Tuesday, August 31, 2010

First Do No Harm

I’ve been tempted to return to my Starbucks job for the health insurance, which cost me $30 a month (I heard it’s $52 right now, but I’m not sure). Before Starbucks, there was Borders, Cheesecake Factory, and Bennigan’s. Corporations might be the reason our economy is unbalanced, but they love to throw health insurance your way on the cheap.

Books & Books offers health benefits to full-time employees, and to certain folks labeled part-time who average enough hours to qualify. We use a local HMO, Florida Health Partnership. Because FHP's rates increase every year, our insurance payments have increased every year. Books & Books matches our monthly contribution, but without a raise to compensate, my take home pay keeps diminishing.

The most recent hike just happened. If I stop the insurance, I’m looking at an extra $2,490.54 a year. This merits serious consideration.

How can you not have insurance?

If I was going for my yearly checkups, I might care. But my doctor was in partnership with another doctor on the beach. FHP included Beach Doctor on the list of approved Primary Care Physicians, but not my doctor. When the partnership dissolved, so did my yearly visits.

I'm a biker, remember? It’s much easier catching a ride to a house party on SOBE than a doctor’s visit. If I’m not getting checked up, I’m flushing money down the toilet.

Yes, but what if Something Happens?

Well, something did. Geico covered the bills because it was a Motor Vehicle Accident, plus I had FHP to back them up. Well, la-dee-frickin’-da. Once I left the hospital, I made follow-up appointments for specific dates and times. Those follow-ups consisted of showing up at nine and taking a number like it was a deli. It was 3pm before I looked around and realized I’d been looking at the same faces all day. I didn’t take a number with other folks scheduled for nine; everyone scheduled on that day, insured and uninsured alike, took a number and waited.

Oh, those payments really came in handy while I was sitting on hard plastic for seven hours with a fractured pelvis, sacrum, and ribs.

If something catastrophic happens (and having just finished Portnoy’s Complaint I really want to write “God forbid”), a hospital will treat you. So what if you can’t pay?

For several years, my ex-wife had three different forms of insurance. No matter how many times, or to how many different people, we gave information on our primary, secondary, and tertiary accounts, hospitals still smacked us with thousands of dollars in bills (my ex is a transplant patient; it took a phone call to the Miami Herald to finally stop the nonsense; don't tell me newspapers are irrelevant). When situations arose where folks saw thousands in unpaid hospital bills on our credit report, we were told time and again that, “we look at medical bills differently” than other debt.

Who cares if my credit rating sucks? If I want to buy a house, or a car? Twice this summer I’ve eaten beans two meals a day to stretch my funds until the next paycheck. I don’t see myself pulling my new vehicle into a home I own any time soon.

Carl Hiaasen wrote that the human body rarely offers up any good surprises past the age of forty. As I approach forty, regular check-ups will become more important. I know this. Of course I won’t cancel my health insurance; I’m just worried about supporting someone besides me and looking for extra income.

As far as the accident, even if hospital debt is “different,” getting demands for payment in the mail is still stressful. I have to balance the couple hundred I paid for a helicopter ride, prescription co-pays, and a walker (“For patient’s comfort” so not covered, never mind that I couldn’t walk without it) vs. the $30k I would have owed for the hospital stay.

Still, I look at that $95.79 I could be saving from my paycheck and think there’s the month I wanted to spend in Italy for my fortieth birthday, there’s the cushion I’m supposed to have for emergencies, there’s my robot butler.

France is looking better every day.


  1. Getting old is crap, no doubt about it. Since losing my job I have no private medical insurance - which fixed my problem knee a couple of years ago - but thankfully still have access to our National Health Service.

    This piece wouldn't be out of place as a human interest article in a weekly newspaper column. You should be putting it out there Aaron. You could be making enough to cover those medical bills.

    Thing is - we don't ever make quite enough money in reality, but always manage to find ways to spend up to the limit. It's one of the insidious half truths that lack of money always hits us with. "If only I had just a bit more" or "How can they earn so much and still not make ends meet" We should and could be able to do it, but it never works out that way.

    Meet you in France someday......

  2. As usual, Al, you're right. People are approaching me to attend their events and blog about them. It makes me wonder why I don’t get paid for this, or how to go about getting paid for this.

    I’ve heard that newspapers pay a snip of what they used to, and I’ve watched them screw a couple friends, so I’m wary. There’s also my fear of rejection. But a “fraction of what they used to pay” is still a fraction more than I have, and worlds more than I'll get from never trying.

    Usually, the raise is “good, now I can afford a car” or “now I afford cable.”
    The only time I’ve gotten a raise and set the money aside for a cushion, Andi and I ended up losing most of it with our novice investing technique.

    On Friday, I got that first paycheck after the rate increase. Yikes. France could be a long way off.