The Washington Post
The Daily Item
Over the past several weeks, Michelle Singletary of The Washington Post has written a number of helpful and informative “Color of Money” columns on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). These columns recently appeared over the past several weeks in The Daily Item newspaper and at www.dailyitem.com. We have compiled those columns below.
Know the coverage you need (published Sept. 29)
When it comes to the Affordable Care Act, one word keeps being bandied about — affordable.
White House officials were elated last week about a report from the Department of Health and Human Services finding that premiums in the new health care marketplaces are priced lower than expected.
The average premium nationally for a mid-tier plan, meaning one with the second-lowest cost, will be $328 a month before tax credits, 16 percent below projections by the Congressional Budget Office. The administration keeps emphasizing that many people will qualify for a subsidy that will bring that price down. Around six out of 10 of uninsured consumers will be able to get coverage for $100 or less per month when taking into account premium tax credits and Medicaid coverage. However for others, especially those who don’t qualify for a tax break, a policy could be hundreds more per month.
So how will consumers shopping for health insurance determine what’s affordable to them?
When I asked a 29-year-old California man recently, he paused and said, “I think $150 or more a month would be out of my reach.”
I asked him how he came up with this figure.
“It’s just something at the moment I feel I can afford,” said Josh Nece, an uninsured restaurant server in Oakland. “Already I have so many things I have to pay a month just to survive.”
Following up, I then asked Nece how much he spends on his cellphone, cable or Internet service.
He knew right away where I was leading him. He doesn’t have cable. His cellphone and Internet cost about $100.
“I see,” he said. “Health insurance is something I need to survive. I guess I can’t afford to play the game that you hope nothing happens.”
I put the same question to an uninsured 19-year-old woman leaving a speech by President Obama in which he urged the largely young crowd to sign up for health insurance when the marketplaces open on Oct. 1.
“I can afford $50 a month,” said Danielle Vest, a student at Prince George’s Community College in Maryland. Vest lives at home and works two jobs.
Obama told the students that on average, a 25-year-old in Maryland making $25,000 a year might pay about $80 a month for health coverage in the exchanges.
Would Vest pay that much?
“My mom says I better do it now,” she said. “So yes, I would pay that much. I guess.”
That’s the challenge the administration and others encouraging people, especially young adults, to buy insurance are going to have. Affordability is such a fluid term when it comes to someone’s budget. Will people put an arbitrary limit on how much they are willing to spend? I suspect a lot of people will, particularly those who don’t have ongoing health issues.
Many Americans will be able to get insurance “for the cost of your cable bill, probably less than your cellphone bill,” Obama told the crowd.
When you shop in the marketplace, you will find four categories of plans — platinum, gold, silver and bronze.
Regardless of the level, all the plans will offer the same essential benefits. But you decide your premium level based on how much you want to pay out-of-pocket for health care services. If you opt to get a plan with a lower monthly premium, you’ll have higher personal costs. If you elect to pay a higher premium, you’ll pay less upfront.
There is a fifth option, a “catastrophic” plan, but it’s available only to people under 30 or those who would be exempt from the requirement to purchase coverage because the premium exceeds 8 percent of their income, the Kaiser Family Foundation points out. Catastrophic policies usually have lower premiums than a comprehensive plan but you get covered only if you need a lot of care.
Here’s my advice. Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. If you know that you don’t save well, don’t get a plan with a high deductible. All three of my children have asthma. If I were shopping in the marketplace, I would go for gold or platinum. If the costs of those premiums are too high, opt for the second-lowest-priced plan.
I know your family budget may be tight — but what good is it to get a policy that you can’t use because you don’t have the money for co-pays or high deductibles?
We are a bargain-loving nation. So what’s reasonable to government officials may not be viewed affordable to folks who are healthy. But with the high cost of getting sick, many people will have to push their financial comfort zone. This isn’t a cellphone or cable subscription. Don’t bargain if you don’t have to with your health and your financial future.
For more information go to www.healthcare.gov.
Putting up notice about ACA (published Sept. 25)
WASHINGTON — If you haven’t already, you will probably be getting a notice from your employer about the new health insurance marketplaces through the Affordable Care Act.
The notices, which are required by the health care reform law but carry no penalty if employers fail to provide them, are seen as just one more way for the government to get the word out about the marketplaces, which open Oct. 1.
Herbert Egert wants to do the right thing by his employees, so he’s working on his notice. Egert runs a small group dental practice in Maryland that has long provided health care coverage to many of its employees. All of the practice’s employees who work at least 24 hours a week have medical insurance — two through Medicare, one through a parent’s insurance policy, and five who are covered by their spouses’ plans. The remaining nine employees are covered by the practice.
“We pay 85 percent of individual coverage, which works out to 70 percent of parent plus child, 60 percent for a husband and wife, and 50 percent for family coverage,” said Egert, managing partner of Affinity Dental Associates.
Here’s Egert’s dilemma. The insurer covering his employees offered to renew the contract, which ends in March, by the end of December. Egert believes the early renewal proposal, which came with a 32 percent increase, was a move to keep his employees from seeking coverage through the marketplaces.
“I think this offer is just an attempt to take advantage of Obamacare paranoia and that we will be able to do better with the exchanges,” he said.
As a small employer with 50 or fewer full-time employees, Egert may be able to provide group coverage through the Small Business Health Options Program Marketplace, and possibly receive a health care tax credit worth up to 50 percent of premium costs. The small business exchange was slated to open up for online application on Oct. 1, the same day as the opening for the individual marketplace. However that service won’t be available now until November. Business owners can still apply by phone, mail or fax.
Egert doesn’t know what to tell his employees. They may do better in the exchanges, or they may not. Until open enrollment starts, people can only guess what’s best.
“What do you think I should indicate in the letter to the employees?” asked Egert, who has been my dentist since I was a young adult.
I told him to lay out all the options he’s considering for them. When I consulted government officials, they said the same thing. “Employers shouldn’t worry that they will be locked into any future benefits coverage because of this notice,” said Phyllis C. Borzi, assistant secretary of labor for employee benefits security.
The Labor Department has created template letters that employers can use as a model to send to their employees. One letter is for employers who currently offer health insurance, and the other is for those who don’t.
If the Fair Labor Standards Act covers your company, your notice should at least include the following:
— Information about the health insurance marketplace, where you will be able to shop around and compare plans sold by different insurance companies.
— You should be told that, depending on your income and what coverage your employer offers, you may be able to get lower-cost private insurance in the marketplace.
— If you buy insurance through the marketplace, you may lose your employer contribution to your health benefits, if there is one.
— If your employer offers health coverage that meets certain standards, you will not be eligible for a tax credit.
— If your employer does not offer health coverage, your letter would point out that you might be eligible for a tax credit that lowers your monthly premium.
— If the cost of an employer plan that would cover you — not including other members of your family — is more than 9.5 percent of your household income for the year, or if the coverage your employer provides does not meet the “minimum value” standard set by the Affordable Care Act, you may be eligible for a tax credit.
As I told Egert, just be upfront with your employees. If you aren’t sure what will work best, then say that. He’s got some time to decide. Open enrollment in the individual marketplaces begins Oct. 1 but doesn’t end until March 31. Regardless, Egert said he isn’t changing his commitment to his employees to provide quality health care.
“Most of my staff are confused by and afraid of the ACA calculators that are out there,” he said. “I have already told my employees that we will play it by ear, but we still intend to supply insurance that is at least as good as what they have now.”
Long-term care — the missing link (published Sept. 22)
I suspect many people didn’t know that the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, was supposed to include much-needed coverage for long-term care.
Ironically, the enacting legislation was called the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act. But what happened to an initiative that was meant to address what is certainly going to be a huge financial burden for families as the population ages isn’t classy at all. It’s sad.
The CLASS Act envisioned an insurance program administered by the federal government that would cover long-term care. Medicaid is now the only federal program that extensively deals with these services. But to qualify for the benefit, you have to be pretty poor. Medicare, except in very limited situations, does not cover long-term care, which includes assistance with daily activities such as eating, dressing and bathing, or help with someone who has a severe cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Under the CLASS Act, premiums would have been paid through payroll deductions by employees who decided to participate in the program. Participation by workers would have been voluntary. So participants, not the taxpayers, would have covered the cost. If you were self-employed or your employer chose not to participate, you could have participated through a government-sponsored payment mechanism.
The program promised to provide lifetime cash benefits of at least $50 a day to people with disabilities to help with the costs of long-term services and support. The idea was to keep them in their homes and communities, if possible.
I’m speaking in the past tense because there is no more CLASS Act. The Obama administration abandoned the idea because there was great concern that the voluntary nature wouldn’t make the program actuarially sound. There was fear that the people who needed the insurance the most would pay but others who didn’t would opt out. Premiums in turn would be too high. If the insurance program became financially unstable, there would have been great pressure for the federal government to bail it out.
So what was put in its place?
Specifically, the Commission on Long-Term Care, which didn’t have long to grapple with this issue — from June until this month. It was charged with developing “a plan for the establishment, implementation, and financing of a comprehensive, coordinated, and high-quality system” that would provide long-term services and supports to elderly individuals, individuals with substantial cognitive or functional limitations and others who need assistance to perform activities of daily living.
The commission recently issued its report and recommendations on the looming long-term care crisis. The commissioners, at least those who voted to deliver the report to Congress, concluded that the long-term services and support system as it currently operates in this country “is not sufficient for current or future needs.”
I’ll give them this. The report lays out the problem well. Basically, individuals in need of services often don’t have enough money to pay for long-term care. They mostly rely on family and friends who often are also at their financial wits’ end. Caregivers are overburdened and underpaid. If we don’t figure out how to address this issue, the situation will get worse.
“With little time and in today’s politically charged environment, it was unlikely the commission would achieve anything more,” said Jesse Slome, executive director of the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance. “Those anticipating significant changes or a recommendation for a new taxpayer-supported social insurance program to address long-term care may be disappointed.”
And many people were disappointed. The report was passed by a 9-6 vote. Five commissioners were so dissatisfied with what was put forth that they issued a separate statement about why they didn’t vote to support the report. Judy Feder, who served on the commission and is an Urban Institute fellow and professor at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, is not happy.
People can’t plan for an unpredictable catastrophic need such as long-term care unless they have an insurance mechanism, Feder said. The five commissioners issued their own recommendations calling for a public social insurance program.
“What we need is a public insurance core that can be supplemented with private insurance and family care,” Feder said. “The question is, are we going to meet the needs of a growing population or are we going to leave them hanging?”
If all goes as planned, the Affordable Care Act is expected to usher in huge changes to the nation’s health-care system. Part of the reform should have and still needs to include a solution to deal with the looming long-term care crisis.
The ACA and mental health care (published Sept. 18)
When my brother, who had severe epilepsy, died of a massive seizure at 32, I needed to see a grief counselor. I had been his primary caretaker, and his death hit me hard.
I was fortunate to have access to workplace insurance that included quality mental health services. It’s a benefit I have come to really appreciate.
But many people don’t have access to such care.
I was thinking about this as I followed news reports on the shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard in which 13 people were killed, including the gunman, and several others were injured. Police records and comments from people who knew the gunman, who had served in the Navy as a full-time reservist, indicate that he may have had mental health issues.
Now comes the recovery. At least two workers at the Navy Yard reported that they were standing beside people who were gunned down, one shot in the head. One person said that when he got up from a crouched position, there were bullet holes near the top of the wall. I would ask the question, why not me? And I might need someone to help me deal with the trauma or guilt.
I think about the folks who were working at the Navy Yard or other workplaces who have to deal with the aftermath of such tragedies. And while such incidents are rare, it is likely that you are working with people who are struggling with mental illnesses and need help to handle their condition. They aren’t likely to go on a shooting spree, but they may drink too much, take illicit drugs or fall into a depression they can’t shake.
Although many large and small group insurance plans include services for some mental health and substance-use illnesses, there are gaps in coverage. About one-third of those who are currently covered in the individual market have no coverage for substance-use disorders and nearly 20 percent have no coverage for mental health cases, including outpatient therapy visits and inpatient crisis intervention and stabilization, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
But starting next year, this will change for many workers.
Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans offered in the new marketplaces will have to cover a core set of services called “essential health benefits.” Included on the list of 10 benefits are mental health and substance-use disorder services, which include behavioral health treatment, counseling and psychotherapy. Specifically, as part of what’s considered preventive services, plans will also cover alcohol-misuse screening and counseling, depression screening for adults and for adolescents, domestic and interpersonal violence screening for women, and behavioral assessments for children.
Here are two important points about mental health coverage under Obamacare. First, the coverage for behavioral health services must be generally comparable to coverage for medical and surgical care. Second, plans offered in the marketplace have to the cover preventive services without charging customers a copayment or coinsurance even if you haven’t met your yearly deductible. However, the services have to be delivered by a network provider.
The Kaiser Family Foundation noted in a report released this month that benefits will be extended in many cases to cover services typically now excluded, such as mental health. Starting next year, health plans won’t be able to deny coverage or charge you more because of a pre-existing health condition, including a mental illness.
Think this issue doesn’t affect you? Well, take a look at these statistics from www.mentalhealh.gov:
— One in five adults has experienced a mental health issue.
— Half of all mental health disorders first show up before a person turns 14. Three-quarters of mental health disorders begin before 24. But less than 20 percent of children and adolescents with mental health problems receive the treatment they need.
— One in 20 Americans lived with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression.
We are reminded of the seriousness of mental illness when there’s an incident like the one at the Navy Yard. However, this issue should matter to workers and employers more often than just at the time of a tragedy.
Open enrollment in the health insurance marketplace begins Oct. 1. Visit www.healthcare.gov to learn more about the behavioral health services offered.
The Affordable Care Act will provide one of the largest expansions of mental health and substance-use disorder coverage in a generation, the Obama administration says. I hope that by expanding access to mental health coverage, we can get people the help they need and in the most severe situations prevent tragedies that result in the loss of life.
Beware of the hucksters (published Sept. 1)
Obamacare is upon us, and already fraudsters are out to cheat people.
With a lot of confusion about the health insurance marketplaces, consumers are receiving phone calls from people claiming to provide insurance cards needed under the Affordable Care Act. Keep your guard up, says Edward Johnson, president and chief executive of the Better Business Bureau of Metro Washington, D.C., and Eastern Pennsylvania.
One of the more controversial and confusing provisions of the law, and one that con artists might try to exploit, is the provision that requires most Americans to maintain “minimum essential” health insurance coverage. A just-released Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that about half of respondents do not understand how the law will impact their own families.
Kaiser found that just over a third of the public, including the uninsured, say they have tried to get more information, most often through a general Internet search.
That should please the con artists. Fraudsters are pretty clever about creating websites that spoof legitimate Internet sites.
Johnson said the likelihood that health insurance schemes will increase will only get worse over the next four to six months as the Affordable Care Act is implemented.
“Scammers take advantage of the latest policy or new program to hook potential victims with something new in the news that they don’t yet know much about,” Johnson said.
The Federal Trade Commission is hosting a roundtable Sept. 19 to discuss health care-related scams. The agency is bringing together federal and state consumer protection officials, legal service providers, community organizations, and consumer advocates to discuss how best to help consumers avoid potential scams. The roundtable will be webcast.
“We have lots of eyes on the marketplace already,” said Lois Greisman, associate director of the FTC’s Division of Marketing Practices.
So how might one of the scams work?
You might receive a call from someone claiming to be from the federal government, Johnson said.
The caller informs you that you’ve been selected as part of the initial group of Americans to receive insurance cards through the new Affordable Care Act.
That’s the hook and a lie.
Before he or she can mail your card, you are then told you need to provide some personal information. That’s the heart of the scam.
The goal is to get you to provide personal information such as your bank account or Social Security number. Scammers can use this information to open credit cards in your name or steal from your bank account.
There are no special insurance cards being issued as part of the enrollment for the Affordable Care Act.
Further, open enrollment doesn’t start until Oct. 1. So anyone claiming they can sign you up now is deceiving you.
Here are some tips from the BBB to protect yourself:
n Government agencies normally communicate through the mail, so immediately put up your guard if you get an unsolicited call, text message or email from someone claiming they are going to help you sign up for health insurance. The way the exchanges work, you must take the initiative to sign up.
n If you get an unsolicited call regarding health care insurance, hang up. Don’t engage the person. If you need any information go to www.healthcare.gov, the official insurance marketplace website. You can also dial a toll-free number — (800) 318-2596 — 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Hearing-impaired callers using TTY/TDD technology can dial (855) 889-4325 for assistance. Kaiser found few people were turning to health insurance companies, nonprofit or community organization or government websites to become informed. Be sure you are searching legitimate sites.
— Don’t trust what you see come up on your caller- ID screen. Scammers have access to technology to manipulate the screen to display any number or organization name.
— Never give out personal information such as credit card numbers, bank account or Social Security numbers or your date of birth to unfamiliar callers.
If you suspect a scammer has contacted you or if you’ve been conned, file a complaint at www.ftc. gov. To file a complaint in English or Spanish click on the link on the home page that says “Consumer Complaint?” You can also call the FTC at (877) 382-4357.
Tell the BBB by going to www.bbb.org/scam.
“We have lots of eyes on the marketplace already,” Greisman said. “Consumer complaints are critical in helping us identify and stop these scams. We want to hear from consumers.”
Obamacare’s taxing issues (published Sept. 2)
Much has been made of the financial hammer that will fall on people who can afford to pay for health care under the Affordable Care Act but choose to forgo coverage.
Starting next year, individuals and their dependents are required to have minimum essential health insurance unless they qualify for an exemption. That’s why you are hearing so much about the new health care exchanges, which will have open enrollment from Oct. 1 to March 31.
If you are deemed to be in the financial position to pay for coverage or you don’t fall under an exemption, you’ll have to pay a penalty for being uninsured, which you will have to fork over when you file your federal income tax return.
The penalty for being uninsured starts at $95 annually for an individual and can go up to $285 for a family, or 1 percent of a family’s household income, depending on which is higher. The fee for children is half the adult amount and increases every year. By 2016 the penalty rises to $695 per adult, or 2.5 percent of household income, whichever is higher. The amount you may owe is based on the number of months in a given year you go without the required coverage. You won’t have to pay if you are uninsured for less than three months of the year.
A fight over the requirement for coverage landed in the Supreme Court, which ruled that the penalty amounts to a tax. “The federal government does not have the power to order people to buy
A fight over the requirement for coverage landed in the Supreme Court, which ruled that the penalty amounts to a tax. “The federal government does not have the power to order people to buy health insurance,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in upholding the landmark law. But, he added, the government “does have the power to impose a tax on those without health insurance.”
Since the penalty has been judged a tax, it means the Internal Revenue Service is supposed to have the sledgehammer to carry out the mandate.
However, the reality — at least for now — is that the agency only has a soft mallet.
The law prohibits the IRS from using its usual tough collection tools — getting a lien against your property or putting a claim on your wages — to collect any payment you owe related to the individual responsibility provision.
Still, the IRS may collect your “shared responsibility payment” by snatching part or all of your refund depending on what you owe. Additionally, if you fail to pay the penalty, interest will accrue, the IRS says. The interest charged is the same that is imposed for taxes that are paid late. An estimated 6 million people will pay a penalty tax because they are uninsured in 2016, according to the Congressional Budget Office and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation.
Surely the government will be watching to see if people figure out how to game the system by changing the amount they instruct their employers to withhold from their paychecks, which would result in their not getting a refund.
It’s through the federal income tax form that you will have to indicate if you have health insurance or are eligible for an exemption. But this doesn’t go into effect until you file your 2014 federal return in 2015.
The health insurance marketplace will provide certificates of exemption, the IRS says. There are a number of ways to avoid paying a penalty, including coverage through an employer, a veterans’ plan, Medicare or Medicaid. If you don’t fall into the various categories to avoid a fee, you can still request an exemption. Some individuals may qualify for an exemption on religious grounds or because they have very low income and coverage is considered unaffordable. You won’t face a penalty if you are not required to file a tax return because your income is too low.
The IRS says information will be made available later about how tax returns will change to allow people to report their health insurance coverage or an exemption. Health insurers will be required to provide everyone that they cover each year with information that will help them demonstrate they have coverage, according to the IRS. So you may have to attach to your tax return a form much like you do now when you include your W-2 or a 1099 that reports other sources of income.
If you have more questions about tax issues regarding the ACA, go to www.irs.gov. Search for “Questions and Answers on the Individual Shared Responsibility Provision.” You can also find answers at www.heathcare.gov.
As it is with so much concerning the Affordable Care Act, find out how it affects you especially because now it will be linked to information you provide on your tax return.
Getting ready for Obamacare (published Aug. 19)
A marketplace like no other is opening soon.
Beginning Oct. 1, people without health insurance can shop for what is promised to be affordable health care coverage.
It’s all part of the rollout of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2010. For the last three years, various parts of the law have been implemented: Young adults can stay on their parents’ health insurance until they turn 26; insurance companies are prohibited from imposing lifetime dollar limits on essential services such as hospital stays; people with Medicare get free preventive services.
Next up is a part of the law that requires most Americans to maintain “minimum essential” health insurance coverage. It’s one of the more controversial provisions of the law commonly referred to as Obamacare.
Remember all the fuss about the Supreme Court weighing in on this mandate? The court ruled last year that the government could make people buy insurance. So unless you are exempt or you are covered through your employer or a government program, you have to purchase insurance from a private company or face a penalty. Open enrollment runs from Oct. 1 to March 31.
This is the first of a series of columns explaining the provisions of the law that are due to take effect next year. But ultimately, you’re going to have to do some research yourself. Don’t be informed by rumors or the political discourse surrounding this law. There’s enough complication in the application of the provisions that you don’t need to add to your fears or frustrations by getting advice that is politically motivated.
Thankfully, you have help. Your first stop should be www.healthcare.gov or CuidadoDeSalud.gov for Spanish speakers. It’s an easy site to navigate. The information is nicely broken down in various sections. Every state and the District of Columbia will have a health insurance marketplace. Your state may have set up its own exchange or has plans to join with other states to create a regional exchange. Or maybe your state might have opted to let the federal government establish one.
Once you’re on healthcare.gov, click on the link for “Get Insurance.” You want to do this first so you can see if you need to stay on healthcare.gov or go to a similar state-run site to apply for coverage, compare plans, and enroll once the marketplace is open.
If you don’t want to go online or you don’t have easy access to a computer, you can call for help figuring out how you are affected. The government has set up a call center with staff that speaks 150 languages. You can reach them 24 hours a day, seven days a week toll free at (800) 318-2596, and hearing impaired callers using TTY/TDD technology can dial (855) 889-4325 for assistance. Workers called Navigators are also being trained around the country to assist folks.
To encourage the uninsured to purchase essential coverage for themselves and their dependents, the government put in place a penalty for those who refuse to buy. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (www.kff.org) has a great graph to illustrate the requirement to buy insurance and the penalties. Search for: “The Requirement to Buy Coverage Under the Affordable Care Act.” If you can afford coverage and still don’t seek it, the fee starts at $95 for an individual up to $285 for a family or 1 percent of a family’s income, depending on which is higher. The fee increases every year. By 2016 it rises to $695 per adult or 2.5 percent, again whichever is higher.
Here’s the thing. If the government determines that your income is such that you can or should be able to pay for your own insurance and you don’t fall under an exemption, you’ll be responsible for 100 percent of any medical care you might need.
So how do you know if the mandate includes you? There are a number of ways to avoid paying a penalty, including if you have coverage through an employer, a veteran’s plan, Medicare or Medicaid. If you don’t fall into the various categories to avoid a fee, you can still request an exemption.
The health insurance exchange will allow you to compare plans sold by different insurance companies. The big question is what you will have to pay. The answer is, it depends. That information won’t be available until Oct. 1.
With government subsidies, you may be able to lower your monthly premiums based on your income. It is also possible that you’ll fall into a gap where the health insurance plans offered are still too costly.
I know. It’s a lot to take in and I’ve just covered the basics. But if you’re uninsured, you won’t know if you can or can’t afford health insurance if you don’t investigate what the new marketplace has to offer. Please do go shopping beginning Oct. 1 and find out. We all need medical care at some point and this may make it more affordable.
Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary). Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.