Sequestration: So Much For The Tired & The Poor

by Lynn B. Johnson on May 13, 2013

Budget CutsWhen sequestration’s automatic budget cuts went into effect on March 1 of this year, many were unclear as to how these cuts would affect daily life and social programs. We were told that although the sequester would reduce the federal budget deficit by $1.2 trillion dollars over 10 years —as required by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which was enacted in part to resolve the debt-ceiling crisis— the cuts would not go into effect immediately.

Well, it’s two months later and few people seem to be talking about where these cuts are headed, so Wallet Blog did some investigation.

Getting Paid as a Caregiver Without Jeopardizing Medicaid Eligibility

by Lynn B. Johnson on March 20, 2013

medicaidThe most recent figures show that 48.9 million people in the U.S. have served as adult caregivers, with 86% of them providing for a relative in need. Not only do these people have to contend with the myriad difficult and thankless tasks associated with caregiving, but most also have to work outside jobs in order to pay the bills. In all, more than 70% of caregivers effectively work two jobs.

As you might expect, that burden ultimately proves unsustainable for many, as nearly one-third of working caregivers choose early retirement, take a leave of absence from their job, or give up working entirely. What’s more, two-thirds adjust their work hours or take time off in order to provide care.

The Paradox of Medicaid

by Lynn B. Johnson on February 28, 2013

medicaidMy mom has Parkinson’s disease. Twenty percent of people with Parkinson’s disease also get Parkinson’s dementia, and she has that, too. I cared for her for five years, the last two of which she lived with us so that I could provide the around-the-clock assistance she required. This past summer, when she forgot how to stand up, it was time to move her to a skilled-nursing facility.

I evaluated a few different places and chose one that was reasonably priced, cooked from scratch, didn’t smell, and took the best care of residents’ personal grooming requirements.  Mom had enough money to pay out of pocket for a few months, but it soon became necessary to apply for Medicaid. Mom has Medicare part A, B, and D: none of which covers long-term skilled nursing care.

Why You Can’t Comparison Shop For Life Insurance

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on January 2, 2013

There’s always a lot of talk about resolutions this time of year.  It’s a New Year, after all, and that means many people are embarking on new beginnings or striving for self-improvement.  It’s not all about losing weight or giving up cigarettes either.  A number of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions are financial in nature, and one in particular – taking out a life insurance policy – raises some important questions about how certain aspects of the personal finance landscape operate.

It’s understandable why people would factor life insurance into their resolutions.  I mean, New Year’s is when many of us finally address long-shirked obligations (plus, barely surviving New Year’s Eve can have that effect on you).  Parents in particular want to make sure their loved ones are provided for, not burdened financially, if they pass away.  Well, anyone who’s ever taken out a policy knows that while you can try to shop around for the best rates, offers aren’t finalized until your paperwork and physical exam results are processed.

How Can a U.S.-Made Prescription Drug Cost Hundreds More Domestically Than Abroad?

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on December 20, 2012

prescription drug pricesJust a few weeks ago, my wife and I welcomed into the world our first child, Achilles Spiro Papadimitriou.  He obviously takes after his papa when it comes to having an exceedingly Greek name (just check out my byline), and my hope is that he can channel his namesake, Achilles of Greek mythology, when it comes to strength, bravery, leadership, and general badass-ness.  Anyway, that’s beside the point.

You see, Achilles recently had some trouble with his eyes (I know, surprising it wasn’t a leg tendon), and our experience getting him medication raised some very interesting questions about our country’s medical system (I know, U.S. healthcare is flawed, surprise surprise).  To make a long story short, there was some sort of snafu with our insurance and Achilles didn’t show up on our account, so we had to pay for the medicated eye drops he needed out of pocket.  No biggie, right?

How Foodborne Illness Impacts the Economy

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on September 12, 2012

foodborne illness and the economyEver see the movie Contagion?  If so, you’ve got a sense for how a chef failing to wash his hands after touching some contaminated pork and then shaking hands with a customer can end up making people sick clear across the world.  Sure, the events in the film might be a bit sensationalized, but foodborne illness is a real threat, both to our health and that of the economy.  And interestingly enough, modern media actually both exacerbates the problem and could help provide a solution.

When an outbreak occurs in this the era of Facebook, Twitter, and streaming news on cell phones, millions of consumers know about it immediately and are likely to swear off the product involved for the foreseeable future.  Therefore, not only will the farm at which it originated almost certainly go bankrupt as a result, but the entire industry will suffer as well.

How’s a Little Medical Bill Transparency Sound?

by John Kiernan on May 16, 2012

medical expense transparencyImagine entering a restaurant and being told to wait for a table by a surly host, who shrugs off your repeated contention that you have reservations before handing over a questionnaire about your history as a restaurant patron and instructing you to complete it. Then, when you’re finally led into the dining room, you’re given a menu written completely in French that lists a whole bunch of foreign-sounding dishes, but no accompanying prices. You inquire and are told that the bill will be worked out at the end of the meal. Now, is that something you’re likely to put up with?

Of course you would, but not in a restaurant setting. We as Americans reserve such treatment for our doctor’s offices.

Anyone Have a Clue When it Comes to Blue Insurance?

by John Kiernan on March 28, 2012

Blue Cross Blue Shield Insurance ConfusionDo you know who your insurer is? This is neither a trick question, nor a bungling of the famous 1970s parenting PSA. Rather, it’s an honest question that I’d hazard to guess a large segment of the 100 million consumers under the Blue Cross and Blue Shield umbrella would be unable to answer due to the confusing corporate structure behind this association.

I mean, do you know the difference between Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska? Probably not, but don’t feel bad.

Medical Tourism: Will you be paying in cash, credit or airline miles?

by John Kiernan on January 18, 2012

medical tourism using airline milesWhile renting the Hangover II is probably the closest most of us have come to visiting Thailand recently, thousands of people from the United States visit the country each year for a variety of reasons, which, interestingly enough, include the increasingly popular trend of medical tourism. The fact that people are willing to travel clear across the world for anything from cosmetic surgery to dental services is surprising enough in its own right, but that’s nothing compared to the fact that one may be able to use airline miles to not only book travel, but also to pay for the procedures themselves. In other words, the right credit card could conceivably be your ticket to free health care.

You see, Thai Airways – the 5th best international airline in the world, according to CNBC – recently offered a promotion that allowed members of its loyalty rewards program, Royal Orchid Plus, to use their miles for a wide array of medical procedures, including, but not limited to, the following:

How to Find an Alternative to Dental Insurance During Open Enrollment Season

by Guest on November 28, 2011

Not everyone is getting an email from his or her employer to enroll in health and dental insurance this year.

Unfortunately, in the last two years, we’ve witnessed 9 million adults losing their health coverage as nearly a quarter of working-age adults either lost their job, or dealt with a spouse losing their job, according to a 2011 Commonwealth Fund survey.

Want Better Healthcare at a Lower Price? New Primary Care Models Are Gaining Traction

by John Kiernan on July 7, 2011

primary care providerAn interesting new trend in the healthcare industry is primary care that patients buy directly from physicians, thereby removing insurance companies from the process and lowering costs for both the doctor and the patient.

Built upon the idea of concierge medical practices, doctors using this innovative model provide day-to-day care to patients who pay a monthly fee for the service. For $49-$130 a month patients receive preventive care, basic tests, treatment for chronic conditions, and non-life-threatening emergency services like X-rays and stitches. Patients are also able to get advice from doctors via e-mail, phone or video messaging, thereby saving both parties time and reducing the number of unnecessary office visits.

Save 25% on Life Insurance Premiums

by Guest on May 12, 2011

InsuranceYou’re not going to believe how easy it is to cut your life insurance costs by as much as 25%.  You can easily save a bundle just by eliminating unnecessary or duplicate insurance you don’t need!

For starters, never – we repeat, never – think of insurance as an investment. Any insurance policy you use as an investment is costing you much more than you need to be paying. You can buy all sorts of investments that will treat you better than an “insurance” investment. We’ll talk more about these later.

What's Scarier, a Dentist Appointment or the Dental Bill?

by Guest on April 12, 2011

large-dental-billThe legendary king of late night TV Johnny Carson might have said it best years ago, “Happiness is your dentist telling you it won’t hurt and then having him catch his hand in the drill.”

Unfortunately, these days, the pain or thought of having a dentist drilling in our mouth with sharp instruments isn’t the only thing keeping us away from dental appointments.

Should You Purchase Long Term Care Insurance?

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on January 25, 2011

InsuranceBefore talking specifically about long term care insurance, let’s remind ourselves of the function that insurance plays in our lives.

Insurance is our financial defense. Anyone who is attempting to build wealth or move forward financially must be sure that nothing devastating or unexpected will undo years of responsible financial planning. Imagine a person who has slowly been building wealth for the last two decades but does not have health insurance. It only takes one major surgery to burn through hundreds of thousands of dollars of savings.

Pet Insurance: Money Saver or Scam?

by Lynn B. Johnson on March 5, 2010

pet-insurancePets can be a serious line-item in your yearly budget. A yearly vet physical can set you back anywhere from $30 to hundreds of dollars, depending upon whether the veterinarian finds anything wrong with your fuzzy, feathered, or scaly companion, to say nothing of the unexpected costs that arise when your pet is ill or suffers an accident.

I first became aware of pet insurance when my kitten, Maxwell, got into a scrap and had to have his face drained (sorry, TMI). I never signed up for it, though. It just sounded like a hassle and I wasn’t convinced the benefits would outweigh my assumptions.

Medicare Explained

by Brian Johnson on January 8, 2010

medicareFrom time to time, we are sent relevant information from other sources hoping to use Wallet Blog as a way of getting important information out there to American consumers.  We were sent this explanation of Medicare benefits by David Colgren, the media relations counsel to CalCPA and thought it might be of interest to our readers. Here is his explanation:

Step 1. Understand how Medicare works.
Medicare is a federal program that provides health insurance to retired individuals, regardless of their medical condition. Here are some basic facts about Medicare that you should know.

Do Not Lose Your Remaining FSA Funds

by Lynn B. Johnson on December 7, 2009

fsa-fundsHere at Wallet Blog, we get lots of PR pitches. It’s flattering, really. But one company I never expected to hear from, especially in November, is Coppertone. Nevertheless, it’s fun to be surprised (especially as I just winter-proofed my double-paned windows against the encroaching Nor’easters).

Their pitch was helpful and informative, and I live to be helpful and informative, so let’s talk about some little-known ways to maximize your FSA spending.

Pay for Health Care NOT with Taxes but by Engendering Competition

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on December 4, 2009

TaxesThe latest version of the health care reform bill, sponsored by congressional Democrats, offers a mixture of both productive and counterproductive methods of gaining the necessary revenue to make affordable national health care a possibility. However, by-in-large, the bill ignores the fact that we operate in a free market capitalist society, in which competition exists in order to keep costs down. Instead, the bill proposes a funding solution that will cause a trickle-down effect, with the costs of reform being passed back to the consumer at the end of the day.

The bill does have a few provisions that would encourage competition and thereby drive down costs. For instance, it includes a provision that would allow the government to negotiate prescription drug prices for beneficiaries. However, in large part it targets the medical industry as a funding source for the suggested overhaul, by levying fees and taxes on medical device manufacturers and drug companies, among others.

Congress Should Address Medicare Fraud Before Spending More of Our Money on Health Care Reform

by Brian Johnson on November 20, 2009

If you tuned in to “60 Minutes” on October 25th, you saw a segment detailing the extent of fraud committed against Medicare and taxpayers.  If you missed it, here it is:

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All Drivers MUST Have Car Insurance & All Citizens MUST Have Health Insurance

by Brian Johnson on October 14, 2009

medicalThe latest version of the health care legislation has weakened the requirement that all Americans must have health insurance. Coupled with the inability under the proposed law for health insurance companies to deny coverage to people for poor health, this concession would mean that Americans could purchase insurance at any time and therefore would have little or no motivation to get health insurance while still healthy.

What Washington has failed to account for is that the very idea of insurance is based on the idea of spreading the costs between people who file a claim and those who do not. The cost of premiums is kept down precisely because some people will not die within the span of a term life insurance policy, or will not have a car accident, in the case of an auto insurance policy.

Universal Coverage for…Car Insurance???

by Alexandra McDougald on September 18, 2009

Car WreckA few weeks ago, in the middle of the evening rush hour and during one of Washington, D.C.’s infamous summer rainstorms, I was side swiped.  The fault was completely on the part of the driver that hit me.  After this lovely woman insisted, while screaming at the top of her lungs, that the accident was my fault, we exchanged the necessary information.  I looked down to the portion of the torn piece of paper where she had written her insurance information, and saw that she had listed a company called MAIF as her automobile insurer.  I thought innocently, “huh, never heard of these guys before.”

When I got home I Googled “MAIF,” and was shocked at what came up.  Turns out MAIF stands for the Maryland Auto Insurance Fund, which was, according to the Web site, “created by the Maryland State Legislature in 1972 for the purpose of providing automobile liability insurance for those residents of the State of Maryland who are unable to obtain it elsewhere in the private insurance market.”  What does this mean?  It means the state of Maryland has a government run and subsidized car insurance program for residents who have been priced out of the commercial auto insurance market.  This usually happens due to drivers being involved in multiple car accidents, which causes insurance premiums to increase until they eventually become unaffordable.  I’m not a resident of Maryland, and I’m a liberal who believes in big government, but I’d be pretty teed off if I knew that even one penny of my tax dollars was going directly or indirectly towards a program that seems to have been designed to help insure reckless drivers.  I’m all for universal coverage when it comes to health insurance, but for car insurance – nope not on my dime. 

An Innovative Healthcare Plan

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on August 17, 2009

medicalI’ve been criticizing the Obama administration’s healthcare plan recently without really offering an alternative solution.  Rather than continuing to point out the faults within the plan currently being offered up, I’d like to lay out my vision of what a comprehensive, national healthcare plan should look like.  This is a plan that I think will work, particularly because it is driven by the fundamentals that shape any successful free market economy.

The healthcare system I am proposing is designed to fix the elements of our current system that don’t work, and leave the elements that do work with relative effectiveness as they are.  One rarely hears complaints about the quality of U.S. healthcare; rather the complaints are centered around coverage and cost.  And so, I feel that if a healthcare system is to work, it should strive to maintain the level of quality we currently enjoy, while at the same time driving down costs and increasing coverage. 

Experts Agree that Current Healthcare Plan Does Nothing to Lower Costs

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on July 30, 2009

High CostsThe pending health care plan being debated currently in Congress lacks, according to  the director of the Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Elmendorf “the sort of fundamental changes that would be necessary to reduce the trajectory of federal health spending by a significant amount.”

Elmensdorf is not alone.  The previous Secretary of Health and Human Services (Mike Leavitt) and the head of a Medicare advisory commission (Glenn Hackbarth) have both said that the plan does nothing to stop the escalation of health care costs which, once under the jurisdiction of the government, will cause a massive budget deficit which will, eventually, be passed on to the tax payers.

Medical Travel as a Money-Saving Healthcare Option

by Lynn B. Johnson on July 13, 2009

medical-travelWant to save 40 to 80 percent of the cost of a domestic Total Knee Replacement, heart procedure, plastic surgery, or another, typically high-cost medical procedure?  You might look into medical travel, which can save you up to 80 percent of the typical costs for an equivalent procedure in the United States.

“If the procedure you’re considering costs more than $6,000 in the United States, it might be worthwhile and money-saving for you to evaluate a medical travel option,” said Patrick Marsek, Managing Director of MedRetreat and co-author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Medical Tourism.”

Abolishing the American Rule Needs To Be Part Of Healthcare Reform

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on July 9, 2009

American RuleAs the nation’s lawmakers make decisions about healthcare reform, we ought to keep in mind the danger of fixing a system without understanding how it  became broken in the first place.  Among nations with comparable average lifespans, Americans pay more for healthcare than does anyone else in the world.   The system is grossly overpriced, because it has structural problems which need to be acknowledged before they can be fixed.  One such problem is the American Rule in lawsuits.

The American Rule  requires that, even if someone wins a lawsuit, they remain responsible for their legal fees.  This means that if someone brings a lawsuit against you, though you may have done nothing wrong, you still have to pay for your defense.  In general, the American Rule encourages a kind of legalized bullying since the system does not provide incentive to avoid starting a lawsuit, and actually encourages frivolous legal action.

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