With my passport expiring soon and mailing my current one back, I wanted to ensure I did everything right. That I still have to send such a critically important document via the mail always gives me pause, but alternatives are few. Given this task occurs every 10 years, I reviewed the guidelines carefully.

As I prepped for the photo, the excitement drained when I was told: “Make sure your neck shows, tuck your hair because they have to see your ears, look up and don’t smile.” To which I responded: Not even a little bit?” “Nope, not even a little bit.” And the smile left my face. The irony of it is that when I opened the photo packet, it read (no kidding) “Smile, your passport photos are ready.”

I am a proud American citizen, and my passport is a reflection at points of entry around the world, which now portrays me as one of a fleet of unsmiling minions, a sad commentary on how we project ourselves around the globe. To add insult, in 2016 the Transportation Security Administration, whose employees are tasked with protecting the nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce, ranked 303 out of 305 government agencies, partly due to low morale. Maybe facing thousands of unsmiling humans every day factors in?

Once my new passport arrives, I’ll double down on my mission to bring my best and smiling self with me wherever in the world I go. And when I return home, too.

Catherine Stoch, Little Falls, Minn.


‘Hidden gem’ needs proposed interpretive center, despite cost

Thank you for your coverage of the St. Louis Park proposal to build a new interpretive center at Westwood Hills Nature Center (“Busy St. Louis Park nature center could get $12 million upgrade,” March 6). As an 11-year resident, I agree that this “hidden gem” needs a replacement for the “one-room school house” that hosts both exhibits and educational classes.

Casual visitors often seem reluctant to enter the small building during special events or formal programs, but limited parking and a remote hilltop location also limit access for many people. We need a space where all are welcome. We need a facility for people of all ages.

While I agree that we should carefully consider the cost of public projects, I also think we should weigh the long-term needs of the community. If we are going to build something new, we should build it to last. I hope that as my neighbors learn more about these plans, they can see the value it will provide for generations to come.

Matthew Flory, St. Louis Park


How widespread is it that billing codes duplicity costs the patient?

In response to the March 6 letter on cost-coding of medical visits (“The murky medical system: The cost-coding system is a web in which you’ll be trapped”), I want to know how widespread across the industry the practice is of coding preventive visits as diagnostic. In 2017, both my annual physical and five-year preventive colonoscopy were coded diagnostic, making me fully responsible for payment, instead of my preventive insurance through UnitedHealthcare.

The Hennepin County Medical Center billing office told me it was teaching patients that if they say the wrong thing during an exam, it converts the visit from a preventive to a diagnostic exam, and it’s the patient’s responsibility. I view that as a bait-and-switch. I came in for an annual physical and a five-year colonoscopy, and they were coded as diagnostic exams without any advance warning to me, the consumer.

If HCMC wants to do that, it needs to educate its doctors to say to the patient: “You’ve mentioned a pre-existing condition of polyps. If I go ahead with the colonoscopy, it will no longer be a five-year routine preventive colonoscopy, but rather a diagnostic colonoscopy based on a pre-existing condition. The cost will be yours rather than your preventive insurance. Do you want to go ahead with the procedure on those terms?”

Give me the chance to opt out. You can’t just bait-and-switch.

In the annual physical, have the doctor say: “You want to know if you’re prediabetic. If I run the labs for that, this exam will no longer be an annual physical, but rather a diagnostic exam. The cost will be yours rather than your preventive insurance. Do you want me to go ahead with testing for diabetes? Or would you like this to remain an annual physical?”

Be transparent in the moment, when the consumer can still choose.

Who benefits from the bait-and-switch? The insurance company to whom I pay weekly premiums for preventive insurance benefits. It gets my premiums and never has to pay. HCMC is not out anything, because someone will pay, and if it’s not UnitedHealthcare, it will be me. UnitedHealthcare will get my weekly premiums for preventive care and never have to pay HCMC for it, because it will all be considered to be diagnostic care. Does UnitedHealthcare reimburse doctors or hospitals or coders to automatically code preventive exams as diagnostic exams?

So, I want to know how widespread across the health care industry is this practice of coding preventive care as diagnostic care? Which hospitals do not engage in that practice? Let the attorney general’s office know.

Susan Frenzel, Minneapolis


Have Democrats abandoned the poor in favor of identity politics?

With midterm elections approaching, Democrats need to do some soul-searching. Has the party abandoned the poor?

Those on the left would argue absolutely not. Standing up for African-Americans and other people of color is not just a party platform, it is a moral imperative. This entails enacting policies designed to lift up people of color out of poverty. Yet, are impoverished African-Americans a key concern because they are impoverished or because they are a favored identity group?

Many traditional Democrats lament that the party’s long-standing commitment to the poor is being hijacked by identity politics. Being poor, in itself, no longer engenders compassion, while being a member of a favored group does, regardless of that person’s abundance of wealth and power. In short, being black always trumps being poor.

How else does one explain the left’s apparent lack of compassion for and commitment to impoverished whites? What is worse, one might argue, is that many on the left have not only abandoned impoverished whites; they now treat them with contempt, stereotyping them as ignorant racists, undeserving of empathy or compassion.

Living in abject poverty, many whites lack the power to lift themselves up, let alone hold anyone down. In terms of sheer numbers, poor whites are a large constituency. They may be still within reach, as demonstrated by Bernie Sanders’ recent presidential campaign.

Democrats need to return to their mission of fighting for the poor — black, white, young, old, immigrant and nonimmigrant. It may not turn the tide in favor of the party, but it will stem the tide of ardent Trump supporters.

Dan Conlin, Maple Grove