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.

2 thoughts on “Health Care – How Broken Must it be Before We Fix it?”

  1. So what do you do for coverage after the 18 months are up? I thought Obama brought in a health care package for everyone.

  2. @Alison – After the 18 months are done you have to get your own health insurance independently. Folks use COBRA because often the pricing for large companies is much better than individuals can get.
    I don’t know a whole lot about Obamacare but I do know that nothing that the government does benefits my demographic (White, Male, middle class income earner who saves money and spends responsibly).
    I’m hoping that I’ll be a full time employee with the accompanying benefits before I have to go down that path.

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