Healthcare reform…I mean…Healthcare I’m getting screwed

My husband came home with his new healthcare plan choices for 2011.  They were hardly choices.  There were four plans.  Really, there was only one plan for us.  Only one plan allows for out-of-network providers, so I have to use that plan.  I have two doctors who refuse to participate in any plan.  I’ve been seeing them for over 20 years and I’m not about to change to new doctors just because of some corporate B.S. These non-network doctors have been on the top 100 doctors in “NY Magazine;” they take time with my appointments; and they’re caring and never make me feel as if I’m a number on a form.  Needless to say, I’ve been shuffled from Primary Care Physician [PCP] to PCP over the years as my insurance has changed.  Growing up, my parents had one doctor…Dr. Bernstein.  He was my pediatrician from birth through college.  My kids are lucky enough to be with the same pediatrician because they take every insurance under the sun.  But I haven’t had the same PCP for years.  I also see another out-of -network provider who is a new doctor for me.  I asked about insurance…no!  I guess he just doesn’t want to get involved with all that paperwork.  My chiropractor spends half our session bitching about the insurance companies.  I sense he is losing money by having the insurance biggies deny patients visits.  They cut my visits short even though my injury wasn’t quite healed.

But the bottom line on all the medical insurance hassles is money.  The new plans my husband came home with had many changes.  All of those changes involved higher rates.  Co-pays doubled.  Deductibles doubled.  Coverage reduced.  We are paying more and getting less.  God it makes me sick!  I hope not, that’s the last thing I need is to get sick and have to use this pathetic insurance coverage to help get me through a crisis or grave illness or mental breakdown.  I might go broke before I see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Worse, it might be the light on the way to some better place…someplace where money might not be needed.  But I have a feeling at the pearly gates, the insurance agents are waiting there handing out ID cards and pointing you towards the nearest heavenly hospital.

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Rites of Passage

I attended a bar mitzvah over the weekend.  It was poignant and exciting all at the same time.  Not being Jewish, it’s hard for me to imagine the impact this event has on a family.  But the celebration is huge!  It rivals a wedding.  It seems the celebration overpowers  the religious ceremony itself.  But perhaps that’s intentional.  The same is true for weddings.  A wedding ceremony lasts thirty minutes, depending on the denomination.  The party after lasts typically four hours.  It’s lavish and expensive most of the time.  A bride might spend $5000 on a dress she wears for one day.  A wedding could cost $20,000 or more to host.  A simple ceremony at a court house with a justice of the peace accomplishes the same purpose…a legal union of two people…but costs under $100.  So why spend so much money to celebrate this rite of passage?  Some cultures have ‘coming out’ parties, Sweet 16 parties and Latina Sweet 15 parties.  Again, huge expenditures on dresses, parties, food, decorations.  Does the girl or boy or couple understand what all the fuss is about?  Or do they get caught up in the glitz and glamour?  I didn’t have a sweet 16, but I did have a wedding.  My family didn’t have much money, we put on the affair for about $5000.  I got my dress at Kleinfeld’s for $900 in 1992.  We had 83 guests.  We chose to spend our money on the honeymoon!  We went to Aspen and skied for a week and stayed in a luxury condo with a jacuzzi.  But even that combined with the wedding probably didn’t cost as much as some of the weddings my friend parents threw.  But if I had the money, I probably would have had a bigger wedding.

I think a lot of it has to do with ‘keeping up with the Jones’.  But it also has to do with gathering family and friends for a joyous occasion.  There aren’t too many of those in a lifetime where all those loved ones can be in the same room at the same time.  That alone is cause for celebration!  Making the couple or child  feel special creates a memory to last a lifetime.  The photos from a grand party are much more exciting than a bland courtroom.  Plus a party is just more fun!  Then there are the gifts!  At a wedding, a young couple depends on the gifts to help start out their new life.  Often they are young and in need of some help financially [especially after their parents just threw this big wedding!] and being able to stock their home with a new blender and linens for their bed is a great asset.  Plus it’s symbolic that they furnish their home with the gifts of loved ones and family.  Every time I serve a meal on a platter or bowl that was a wedding gift, I think of the person who gave it to me.  For kids, gifts of money help pay for a future education, who can argue with that?

But as I sat there eating hors d’oeuvres that were almost too pretty to touch, it was hard to think about the deeper meaning of the event.  The parents put together a video with photos of their son.  It was amazing and it was then that I realized what the bar mitzvah was really about…a boy becoming a man in the eyes of their faith.  They were saying goodbye to that child and realizing he is growing up.  That’s the true rite of passage.  They are really celebrating his future, the man he will become.  And that is reason to party until the sun comes up!

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It can all turn on a dime

There’s a saying for just about everything, isn’t there.  Where do they come from? The expression to “turn on a dime” has been around since 1880.  Today, it is usually an expression you hear when referring to high performance cars, airplanes, boats, etc. Since a dime is the smallest U.S. coin, the ability to “turn on it” is a figure of speech meaning you can change direction very quickly in a very small space.  That’s because the dime is the smallest of all the U.S. coins and has a  quick turning radius.  But basically the phrase means that life can change course very quickly.  Depending on the circumstance, it can be a change for the good or a change for the bad.  You can be in the right place at the right time…the man who jumped onto the subway tracks and saved another man’s life.  No forethought.  Pure instinct.  His life will never be the same again.  Not just because NYC made him a hero.  Because he will live knowing he saved another person’s life, his family will honor his deed, he will have an entire new outlook on life whether he admits it or not.  Someone could also stumble upon a boat load of cash in the used car he just bought at a police auction and learn it’s his to keep.  It may be drug money, but it’s $250 grand.  Money is money and that’s college, a car or two and a down payment on a house.  Those are good ways life can turn unexpectedly.  Then there are the not so good.  Walking out the door one morning and getting hit by a car and becoming paralyzed.  Major bummer.  Life certainly takes a huge turn.  Or making a bad decision on a whim in the stock market could cost someone his life savings.  That could set off a chain reaction of disasters.

I guess there’s no sure way of knowing for sure when life can take these unpredictable turns.  The worst ones, I think, are hearing that dreaded news like “you have cancer.”  I feel for the people who have loved ones in the armed forces.  Do they jump every time the doorbell rings? We’ve seen that play out in the movies, the car pulling up, the officers coming to the front door with a letter and a flag.

How do you accept the news, good or bad?  How do you deal with these monumental changes in your life?  I think turning to those who love you most is the answer.  Whether it’s family or friends…finding someone who can stand by you, be supportive and caring.  I hate those people who always want to ‘one up’ you.  You tell them your horrific news and they have to find something in their dreary past to make your torment seem silly.  A good friend lets you cry on his shoulder.  A good friend or family member listens and offers advise only when asked.  Is that possible?

I recently got some bad news that has turned my life around, not directly, but has really made me think hard about things and has put my own life into perspective.  I told a couple of people, just those closest to me.  They were supportive and caring.  They listened.  They offered to help.  That means a lot.  Especially because when life does turn on a dime, it’s sudden, no time to prepare, no time to surround yourself with defenses.

So maybe my next life changing “turn on a dime” will be that I discover a long lost relative has left me a castle in Scotland.”  Then I’ll take my wonderful, caring circle of friends for a long vacation on the loch.

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The Price Tag

Sometimes I find myself in a store shopping and I throw things in the cart and I don’t look at the price tag.  Usually I do this when I’m at a store like Target or Kohl’s because I figure, everything’s affordable.  There are no surprises here.  I do glance at the general prices of things, but if I see something I really must have, I can just ignore the price tag.  I do the same thing at the supermarket.  There are some products that I’m brand loyal to and no matter what they cost that day, if I’m out of stock and I need some…I buy them.  I don’t care how much they cost.  It doesn’t matter.  If I like Dannon Fruit on the Bottom Yogurt, that’s what I’m going to buy.  I’m not going to get the store brand just because it’s cheaper and Dannon isn’t on special.  I tried that, the store brand was horrible, I threw it out and wasted my money.  I learned.  If you really want something, you will spend the money no matter the cost.  When I go to fill my car up with gas, I try to find the station with the best price, but does a few cents really make that much difference on the final tab?  When they hand me the receipt, I crumble it up and throw it away.  I don’t look at it.  I don’t want or need to know.  Why depress myself?  What’s done is done.  My tank is full.  It needed to be filled, now it is.  I didn’t have a choice.  I like to do that.  When I shop and I buy things I know I have to get..school supplies for example.  I go through the store and find the cheapest one of each supply, the cart is full.  I have to buy these items but I’m terrified how much they will cost.  Honestly, I don’t want to know.  I can’t send my daughter to school without the supplies, I bought all the cheap items, sale brands, etc.  I get to the register, I cover my eyes and tell the cashier not to tell me the amount.  “I don’t want to know,” I say.  I feel better not knowing.  Dental bills?  Here’s my credit card…bill it for the balance the insurance doesn’t cover and keep me in the dark.  I think staying ignorant about these things we have to pay for is a good thing.  Knowing how much something costs isn’t going to make it cost less or go away.  So put a little less stress in your life and just say no to looking at that receipt.  Then go to the store and throw a few things in your cart without looking at the price tag and see how good that feels.  Just don’t do it as Bloomingdales!

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The dreaded job interview…

How many of you have gone on job interviews and walked out scratching your head thinking “What just happened?”  Job interviews are the worst things ever.  I’ve been on quite a few lately, now that I’m unemployed.  Most of them have gone extremely well.  At least on my end.  One job I thought I was a shoe in for but I never heard back.  The boss was so interested in me he went as far as to say…”This went well, the next step is for you to meet the executive director!”  I waited.  No response.  Of course during the course of the interview he did mention that I might be a tad over qualified for the job, but he was so excited to have someone of my caliber, my experience apply that he brought me in regardless.  I thought the job sounded fantastic!  We talked money, or rather, he asked what I made at my last job and I told him and what I’d be willing to take now which included a slight pay cut.  Needless to say, when I followed up to find out why I hadn’t heard back, he told me that yes, I was over qualified and that was “a good thing.”  In other words, they couldn’t afford me.  He did want to hire me for a freelance job which is great news!  So a connection is made.  But the one thing I walked away from this experience with was a sense that he respected me, was impressed with my resume and acted as his company was courting me…trying to get me as interested in them as much as I was hoping to get them interested in me.  It’s a courtship after all…the interview process.  At least I think it should be.  But I’ve been on some interviews where I haven’t felt respected, they’ve made me feel as if they’re doing me a favor my allowing me to come meet with them.  They give me the sense that there are 20 other people who’d kill to get this interview and I should feel lucky I got my foot in the door.  I’ve seen unprofessional interviewers, sloppy dressers, informal greetings, people asking inappropriate questions about family status.  Yuk!  I’m currently waiting to hear about a job.  I’ve never been so impressed with an interview process in my life.  Completely organized and professional.  Incredibly talented and intelligent people.  I hope I get this job!  I’m done with those other jobs where I’m supposed to bow at the feet of the interviewer and thank them for even reading my resume.  I have 24 years of experience in my business and I’ve got a lot to bring to the table, if they can’t see that…@#4*%$ them!

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You can’t love ‘em all

When my best friend got married, I didn’t have the heart to tell her she was marrying a loser.  She loved him, it wasn’t my place.  I didn’t like him.  I thought he was arrogant, pompous, condescending, and irresponsible.  He drank too much, smoked pot for breakfast and had an opinion about everything.  But this was the man she chose to spend the rest of her life with, so I put on the bride’s maid dress and wished them well.  About 15 years later, after they had the nastiest divorce of the decade, I told her what I thought.  She asked me why I never told her.  I said…”it wasn’t my place.”  She told me she wished I had, but that she probably wouldn’t have listened and might have resented me for it.  We never want to hear something bad about the people that we like or love.  When is the time to let the cat out of the bag about the person we are with?  I’d say the red flag comes when you find out he or she has a criminal record for being a rapist or wanted by the law.  That’s a good time to speak up.  But I’ve encountered other times when it’s been difficult to deal with the emotions of friends who don’t like friends.  It’s hard when you have friends from different walks of life and you get them together.  Not everyone is going to get along.  That’s ok.  After all, they are my friends.  I’m not asking them all to become friends with each other.  Maybe a friendly chat or engage in some interesting conversations.  But afterwards I often get:  “How can you be friends with that person, he is so wierd.”  Or:  “I can’t believe you’d hang out with someone like that, they are so stuck up.”  I often find myself defending my friends because they failed to make that ideal first impression.  I tell people, “You just don’t know them the way I do.”  But I find that once people get a bee in their bonnet, that’s it.  The impression sticks and there’s no going back.  I’m always one to give people many, many opportunities.  I don’t hold grudges and I give everyone the benefit of the doubt.  There are downsides to this way of life, however.  I’ve been taken advantage of and walked all over.  But I don’t regret it.  Still it’s extremely awkward to listen to friends of mine being trashed by friends of mine.  I feel like I’m then being judged because I choose to be friends with these people.  Frankly, I can be friends with just about everyone.  I don’t let many into my inner most circle, but I’m open and honest and loyal to most that I interact with.  I treasure all my friends…the ones I keep in touch with from afar, the ones I see every day or every week, and the ones I haven’t seen in years but still reach out to.  I try not to trash my friends’ friends.  Even though I’d like to.  There are a few husband over the years that I’ve been glad to see go by the wayside.  I’d never say “I told you so,” however.  These days my best friend comes to me and asks for my approval.  She figures I got it right with the first one and she doesn’t want to make the same mistake twice.  That’s quite a burden to lay on me, but I’ve tried to tell it like it is.  She’s still single, but seeing a man for quite some time.  It’s been up and down with him.  I do like him, but I told her if it’s meant to be…it’s meant to be.  Basically, I’m leaving it up to fate, if you believe in that kind of thing.  That way if it doesn’t work out…she can’t blame me!

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Savings…or scam?

I got a letter from my credit card company that said if I spent a certain amount on food & gas by June 1st, I’d qualify for a FREE companion ticket on any airline!  Wow!  That sounds like it’s worth it!  So I used my credit card at the supermarket, at the gas station every purchase that would get me that much closer to the goal.  Then I received my companion ticket certificate in the mail.  I went online to register the number and check out my incredible savings and what wonderful destination my family and I could take advantage of this deal with…possibly Ft. Lauderdale to visit Nana who just got out of the hospital.  I put in NYC – Ft. Lauderdale and a couple dates in August and the price came up…with the FREE companion ticket…at $414.00.  That seemed quite high to me.  If I’m getting one ticket for free, I really should only be paying for a single seat.  So I went to Expedia to check the fare.  On expedia, the same flight cost $222.40 for one seat, or $444.80 for two adults.  Hmmmm.  I went back and looked more carefully a the ‘free’ companion ticket details and saw it was based on the “full coach fare base price.” That price is $395.  Then they charged me $35 for the companion ticket [FREE????] and a $16 extra bonus discount [WHAT?].  So I emailed the company to complain.  They asked for proof that the same ticket costs less on Expedia so I sent them the link.  All they could say is that Expedia runs internet specials.  So I emailed them back showing that if I purchased the ticket directly from the airline, I’d pay the EXACT same as the Expedia price, $444.80.  The promotion from the credit card said the companion ticket would be drawn from the ‘base price’ of the airline.  A base price is the price the airline actually receives from the sale, minus the taxes and surcharges.  It’s not the full fare coach price or anything like that.  In fact, hardly anyone pays a full fare price anymore!  After I emailed them with that bit of information telling them that using the “free” companion ticket would only save me $30 and I believe this program is a scam, they told me….

“The pricing does vary depending on the dates and destination. In your example the savings was $30.00. $30.00 is $30.00 and it is a savings.Sorry it’s not what you hoped it to be, but the pricing does reflect the zone fare chart.”

Now I’m sorry, but when you tell me I’m getting a FREE airline ticket,  But I could buy two for the same price from the airline…why would I use this certificate…Oh, because I’m saving $30.  I’d like to know where in the world I can fly free for $30.  Because that’s the only ‘free’ money I’m getting out of this promotion.  It just burns me up how they toss around the word ‘free’ these days.  There is always some asterisk attached.  I remember my economics teacher in college, on the first day of class, telling us…”There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”  We’ll ain’t it the truth.  Everything these days comes with some sort of strings.  Free this…but you have to spend $50 first.  Free that…but you have to enroll in this program.  Yikes!  We fought for our freedom over 200 years ago and now the idea of free  has a ball and chain dragging behind it!    So is there anything that is truly free any more?  Love is free.  Well, I would debate that!  The air we breathe is free.  To listen to the birds sing is free.  A cool breeze on your face in the sunlight is free.  A spring rain is free.  Flying to tell Nana you love her costs $444.80.

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