My Work Doesn’t Offer the Best Health Insurance for MY Family – Open Enrollment

I’ve been watching all the pennies lately, trying to improve my financial well-being. I have reconfigured our budget, consolidated our debt, clipped coupons and overhauled our rewards programs. There are great resources out there to help the financially non-savvy, such as myself, educate themselves about how money works and what steps to take to reach your financial goals, whatever they may be. One of my favorites right now is The Black Belt of Finance blog. Check it out.

For many people, it is open enrollment time. Time to review and update your health insurance benefits, either through work or with the your state’s health insurance marketplace (which you can find via www.healthcare.gov.)

Once I got to the place in my career where health insurance was a given benefit, I naturally assumed the plans my job offered were the best that were available to me. Maybe at one time, that was true. Before the Affordable Care Act, it seemed reasonable to assume that because your employer was paying for a portion of your insurance premium, that you would never be able to find a comparable insurance plan for less money. Really, it wasn’t something that was even on my radar, to shop around for health insurance. If your employer offered it, you took it.

That seems to have changed, and people should sit up and take notice, because they could be saving themselves money!

For my particular situation, it was a few factors, all happening together, that made my insurance shopping a must.

First, my employer decided to so some shopping themselves. They did a review health plans, and decided they would stick with our current provider. That’s fine. However, as part of the review, they took into account changing to high- deductible health plans. They found it would save them money. Emphasis on them. The employees ended up getting a raw deal. The insurance company saved money, and my company saved money, but the employees ended up with big bills, even though my employer still paid 75% of our premium.

Second, the Affordable Care Act provided new ways to get health insurance along with subsidies to help you pay premiums. Really, you are trading having your employer pay a portion, to letting Uncle Sam pay a portion.

Third, my family grew quickly. I used to only have to insure my self and my son. Then I got married and had a baby, which doubled the number of people I had to find coverage for. It has also been discussed beginning to include my step-children on our insurance. If we choose to do that, I would be covering 6 people.

Let’s take a look at some real world numbers, to make the point clear:

Back in 2013, on my old health plan, I paid $434.16 a month for my portion of the insurance premium. What I got in return for my hard-earned money was a plan that did not require a Primary Care Physician (PCP), had no deductible, I didn’t need referrals to see a specialist, I paid a flat rate for my prescriptions, and I only spent $1990 that year out-of-pocket. I felt that maybe I wasn’t getting a deal, but the chuck of change that came out of my check bought me freedom from the dreaded medical bills, which can wreak havoc on a budget. Total expense: $7199.92

Now let’s look at 2014, when the new plans were offered. I opted for a High Deductible plan with a Health Savings Account. Our company (maybe out of guilt) offered to deposit $1500 in our HSA. This was a crucial selling point to those, like me, that were upset at losing our previous plan, while expensive, provided us a sense of peace that the bills were taken care of. It was also important, because my individual deductible was $1500 ($3000 for the family). I knew I would reach my deductible early in the year, because I had the baby in 2014, in April to be exact. So, for the rest of the year I enjoyed cheaper prescriptions, and no bills when seeing the doctor. We all did. For this, I had to pay $390.32 a month.

That’s right, $44 separated the nirvana of not worrying about medical bills, to me doing all the work, chasing down insurance payments and making sure nothing slipped through the cracks. How many times have I wished I could pay $44 a month for someone to take this headache off my To-Do list. On top of the premium deduction, I also put $180/month into my HSA. I spent the full $3000 deductible out of my HSA and rolled over $660 to 2015. I also spent $684.67 on prescriptions. Total Expense: $6868.51

When you compare the two years, the cost is very similar, if you include the cost of my time to handle all the bills.

So, then 2015 came along. The premium went up to $421.72. The new plan wasn’t so bad, maybe more work on my part, but what could I do, it’s what my work offered. The big difference was, since I didn’t have a big medical event (thank goodness), like the delivery in 2014, we didn’t hit our deductible until September. And forget the money in the HSA, it’s gone. Because not only do I have to pay the deductible, I have to pay full price on prescriptions until I meet that deductible. One prescription I had been on for years, I had to suddenly stop taking, because I went to refill it and it was $800! So far, I’m on track to spend more in 2015, than I did in either 2014 or 2013. Prescriptions alone will end up costing me $860. New glasses cost $329.93, I didn’t get myself any, I couldn’t afford new glasses, even though my prescription changed. And i have yet to re-order contacts for my husband and son. Total (Estimated) Expense: ~$8000

I found myself no longer making decisions based on what was best for my health, but what I could afford. Oh, how I missed 2013. Keep in mind, this is for a healthy family. My children only have been to the doctor for well-visits.

So, I took a look at what was offered through my state’s insurance marketplace, and found my children were eligible for insurance at no cost to me, and my husband and I were eligible for a subsidy. In fact, I can insure my family for $86 a month through this system. If I kept my plan through work, the rates for 2016 would be $441.54 per month.

Of course, this sounds too good to be true, so I had to check it out. I would be back to the old co-pay system $20 to visit the doctor, $50 to go to the E.R., my prescriptions would be $10 each. It doesn’t offer vision benefits, and I couldn’t find a place to even add vision, but the benefit I currently have is crap. It’s only good for 25% off my glasses and contacts (which we all wear except the baby), and when we got new glasses last month, we couldn’t even use my insurance vision benefit, because we took advantage of the buy one get one free promotion at the store. I would also have to go back to the old system of seeing my primary care physician any time I needed to see a specialist, to get a referral.

I’m not a financial guru, or any type of expert on insurance, I can only tell you how this change has felt. Seeing how things have played out in 2015, which is more indicative of how this new plan will work for my family, I feel betrayed by my company. But my upbringing tells me not to accept hand-outs. My company has shifted the health insurance cost onto me, but it is my choice as to whether or not I should pass that burden on the U.S. taxpayers, something frowned upon in my family.

And yet, my parents grew up in Ireland. When they went to the doctor, it was part of the public health care system. Today, people would say if you can’t afford health care, you shouldn’t have children. That wasn’t the case then, as my dad was 1 of 9 and my mother had 11 siblings. I remember clearly my father discussing that medical care was not sought in many cases in my extended family. Many of my relatives that stayed in Ireland died of different types of cancers, mostly weeks after consulting a doctor, because for them, you didn’t see a doctor until you were gravely ill.

So, here I am, with a decision to make. An extra $350 a month in my paycheck would be huge. The cost to my employer, if I opt to go with them would be $1766.16. The cost to the tax payer, if I opt for the subsidy, $408. I think no matter which I choose, the insurance company comes out on top.

Have you shopped around for health insurance? What has been your experience? Do you have any advice for me? Please comment below. Thanks!

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A Penny Saved…

Why is a penny saved, a penny earned? Anyone that uses coupons and rewards programs can tell you it can be hard work maximizing your savings.

I remember when I was young, clipping coupons with my mother. I liked looking at all the lovely things we could buy with the slips of paper. My mother would have us clip every single coupon in the paper, because who knows what you’ll end up needing. She would tell me that coupons were free money that came in our newspaper. Free money!? Sign me up!

My mother spent 3 hours organizing her coupons yesterday. Always clipping every single coupon she comes across, she has substantiated this chore with the excuse that she clips not only for herself, but she shares her coupons with her children. She clips diaper coupons for me, and dog food coupons for my sister, and she even finds Costco coupons for my sister in California. She carries little scissors around in her purse, in case she comes across a coupon she needs to clip in the field. Every time I see my mother, she has a little envelope filled with coupons for me. Aw, thanks Mom!

It’s great that my mom has time to do this, but even she can recognize that sometimes it’s not worth the effort. For instance, our local grocery store offers a rewards system where you can earn points, and then use those points toward discounts on gas. But she found out that her local gas station normally sells gas at a price that is the same, or even lower, than the discounted price she would receive from the store’s gas station. Not only that, she would have to drive farther to get the store’s gas station. So, she just doesn’t use the program, it really isn’t worth her time.

And that is the key to using your coupons and rewards to your benefit, not detriment. Your time has value. If clipping coupons takes up all your time, or you have to run all over town (or the next town over) to use your rewards, what is the point?

So, here are some tips to streamline your savings process:

Use an online coupon site. What I have found that works for me, is a free service, like coupons.com. I can open my store’s sale paper in one window and the coupon site in another, and go through and clip coupons for the items on sale. Why would I need coupons for something already on sale? Because I’ve been burned, that’s why.

I have found in the past, after coming across what I thought was a great coupon, only to find out that the item was still more expensive than its competitors items. For example, I once had a coupon for $1.50 of General Mills cereal, which would make the price $2.79 at my store. But when I checked my store’s deals for the week, they had Post cereal on sale $2.00. That coupon was really useless. It wasn’t saving me any money at all, and I spent time to obtain it.

Don’t spend too much time organizing your coupons. I normally split the coupons I get into 5 categories, I put them immediately into my coupon binder and the process only takes a few minutes. My coupon binder has 6 pockets. I leave the first one empty, then the other five are split into Non-Food, Pantry, Refrigerated, Frozen and Store.

The first pocket is empty, until I am actually shopping. When I’m in the store, and I have picked up an item, I move the coupon into the first pocket. then when I check out, I don’t have to fuss with the coupons I haven’t used on this trip.

Non-food is just that, anything that you don’t eat. From cleaning supplies to personal hygiene items; medication to dog food, it all goes into the same pocket. Why? There is no point to separating them out further, as I normally only do my shopping for household items once a month or less. Why spend time organizing them? How many dog food coupons can you have? Just lump them together.

I think the Pantry, Refrigerated and Frozen sections are self-explanatory. When I’m in the middle aisles, looking at Pop-Tarts, I don’t want to have coupons in my hand for frozen chicken. And vice-versa.

The last pocket, Store, is reserved for coupons that must be used in a particular store. So when I get my coupons printed out from my local grocery chain, I stick them straight into that last pocket. Then, if I find myself out and decide to do some shopping, all my coupons are at hand. I stuck some Macy’s coupons in that last pocket that I got in the mail. I didn’t think I’d get to use them, since I had no plans to visit the mall anytime soon. Then, when we were coming home from a family outing, we decided to talk a walk through the mall. We ended up at Macy’s and my older son asked for more school pants. (He has a strict school dress code this year, so I didn’t buy much at the beginning of the school year.) As I paid for the pants, I pulled out the coupons and ended up getting 20% off khakis that were already on sale. Score!

Post in the comments your favorite coupon cheat and look for future posts on rewards programs and my recent experience using Swagbucks. I look forward to hearing from you.

Helping Children Achieve Goals

Sigh. “I need to save some money.”

My 12 year old is under a lot of stress. As we drive down the road, he tells me of his money woes. He feels the pressure to start gathering the funds he will need to own a car.

I feel I’ve been doing well teaching him about money, despite my recent stumble into debt myself, letting him know about saving, and the actual cost to things. Like insurance. Maybe he knows too much, to be thinking about his financial goals for 4 years from now. I am also proud he’s thinking of his financial future – 4 years from now!

My son’s paternal grandfather passed away when he was only 4 years old, but the two had a strong connection – cars. This child’s first word was “Vroom” followed swiftly by “Papaw”, the affectionate name he had for his grandfather. It was decided that Papaw’s ’95 Chevy Silverado and ’68 Roadrunner would be given to my son. Now, the truck has been kept on the road, and needs a new clutch. My son doesn’t think he will have any problem saving up the funds to get that fixed, in fact, he could probably do the repairs now with his money in his savings account. But the Roadrunner is another issue entirely. It’s a project rebuild car – that Papaw himself barely found time to work on. This summer, while at his Dad’s he worked on the car every chance that he had.

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He dug out all the chrome parts his Papaw had ordered for the car, and put them on the body. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he’ll have to take them all off to paint the body, but he’ll figure it out. My son envisions a future (4 years from now) where this Roadrunner and his Papaw’s old truck sit shining in my driveway. He’ll be the envy of all the neighbors because he’ll have such spectacular vehicles. Affording this dream is his primary goal.

I gave him some plans to increase his income. His current saving account is filled with money from relatives in Birthday cards and extra chores he’s completed around the house. He knows how to mow – but mowing season will soon be over. He’s pretty handy with a snow shovel, and if this winter is anything like last winter, he could make a fortune! I also suggested he babysit – he is great with his little brother, knows how to change diapers, make bottles, and play appropriately with little children.

After thinking on his problem, I got some ideas, other than just increasing his income, that may help him get a handle on these big plans he has. What he needs is a project list. When I’m planning anything, I start with a project list and a budget. He should prioritize his two projects – the truck and the car – separately. In my opinion, the truck will be more likely to be put on the road, in a timeline acceptable to him. So, he needs to take a look at what parts the truck will require. Even these need to be prioritized, into items that are really needed, like the clutch and new tires, and those he wants, like fancy rims. How much does it cost to transfer the title? Register the truck? Insure it? How much gas is this guzzler going to drink?

Same for the Roadrunner. What parts of the car are currently viable? What needs to be replaced? After sitting in a garage since the 70’s, this car is going to need a lot of work. It may be something that he will work on through his twenties. He even admits that the project itself is more having something he and his dad can do together, which helps me to know that his ambitious dreams aren’t using all his brain power. He is reasonable enough to know the Roadrunner is a huge undertaking.

Maybe this is too much for a soon to be 13 year old to be worrying about. That thought certainly crosses my mind. These seem to be very grown-up concepts my son is trying to master, not just the financial, but mechanical too. But then again, if you know a pre-teen, motivation can be hard to find in their sulky little bodies. They seem to be made up of eye-rolls and sarcastic barbs for their parents. I certainly prefer his furthering his mechanical aptitude than playing Xbox all the time.

Also, this is a perfect chance to teach my son how he can achieve any goal he sets for himself. You see numerous articles all over the internet that teach you how to take your goal and break it into actionable steps. Each completed step brings you the confidence that you can reach that goal. You can apply this to pretty much any task you set for yourself: athletic training, financial goals, organizing, etc.

I sincerely hope he achieves his goals, despite these not being my first picks for my baby to drive when he gets his driver’s license. I thought my Camry would be a safer, more economical first car for him. But if he accomplishes what he has set out for himself, he will be the kind of responsible person that won’t be reckless behind the wheel, and will work hard for gas money, so he will be able to enjoy the spoils.