As we have recently entered the Journey of Orthodontia, Alan signed up for a Healthcare Spending Account this year. I know, I know, we should have done it years ago, but we’re stupid. That big caveat they tell you at the informational meeting — all funds not spent by December 31 are forfeit — always put us off the idea, although in our defense that was before we knew the money could be spent on bourbon, as long as you filed a signed letter saying your doctor told you to relax more.
Once we took the plunge, it was a revelation. They sent us a debit card that we could use to tap the funds at will — pure genius — and I started toting it to the orthodontist’s office, where every month I use it to make a payment on our daughter’s steadily improving smile.
Then a letter arrived: Please document the following purchases, blah blah blah, or risk the deactivation of your card. Apparently the debit-card tapping from an orthodontist’s office sent up the red flags. I understand. I might have been trying to launder that $100 per month through a Roseville ortho’s office by buying little rubber bands, which I then might sell on the street and spend the cash on crack or something. You can’t be too careful.
At our next appointment, I trudged back to the ortho and asked the receptionist for a printout of all my payments so far, so I could make copies, highlight the disputed payments and fax everything back to HQ, so that I could go on spending my own money. She was familiar with my plight.
“This isn’t really bad, as these things go,” she said, indicating it happens quite often. “A lot of plans make it much harder. They’re hoping you just give up, so they can keep the money.”
Every so often, in my health-care news farming, I come across an editorial in which some conservative airily dismisses all concerns about our current system by saying, well, this is what happens when consumers are divorced from the true cost of things, by having everything paid by their insurance. The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed last year in which the writer praised those savvy Amish, who don’t have insurance and don’t carry debt, and hence go doctor to doctor haggling for the best price on having a rotten tooth pulled or some other elective procedure. What to do when the patient has crushing chest pain is conveniently not explained, nor is the Amish fondness for Mexican border-town doctors, herbalists and other low-cost options that may or may not quack like a duck. The last grafs of these pieces are generally spent genuflecting in the direction of “the market” and its holy healing power.
I wonder what the line item for “abandoned funds” is for this particular company. I wonder what accountant crunched that number. I wonder who came up with the idea. I wonder how they sold it in the meeting.
OK, Grumpypants rant over. It’s a gorgeous day.
Shall we wrangle some bloggage? Get along, little bloggies:
I really don’t want to get into the habit of deconstructing op-ed columnists at my alma mater; Tim Goeglein is enough for me. But I read this piece with a sense of deepening wonder, trying to guess how long it would take the writer to get to the point. I imported it into Word so I could nail it precisely: 582 words. Talk about Grumpypants.
A nice NYT op-ed on what happens to Detroit factories when they close down. Short answer: They’re exported. The longer answer is much more interesting:
In the Budd plant, “press” means stamping presses, and many of them still stand, a couple of stories high, in numbered lines of half a dozen presses each. A Spanish auto supplier, Gestamp, has bought 16 Line for one of its Mexican plants. A couple of Mexican engineers from Gestamp, along with German engineers from Müller Weingarten, the press maker that Gestamp contracted to oversee the 16 Line’s installation in Mexico, have been observing the disassembly. “Their role is to stand there, in awe, and hope they can put it back together when they get it to Mexico,” said Duane Krukowski, General Rigging’s electrical foreman.
For moms only, every word that comes out of our mouths in 24 hours, distilled to two minutes and set to the William Tell Overture. A YouTube link, of course. Funny. Wholesome funny.
There’s nothing a staff writer likes more than an in-joke. In newspapers, we make elaborate fake front pages when people leave or retire. For TV shows, scenes that won’t be shot, but should. For fans of “The Wire,” with a new catch phrase (“meta motherfuckers”), thanks to Ashley.
I’ve come to believe that any movie with Chris Cooper in it won’t let me down, but man, when the NYT calls “The Kingdom” “‘Syriana’ for dummies,” dude, that is cold.
Anyway, if I’m movie-bound at all this weekend, it’s to see “Eastern Promises.”
Lance Mannion takes a look at “On the Road,” and does a better job of it than most people paid to do so.
And that is all. Have a swell weekend.
John Brown said on September 28, 2007 at 12:44 pm
Mencken would have had great fun with the Kelty matter. I wonder if the phrase “when I left the bar business” is code for “nobody else would hire me and my pathological know-it-all-ism”.
brian stouder said on September 28, 2007 at 12:49 pm
OK – so the barkeep says
Any college student who’s taken Civilization 101 knows how to build a viable culture. You begin with rule of law and industry, clarifying the first and expanding the second until it generates a tax base that is able to support your hobbies.
And leaving aside quibbling that “viable culture” REALLY begins with agricultural success, I agree. But then we get whiplash when our law-and-order barkeep says
The indictments against Kelty are the latest manifestations of this town’s collectively immature psychology, its sense of adolescent resentment and pernicious masochism.
What happened to Rule of Law? It may well be ‘immature psychology’ to stuff $150,000 borrowed from one secretive rich guy into your checking account, and then put it into your campaign funds as your own money, and then lie to a grand jury about it…but more importantly, anyone who would do this is also a criminal.
Is it more ‘maschistic’ to recognize this simple truth, or to go into full denial and run a campaign on the Persecuted Martyr platform?
alex said on September 28, 2007 at 1:12 pm
I love the psychobabble coming out of this guy. He’s made quite a career leap from bartender to projectionist.
SusanG said on September 28, 2007 at 9:29 pm
Re: your ortho receptionist’s comment about keeping your money. IRS regulations require employers to do one of two things with unused FSA monies: give it to charity or plow it back into adminstrative costs for the program.
It’s not like the good ‘ole pre-ERISA days when companies misused pension funds.
As a former benefits geek, I hate FSAs. Good idea/dumb execution. Savvy, organized people know how to use it. Others lose thousands of dollars they can’t afford.
nancy said on September 29, 2007 at 8:23 am
Susan, thanks for the clarification.
alex said on September 29, 2007 at 9:07 am
My employer began offering an HSA and my understanding is we get to keep it if we don’t spend it. It’s just like an IRA supposedly. Am I missing something?
brian stouder said on September 29, 2007 at 10:16 am
Alex – nope, sounds like you and I have the same thing.
The old ‘Flexible Spending Accounts’ always bothered me – with that “use it or lose it” feature; we always low-balled it, so as to be sure and use it…but then if you broke your eyeglasses in the middle of the year and needed to spend a couple hundred dollars, then you had to use old-fashioned ‘after-tax’ dollars.
But the HSA is a Health Savings Account (as opposed to ‘spending’ account, as Madame Telling Tales called it) and you can keep it year-to-year, and even grow it (my boss piles as much into there as he can, on to pay for all the medicine he’ll no doubt need when he’s an aged retiree).
Our employer provides high-deductible health insurance, so the idea is that you amass at least the deductible amount in your HSA. As a further inducement to good stewardship of these things, our employer also makes a contribution to the HSA each year, so if you progress through a year without anything major, and just the normal stuff (we are also doing the orthodontist thing, along with all the ususal stuff like glasses and the occasional fever-that-requires-the-pink-stuff, etc), then without much paycheck pain the account will begin to accumulate.
MichaelG said on September 29, 2007 at 11:24 am
“IRS regulations require employers to do one of two things with unused FSA monies: give it to charity or plow it back into administrative costs for the program.” Admin costs like executive salaries and bonuses?
SusanG said on September 29, 2007 at 4:14 pm
FSA’s and HSA’s are two different programs.
FSA’s are part of traditional Section 125 plans. An econ prof at Michigan State came up with the idea of HSA–somethng about if you, sick guy, interact with your doctor you’ll get a better, fairer $ for your treatement. George Bush, the worst president in our history, loves the idea,
Many small to mid-sized businesses are trying it. Mitch Harper ran interesting posts about it (basically, employees are asking employers for help in trying to find out how much healthcare costs).
The Canadians are right.
Yes, they’re stuffy and dour. But having managed benefits in southeast Michigan, and hired Canadians baffled when signing up for US health benefits, I can say they’ve nailed it on the head.
Our benefits are too complicated, no one wants to figure out what out-of-pocket and reasonable-and-customary mean.