COBRA – Nice in theory

Capitol Building CobraAbout a week ago I wrote a post detailing my family transition from a company subsidized health care plan to bearing the full cost of the plan under COBRA.

I’m astonished to report that the bureaucratic ineptness and bungling continues. As of yesterday, having invested just under $3,000 of my own money I find myself… still without any kind of coverage whatsoever. Effectively, we have been without any medical coverage since the beginning of November and that doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon. Were I to visit a physician’s office, the pharmacy, the dentist or the Emergency room all will tell me that, according to Aetna I have no medical coverage at all.

Of course some day all this will likely be reconciled but that does not eliminate the possibility of financial ruin and rejection of medical care due to lack of insurance. My credit card limits are sizable but it is doubtful that even they could handle more than a couple of days in any hospital.

The added twist comes with the new year when my new insurance company is introduced (my former company is switching from Aetna to Cigna). Who knows how it will play out when one of us visits a pharmacy or medical clinic in the next month or so?

Sadly, it appears that your best bet is… well… there doesn’t appear to be one.

The COBRA system was likely conceived in good faith by beltway individuals who may understand theories of economics but have assistants and enough notoriety that they remain effectively shielded from the “normal” experience of dealing with the systems that evolve to administer such legislation. It’s long been my opinion that things only get fixed when those responsible for them must endure them directly. This does not happen with health care and legislators, doctors or anybody with a say in how such things run.

Posted under Medicine, Opinions, Retail Experiences

This post was written by Marc
on December 31, 2010 at 8:03 am

Orville is Back and Bursting!

I had to wait until I’d gone through the different popcorn types that I was experimenting with until I took advantage of the coupons sent to me by the folks at ConAgra Foods.

If you’ll recall I was somewhat nonplussed by what I considered to be some rather unenthusiastic batches of Orville Redenbacher popcorn.

So we set up the popper and waited with bated breath for the kernels to start popping and… it was like joyous music. Really. It  was the popcorn equivalent of  Handel’s Messiah as performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir – in my head at least.

Each kernel gloriously popping to its fullest and filling the container with mouth watering morsels that will be elevated to the highest taste pinnacles with the aid of melted, salted butter and white cheddar topping.

It’s a small thing but important (to me at least) and I’m pleased that my faith in Orville has been preserved.

Thanks!

Posted under Gastronomy, Opinions

This post was written by Marc
on December 24, 2010 at 10:48 am

Health Care – How Broken Must it be Before We Fix it?

By now most of you who know me know that I changed jobs at the beginning of November. As of this posting I still don’t *have* medical coverage although I apparently *am* covered.

COBRA is an option that exists for folks who wish to protect themselves from America’s disastrous health costs by maintaining their former employer’s insurance for up to 18 months. Supposedly the only catch is that you must also shoulder your employer’s share of the premiums in addition to your own plus a 1% administration fee. Of course that doesn’t include poor implementation and incompetence on a massive scale.

For my situation probably my biggest avoidable error is that my last day of work was on the 29th of  October. For my company at least, your health care coverage ends at the end of the month in which you terminate your employment. Knowing this, I would have set that last day as November 1st. Not only would I have saved myself an entire month of premiums but some of the delays I’m seeing would have been mitigated.

So, according to COBRA, your medical coverage is guaranteed to continue – in theory at least – for some time after you end your employment to allow you to get through the paperwork and get everybody on the same page. That’s supposedly where Ceridian comes in. Part of their mandate appears to be to not only muddy the waters but also to ensure that it takes as long as possible for your payments to reach your insurer.

A wrinkle in my situation is that, come January, my company will have a new health care provider – Cigna – and so, therefore, will I.

A few days after I left my job I received a packet in the mail indicating that I can expect a package to arrive from Ceridian two or three weeks after my last day at work. I was VERY busy with the new position so I did not chomp at that bit, assuming that this sort of thing goes on for thousands of people every day, companies that specialize in it would have a clue.

So the package *did* arrive about 3 weeks later. It told me that my insurance rates would go up from about $300 a month to about $977 per month – which was actually somewhat better than I was expecting. I just needed to make my elections on the Ceridian web site.

In the process of making those elections (health care for me only or for the family? dental coverage too? etc.). They then indicated that I needed to set up bill pay between my bank and Ceridian and wait for my first bill. Apparently paying right away is a bad thing.

So I waited for a few days for the first bill until Michelle told me that her doctor’s office had called to indicate that Aetna had declined coverage for her recent office visit. OK, I guess that means they *really* want the money in their hands before they’ll agree that you’re covered. So I went onto Ceridian’s site to see if there was a contact number I could use to help sort this out. After logging in I see, *surprise* there’s a bill waiting there for me. Apparently this is not the sort of thing they’d think to send out some kind of notification about.

Good enough, let’s pay that bill and get our ducks back in a row. But hang on a minute. *now* the web site is telling me that not only do they not do the bill pay thing, they don’t even do credit cards or any other form of convenient payment. It’s got to be some kind of check or money order. hmmmm…

So, I send off a check which apparently takes about 7 days to arrive and get cashed. Allowing a few days for them to get the payment and notifications to Aetna, Michelle contacts her doctor’s office who inform her that it’s still a no go insurance-wise. They are sympathetic, apparently this is not unusual.

So Michelle calls Ceridian, Aetna and my old comany’s HR department in turn to find out that:

1) Ceridian is aboslutely certain that the money should go to and did go to Cigna, what is this calendar thing you speak of?

2) Aetna may be sympathetic, but no info from Ceridian (and especially no cash) equals no insurance benefits.

3) Huh?

So, after Michelle has presumably clarified the situation with the people whose job it is to do this efficiently every day, we’re told to give it 2-4 more days.

I’ve been delaying picking up some allergy medication while all this is going on just to avoid tossing more fuel in the dying fire of American health care insurance, but today I called up my pharmacy to renew the prescription and *surprise* Aetna is still refusing to pay.

This is now December 23rd. My check for 2 months worth of alleged health coverage, to the tune of $1,954 has yielded me exactly … nothing. Well… maybe I may eventually be able to claim contiguous coverage, but if I fell down a flight of stairs at this moment, it would no doubt cripple me financially while this fiasco works itself out.

One tiny bright spot in all this. I contacted Aetna regarding my FSA (Flexible Spending Account) and, the way mine is configured it remains valid for the amount that I specified until the end of the year regardless of my contributions.

This means that, having specified an FSA of $2,000 this year and contributing about $1,630 they will still cover the remaining $370 for me. Just a generous perk from my company for which I will offer them kudos. I actually called about it because I was inspecting my balance and saw the mismatch between the money I’d paid so far and the $1,890 in charges they’d covered so far.

So the lesson here (for me at least) is:

a) quit as near to the beginning of the month as possible,

b) quit as early in the year as possible,

c) Contact HR constantly after you’ve given your notice until they can tell you that they’ve notified Ceridian,

d) get registered on Ceridian’s web site a.s.a.p. (all the info was there, I didn’t need the paper package) and register,

e) visit the site daily after that to pick up the bill and send your check a.s.a.p.

f) start contacting Ceridian about a week after you’ve sent them the check (or sooner if you can see they’ve cashed it via your online banking system) and verify that they know who should be getting the money and when they’ll get it

g) about two days after that start contacting BOTH Ceridian and your insurance provider to verify that payment has been received.

I really don’t know if I’m going to have to keep on Ceridian for every month’s payment – I tend to pay my bills as soon as I get them so I *shouldn’t* risk any lapses. But I’m not the only player here.

Why I can’t simply pay my insurance company myself I don’t know. This is equivalent to those crazy escrow accounts for your property taxes. The bank has your money and has to pay the bill, but *you’re* the one on the hook for it and have to chase everybody around to ensure they do their job. I got out of that racket as quickly as I could after buying my house.

I’ve said it before and, tragically, I’m sure I’ll be saying it for many years to come. I *love* living in America – but the thing I am absolutely most terrified of is getting sick or injured here. I’m sure the quality of care will be excellent but I am scared witless that it would come at the price of every last penny of savings and every ounce of credit I would be able to acquire.

That ain’t right.

So, is this a common story? I imagine it only affects folks who have moved into a contracting position such as myself or those who have been laid off work and are not moving into a position where their benefits will be provided again.

Posted under Medicine, Opinions, Retail Experiences

This post was written by Marc
on December 23, 2010 at 7:31 pm

TSA Intimidates Pilot – Learns Nothing

An amazing waste of taxpayer dollars and resources to try to intimidate this pilot. I especially appreciate how they have revoked his concealed carry and his carry on weapon. Of course he still has full control of an airplane full of people so if his intentions were malign he could easily effect them without those tools – which were ostensibly granted to him to help protect his passengers.
So it appears that the net of this is:
1) Chilling effect on whistleblowers of the TSA due to gross misuse of authority
2) *Reduced* security for airline passengers due to reduction in pilot available defensive resources
3) Lessons learned by TSA that may help US Citizens – None

I’m glad we have ballsy guys like this out there willing to take this kind of heat.

Read the details here: Sacramento-area pilot punished for YouTube video

Posted under Groan, Opinions

This post was written by Marc
on December 23, 2010 at 8:04 am

Dr. Who

The Graham Norton Show I’ve been a fan of Dr. Who for many years since King (a friend from Toronto) first introduced me to it. Admittedly the execution of the show in the old days was nowhere near as strong as how he described the plots, but there was always fun to be had in overlaying the swaying hallway walls and endless rock-quarry-like planets with your imagination.
In my opinion the driving force behind Dr. Who is the the concept of the Time Lord gone rogue/left behind. Almost the same way that one can tolerate about 15 minutes of “Twilight” just because vampires are so cool, so can the Time Lord idea carry the show for quite a while.
Next comes the personality of the actor playing the Doctor. Some actors have been MUCH more engaging than others.
Then comes the script or story. These often have brilliant concepts but have now and then lacked in execution with stilted dialog and inconsistent character actions (I’m talking about across the entire series here).
Finally the special effects, what can you say about the SPFX for Dr. Who. Really, nobody ever watched the show to marvel at the spacecraft or the monsters. At least not until the series was revived in 2005.

My top 3 Doctors:
1 – David Tennant – 10th Doctor – My all time favorite – epitomizes the essence of what the Doctor should be – quirky, vibrant, cheeky and very much alive
2 – Tom Baker – 4th Doctor – “The Scarf”, fun and engaging
3 – Jon Pertwee – 3rd Doctor – “The Dandy”, seemed the right mix up a little uptight and a little go get ’em

The current doctor, played by Matt Smith I find absolutely unengaging. I have 12 episodes of Dr. Who sitting unviewed on my DVR because I have simply lost interest in the series.

As for the Dr’s companions, Martha Jones easily tops the list as my favorite of these. I was disappointed that her tenure was so short. I also enjoyed the venerable Sarah Jane, Leela and Jo Grant.
Least favorite of the companions has to be Donna Noble.

So I find myself waiting for a regeneration to breath new life into this wonderful series that has been entertaining folks for nearly half a century.

Posted under Movies / TV, Opinions

This post was written by Marc
on December 19, 2010 at 5:00 am

The Graham Norton Show

The Graham Norton ShowThere are not very many evening talk shows that I find offer enough entertainment value for the time invested in viewing them. Jay Leno’s “The Tonight Show” used to be good for once a week viewing. But BBC America’s “The Graham Norton Show” is one that we capture on our DVR religiously and make our way through the backlog of episodes whenever we want a good belly laugh.
Unconventional, adult oriented and with the British (Irish?) take on affairs, the show is always entertaining.
The show moved to New York briefly where it had the life sucked completely out of it by… I can’t quite say. Even though Graham Norton himself was still front and center, there was absolutely no pizazz, no spark. I’m so happy they moved back to the UK where the show immediately regained its vitality and has sparkled ever since.

Posted under Movies / TV, Opinions

This post was written by Marc
on December 17, 2010 at 8:50 pm

The Pro aka Super Hero Hooker (NSFW)

In the superhero world, you seem to have the rich geniuses who come up with expensive and cool gadgets (not to mention the free time required to develop those awesome skills) or you have folks who naturally develop their powers at a younger age and grow into them for better (Superman) or worse (um… almost any supervillain out there).

What if a down on their luck stiff happened upon their super-gifts but carried with them all that baggage of their leaner years?

Dark, gritty but pretty damn funny, I laughed out loud a couple of times when I saw this.

Posted under Amusing

This post was written by Marc
on December 6, 2010 at 9:43 pm