A healthy debate

Each quarter I receive half a dozen or more proposals from writers for feature articles they’d like to write for Airstream Life magazine.   Usually, these proposals sit in my email Inbox for several weeks, while I do other things.   As I’m conducting the day-to-day business of the magazine, there’s a little part of my brain that is considering the possible use of the article proposals:   Do they fit in the magazine?   How could they be better, or more complete? Can it be part of a theme?

After a few weeks, clarity usually arrives and I write back to the author to tell them whether the article is something we can use.   Many apply; few are chosen.   Mostly this is because I get repeats of the same article suggestions perennially (“my first Airstream experience,”   “my Airstream of Consciousness,” “safety tips,” etc.)   Those are easy to weed out, as are the occasional screwball suggestions.   Those that make the cut will get a detailed and lengthy email from me, outlining specifically what I want, what the article needs to include, style & research tips, a word count guideline, and comments on photography.

But there are a few that really stump me, and I’ve got one such proposal on my desk right now.   The author is someone known to me, a proven writer, and that makes it harder for me to reject his proposal without careful consideration.   He wants to write about medical issues.   Normally I’d toss such a suggestion out with hardly a second thought — Airstream Life is not about such things.   But in this case the author makes an impassioned case for   the need to address the topic of medical care and how an Airstream can be an essential tool when you find yourself supporting a loved one (or yourself) who is spending a lot of time in the hospital.

This recently happened to some friends of mine, an Airstream couple who suddenly discovered that one of them needed some fairly serious surgery. This meant two weeks of diagnostic procedures, consults, and pre-operative examinations — and then the surgery itself, followed by another four days in the hospital.   Where’s a spouse to stay when you need to do all of this at a specialty care center far from home?   The Airstream, parked nearby, provides an ideal solution.

My good friend Bert Gildart also wrote in his blog a couple of years ago about how he parked his Airstream right in the heart of Washington DC at a care facility, to stay near his father when he was dying.   Other friends have used their Airstreams to visit the Mayo Clinic.   It’s done all the time.   What a comfort it must   be to have “home” and family right there outside the doors of the monolithic concrete building where you’re being poked and prodded.

Health is a big topic in my mind right now.   We are all generally fine, but nonetheless we have relocated to Tucson and that means we have all new doctors.   Being new patients, we’ve been subjected to a raft of examinations and tests, and between the three of us, we’ve managed to flunk a few.   My cholesterol is “slightly” elevated.   There’s a slight lump here, an odd mole there, a bit of anemia, etc.   Nobody’s perfect, and of course every little thing needs to be checked out.

Well, don’t worry about us.   We’re fine.   I mention this because it has opened my eyes to yet another element in our nation’s healthcare insurance crisis. Like a lot of small businesses, we’ve been forced by the high cost of health insurance to switch to a high-deductible health plan combined with a Health Spending Account.   In short, we now have a deductible of $3,850 per year, and we have to pay 100% of all our health care costs until we reach that deductible.   The Health Spending Account, financed by company contributions and tax-sheltered, pays the deductible.   This is cheaper overall than the type of coverage we used to have, which paid “first dollar” coverage on nearly every medical expense but cost a lot more each month in premiums.   If you don’t have this sort of plan, pay attention, because you probably will soon.

Having to pay for every doctor visit and prescription means you start to notice what healthcare costs.   That’s a good thing, if you don’t have a heart attack when you see the bill.   Several of our office visits were quoted as costing between $190 and $285.   We braced ourselves, then were pleasantly surprised to find that after the insurance company received the bills, they “repriced” the fees to much lower levels.   The $190 visit became just $70 after the insurance company waved its magic wand.   The $285 visit dropped to $120.   On average, we paid only about 1/3 of what the original bills stated.

This happens because the insurance companies all negotiate preferential rates with the doctors and hospitals.   Anyone covered by their insurance gets the cheaper rates.   Thus, we are discovering that the real value of having health insurance in the short term is not the elimination of financial risk, but the enormous discounts that come with it.   If we’d gone “bare” we’d be facing huge medical bills — and we’re healthy.   No wonder millions of Americans are forced into bankruptcy by their medical expenses.   If you don’t have insurance, you’re going to pay two or three times more than you really should for medical services.

So here I am, a relatively healthy guy with a relatively healthy family.   We try to take care of ourselves in our diet and our activities.   And yet, I am thinking a lot about healthcare these days.   It’s a sign of the times, I think, more than it is a sign that I’m in my mid-forties.   And I wonder: Is this indeed something Airstream Life needs to discuss?

This is why I hesitate to reject the article proposal.   It still sits in my Inbox, awaiting an answer.   The little part of my brain that considers proposals is still spinning, thinking, working on the problem of how to make this kernel of an idea into something that we can publish in the context of Airstream Life.   It feels like a social obligation — to somehow address this critical issue.

You probably never realized that this kind of thought goes into a quarterly travel magazine.   But this is what good editors really do.   It’s not about punctuation and grammar — it’s about feeling what the audience needs and what they are ready for.   Editors are like chefs, mixing up ideas to get just the right result.   Sure, it’s nice to keep your sleeves clean, but in the end you get judged on the flavors of the finished product.

In this case, I’m leaning toward shelving the proposal until we can find an opportunity to work it in logically, perhaps year or two down the road when another topic comes up that would be a good companion. But the internal debate isn’t over yet.   I’ll keep considering a while longer.


  1. says

    Almost exactly a year ago, Ava was hospitalized for respiratory problems. Coincidentally, we were in Tucson camping in our T@B trailer we owned before the Airstream.

    I know it sounds like we are in Tucson all the time but we’ve actually only been there three times and that was our second.

    Marlene was able to sleep in her room with her since there was a fold out bed in the hospital room. I on the other hand slept in the T@B in the parking lot for those 7 days. It is an interesting topic. Looking forward to see how you decide.

  2. Zach Woods says

    Hi Rich –

    Great to see the post – I was beginning to think the hackers might have gotten to you . . .

    I say if the article on Airstreams / Healthcare is focused on either using an Airstream as a place to stay during a healthcare crisis (not unlike using an Airstream as a place to stay away from a natural disaster) or the article is focused on healthcare options for RV’ers then either would be a good fit for Airstream Life.

    Other potential related articles:

    – using an Airstream as a temporary home during either major home renovations or the building of a new house.

    – using an Airstream as a way to live near someone for either an extended social or assistance visit (ie an elderly parent needs assistance).

    – using an Airstream as a home away from home when work requires you to spend an extended stretch at a location far from home.


  3. Forrest says

    Hi Rich,

    I bet there are plenty of readers interested in this topic. I have one friend who lived in his Airstream in the hospital parking lot while his wife was there for an operation and recovery. But I haven’t heard of others. What problems, if any, did they run into? Does anyone need to be notified? Tips about practical issues would be of interest to all the readers. Any of us could find ourselves in that situation.

    An accompanying article could be about how the handicapped travel in their Airstreams, and what kind of items they install and use, or adaptations they’ve made that helps them deal with travel and getting in and out of their RV.

    Another article might compare special insurance coverage for travelers, such as Skymed and the Good Sam EA+ Program. There are likely plenty of testimonials for each and maybe there are other companies offering similar coverage that I haven’t heard of.

    Look at the response you’ve gotten immediately from this blog posting. There is interest in this topic.

  4. Larry Ko says

    A good subject to address. With a large population of Airstream owners aging with medical issues starting to become more prevalent. Being in control with knowledge and awareness of options helps to reduce anxiety during a medical crisis.

    Not every hospital allows a family member to stay in the room with the patient. Some medical conditions also include a suppressed immune system, e.g., cancer and leukemia, requiring treatment and tests over an extended time at a specialty clinic, usually in a major city.

    The Ronald McDonald House provides a place for family to stay when a child becomes ill.

    The stress and worry factor of staying in an unfamiliar environment is eliminated when the caretaker can stay in an familiar environment, their Airstream.

    It would be interesting to get input from your readers who are medical social workers, and testimony from those who have used their Airstream as a temporary home away from home during a crisis.


  5. groucho' says

    hi rich

    for years i’ve been trying to get folks to understand the ‘negotiated price issue’ is WHY u buy insurance from a major player. the fee schedule REALLY changes when a biggie like bc/bs is involved.

    now that the hsa can be used to pay the upfront deductibles, the reasons are even more compelling to shop the right provider and coverage.

    as 2 the article topic, it might be interesting for many folks, but has little to do with a/s ownership specifically. zillions of folks in rvz of all brands use them for lodging while getting wacked by doctors and other snake oil vendors.

    but many of us who need repairs or service on the ‘streams or tow vehicles check early to see if the dealer will allow overnighting as done at the factory service center. if traveling while service is needed that factor is very important, right?

    so i’d suggest that the approach to this article doesn’t need to deal with ANY medical issues specifically (((which eliminates the need to assure medical accuracy and so on)))

    by developing the theme of… “when the service call isn’t for the trailer, but you.”

    then the piece might provide info and insights into the nearby rv parks, boondock in a friends yard, or find a clinic/hospital that HAS rv parking theme…

    i don’t think the publication wants to really open the prostate, flat foot, migraine, multiple chemical sensitivity, low cholesterol can o’worms, right?

    just like you don’t need a backseatdrivergonzo editor…


  6. insightout says

    …….”easy to weed out, as are the occasional screwball suggestions”…….

    Perhaps Trailer Life will be interested in the 3000 word essay, +40 pictures, of our boondock weekend in the Wal-Mart parking lot when the grandchildren baked cookies in the shape of a Bambi.

    The photos of the asphalt, the dog poop, the chicken nuggets in the shape of Illinois and an unnamed male body part, and our beautiful metallic glitter pedicures done by those cute Korean girls next to the Olan Mills studio….a real stitch.

    The insiders at the Publishers Clearing House often jokingly refer to your publication as the ‘Mobility Architectural Digest’, the ‘DuPont Registry of Tow Vehicles’, the ‘Better RV Homes & Gardens’ for those with neither, and it appears you are a little too uppity for good literature.

    We’ll just frame your rejection letter and hang it alongside those from ‘Atlantic Monthly’ and ‘Forbes’.

  7. Lou Woodruff says

    Although we are only 15 min. away from our local medical facility, Larry and I considered the option of moving the Minuet to their parking lot. We were needing to spend more and more time there around the clock due to a crisis health situation, and running back and forth was a hazard we did not need. Driving at night while you are stressed and tired is not a good thing. This is an issue that most of us, who are “baby boomers” would be interested in reading. Go for it!

  8. Carol says

    This was the exact reason I started looking for an Airstream or other RV/TT 5 1/2 years ago. We spent a small fortune staying in hotels (even cheap ones) for three months when my stepson was in a hospital 150 miles from home. Without someone there on a regular basis he would have died many times. We thought he would be transferred to rehab for about six more months and that’s when I started looking for something to live in for the duration.

    I didn’t find anything right away, which turned out lucky I guess (we would have spent money we couldn’t afford), but I did become the proud recipient of a vintage Spartan Manor because of my efforts. I also renewed a longtime desire to own an Airstream and have been reading about them ever since.

    I would love to know the details of how the writer used an Airstream in the situation you’ve described. I never considered parking one at a hospital before. Wonder how this would work?