that’s not accurate. My first thought was that of a middle-aged curmudgeon thinking about how easy kids have it today, what with a room already equipped with a kitchen sink, microwave oven, stainless steel mini-fridge with attached freezer, and its own full bathroom. And a private bedroom with a mattress that wasn’t a lumpy back hazard!
But my impulse afterward was to start suggesting the best way to lay out the room – the way I would do it. A tapestry across the ceiling, some cool posters, maybe a futon…
And, if she was smart, what she should do next is … at which point I have to give myself credit.
I suppressed that impulse.
In the end, I did the smart thing. I got the heck on back home.
It still didn’t stop me wondering what she was doing, who she was meeting, wishing I could be there to warn her against all the mistakes she’ll make, and being jealous, too. How I’d love to experience the fear and uncertainty that comes with being young and on your own for the first time.
(Okay, I just wish I was young…)
These were my feelings for a young lady I have only known for two or three years. I can only imagine how parents moving their child … sorry, kids, I can’t think of a better term … into a college dorm or apartment for the first time.
Like I said, I didn’t imagine how difficult it would be to keep my mouth shut and let this experience be hers — not mine.
How I would love to be her college guide so that she makes the most of her years at the University. But there is a point where I have to let her make her own mistakes …

Man.
That’s going to be hard.

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Is there no sympathy for the Health Insurance industry?

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By Josh Shepherd

Since beginning my work as a reporter for the Cynthiana Democrat, I come into the office each morning carrying a backpack that contains, among other items, a pair of sneakers, a t-shirt, and shorts. Every morning I tell myself that, after work, I’m going to head right out to Flat Run Veterans Park in downtown and spend at least a half-hour walking. Or maybe I’ll even run a bit … at least to the point where it hurts.
Those articles of clothing may well be the cleanest I own considering how often I actually follow through with my plans. So far, I have not had to pay the consequences for my inaction. At least … not yet.
For a good friend of mine in Michigan, though, the situation is much more serious. He’s not even 35 and, earlier this year, his doctor informed him that his obesity has put him in a pre-diabetic state. His physician has outlined a long-term plan which, if followed, will not only reduce my friend’s chances of adult-onset diabetes, but may prevent serious heart problems as well as a whole host of other avoidable health problems.
There are no guarantees, because life just isn’t like that, BUT IF my friend sticks to his prescribed health plan, he will not only improve his physical well-being, but reduce the costs associated with his personal health care.
For a lot of us, including me, that’s a big “BUT IF.”
The thing that I find most irritating about the debate surrounding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the persistence on the part of nearly everyone to call this reform effort “Obamacare.”
That term implies that Barak Obama and his administration were the first to come up with these reform ideas, which is, of course, completely untrue and an insult to the people who have dedicated themselves to finding alternatives to our failing health care system.
Our failing health care system. This is not my opinion.
Over the last two years, it has been my privilege to write about the health care industry for The Lane Report. I have interviewed leaders at Humana, CEOs of the major hospital chains, researchers at the Kentucky Medical Association and the Kentucky Hospital Association, and private physicians including the current President of the American Medical Association, Ardis Hoven, MD, who also happens to be a practicing physician at the University of Kentucky.
Each of them has said basically the same thing:
1. The ACA is a deeply flawed piece of legislation and elements of that act have got to be changed.
2. Despite its serious flaws, the ACA is an improvement over the current heath care system. That system cannot be sustained.
3. Change has to happen.
I believe them.
However, there is something about the way we approach health insurance in this country that has always confused me.
The ultimate goal of the reform effort has always been to drive down the cost of health care. The general argument, as I have understood it, is that people with insurance, or with Medicaid, are more likely to schedule annual check-ups with their primary care provider (or dentist or eye doctor.)
If more people are scheduling annual physicals, it increases the likelihood that a serious disease can be detected early and, therefore, treated with less costly procedures that also have a greater chance for long-term success.
Obviously, this approach doesn’t work for everyone. There will always be people who suffer serious injuries or contract a disease that resists treatment. That’s just the way life is. But a lot of the health problems we go through later in life are avoidable.
There are incentives worked into the ACA to encourage medical centers and physicians to reduce patient re-admissions to the hospital for the same illness. Most of the time, however, re-admissions occur because the patient failed to follow through with a recovery plan. When  that happens, the system punishes the providers and the hospitals. There is very little, besides our personal health, to hold us, the patient, accountable for taking care of ourselves.
The insurance I have on my car is designed to protect me and my passengers in the event of a catastrophe, such as the time four years ago when an uninsured driver ran a red light on Sixth Street in Lexington and totaled my beloved Camry.
My insurance carrier arranged for a rental and helped replace the car.
But I never consider for one second asking my mechanic to bill my auto insurance for a regular oil change.
I had to get the transmission fixed in my car recently. I can only imagine the look on my Farm Bureau rep’s face if I asked for money to buy a new transmission when I failed to take care of the old one.
But I do exactly that when it comes to my health insurance.
When it comes to the care and maintenance of ourselves, the relationship we have with our health insurance carrier is different from any other organization. I can think of no other service than health insurance where we not only ask the organization to help us in times of catastrophe, but to chip in on our regular maintenance as well.
A couple of weeks ago, both U.S. Rep. Andy Barr and Sen. Mitch McConnell stated that young working people didn’t want health insurance. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I have wanted health benefits from every job I held since the moment I graduated college. Maybe I’m different, but I suffered no delusions in my 20s and 30s that I was indestructible or impervious to disease.
Even a person of less than average intelligence understands that there are going to be health consequences if they spend decades smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, gain 75 to 80 to 120 additional pounds, and considered a double burger with cheese, Funyons, and an Ale-8 from the Apple Market as a regular dinner.
But rather than taking steps to avoid those health consequences, we have systems in place that are willing to pay the larger part of the financial consequences of our lousy habits.
And people can’t argue that these are personal decisions because every time a person ignores warning signs, fails to take tests to detect a disease early, and gets diagnosed for an advanced case of a disease that requires a massive investment to treat – those costs get passed down.
Say what you will about the European style of health care, if what my hostdaughters tell me is true, people have their care costs covered ONLY IF they can show they have been getting regular check ups and have complied with their health care provider’s prescribed health plans.
That’s an oversimplification, but I’m running out of space.
I suffer no delusions about the current impasse in Washington. I am cynical enough to believe that the objections of legislators are based less on public concerns for health care reform and more on the concerns of the health insurance industry.
But knowing myself and my health habits, and those of my friends, I actually have a bit of sympathy for the industry.
A bit.

New exchange students arrive in Nicholas County

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Nicholas County will welcome three new foreign exchange students this year, two from Germany and one from Norway. They have all arrived and are preparing for their year as members of the Nicholas County Class of 2013. This week, the Courier profiles Maria Opperud.

Maria Opperud, 17, is not the first in her family to spend an extended time in the United States. Her mother, Vigdis Opperud, spent three years working as an au pair to a family in Connecticut when she was in her 20s.

While her mother never pushed Maria to be an exchange student, she supported the idea even if it meant that the two of them would be away from each other for nearly a year. Maria is Vigdis’ only child. They live in Hønefoss, Norway. Maria’s grandmother lives close by and she spends a great deal of time with her as well, almost every other weekend. Her grandfather passed away a while ago, so her mother and grandmother comprise Maria’s immediate family.

The village of Hønefoss is about an hour outside Oslo, Norway’s largest city, and has a population of about 30,000 people. It’s roughly the size of Bourbon County.

Most likely because of the stories her mother told of her experience abroad, Maria has always known that she would spend time in the United States. But she has wanted this opportunity for more reasons than just her mother’s influence. The USA has been a genuine curiosity for her for years and not in just the typical way that most foreign students view America through the movies and music that our country exports.

From watching news and sports events, Maria said that America seems so much more “gung ho” about the things that they like than she and her friends do in Norway. In particular, she loves the way Americans show how much they like their favorite sports teams.

She likes seeing fans in costumes and makeup cheering for their team. It is one of the reasons that she looks forward to being a cheerleader for the Nicholas County Bluejackets. She wants to experience that kind of excitement herself. High schools in Norway don’t have competitive sports programs, so there is no opportunity to cheer for a team in the same way.

Back in Hønefoss, Maria is a member of a cheer-dance squad called the Dandelions. Dance teams are popular in Norway, but they are very different from the cheerleading she watched in the United States. When she learned that she would be going to Kentucky, Maria also found out the University of Kentucky has a champion cheerleading squad. What she saw on the internet, the gymnastics and tumbling routines and coeds thrown high into the air, surprised her.

She has never been part of a cheerleading squad that does gymnastics. The chance to be part of the Nicholas County cheerleading squad and learn these routines is exciting. “I have already met with some of the [Nicholas County] cheerleaders and with my coach, Ms. Letcher. Everyone has been really nice to me,” Maria said..

That was one of the first things she noticed when she arrived in the United States. She spent her first two weeks in America at an orientation camp for exchange students at Norwich University in Vermont. The students would walk around campus and people just said hello like they were old friends.

“People don’t even know you, but they say hello and wave anyway,” Maria said. “That’s just not something that happens in Norway. Americans just seem so much more open.”

Maria knows she will miss her mother and grandmother, but there is always Facebook, Skype, e-mail and so many other ways to talk in this internet age. Norwegian chocolate, on the other hand, will not be so easy to get. Maria knows she will miss that a lot.

“There are many great things about America,” Maria said, “but Norway still has the best chocolate!”

One thing she won’t miss – Norwegian winters.

Even though she enjoys skiing and ice skating, winters in Norway can get so cold that students stay home from school not because of snow and ice on the ground, but because the temperature can get dangerously cold. Besides the deadly cold, there is also the fact that the sun doesn’t rise until nearly 10 am and then goes back down around three in the afternoon.

“I really won’t mind spending a year with just a mild winter.