Friday, October 25, 2013

Vehicle stats, and more serious stuff

I've put together an updated list of all the vehicles I've owned (including my two first cars, which, technically, my dad owned for me). From that list, I compiled the following statistics (which are rather long - you can skip ahead to the "good stuff" later on if you want):

  • I've owned 29 vehicles (counting the two that my dad technically owned and were never in my name and the motorcycle)
  • Those 29 vehicles are 17 different makes:
    • Alfa Romeo (1)
    • BMW (1)
    • Buick (3)
    • Cadillac (1)
    • Chevrolet (3)
    • Dodge (1)
    • Ford (5)
    • Honda (1)
    • Kia (4)
    • Lexus (1)
    • Mercury (1)
    • Nissan (1)
    • Oldsmobile (1)
    • Renault (1)
    • Suzuki (2) (one of these was a motorcycle)
    • Toyota (1)
  • Of the makes, 5 I've owned multiple models (counting Suzuki here as I've owned both a car and a motorcycle of that brand) and 12 I've owned only a single example
  • The cars are from 3 different regions:
    • America (15)
    • Asia (11)
    • Europe (3)
  • And from 6 different countries:
    • America (15)
    • France (1)
    • Germany (1)
    • Italy (1)
    • Japan (6) (counting the motorcycle)
    • Korea (5)
  • Of the 29, 13 (or 45%) were received from someone with little or no payment (counting the first two, which were actually owned by my dad); 8 of those from my dad
  • Years range from 1967 through 2012, broken into decades as this:
    • 1960s: 1
    • 1970s: 2
    • 1980s: 5
    • 1990s: 8
    • 2000s: 10
    • 2010s: 3
While European vehicles comprise a small percentage of the cars I've owned, I generally prefer them to American and Asian vehicles; all the ones I've driven seem to have something, "soul," that American & Asian vehicles lack. I've not owned any British or Swedish cars, or anything from Yugoslavia, Russia, India, Spain, China, etc. But it's an interesting list (if you want more details about model specifics, check my past posts here and here).

So the website just doesn't work. No problem, right? Since I have until March, 2014 to sign up? Not so fast! Here's the deal: I have health insurance available through my employer, but I elected to go with BCBSAL, individually obtained for my family, instead, since the employer plan is not "Alabama-specific" and the BCBSAL plan covers more of the docs and healthcare in my area (e.g., my dentist is on the BCBS plan, but not my employer's plan). However, BCBSAL is cancelling my current plan and will automatically enroll me in a new plan, if I don't do anything else, at the end of this year. That new plan will cost over $600/month more than my current plan and offer less coverage (higher copays and twice the deductible/out-of-pocket costs). So, I wanted to check what's available on the marketplace, see if there are any subsidies that may help offset my "new, improved" (more expensive) health care plan from BCBSAL. But I can't - it doesn't work. It took 11 days from the time the site opened to be able to create an account and complete an application (which says we can all enroll in plans), but another two weeks later and STILL there are no plans shown on the site. However, my employer's open enrollment occurs in November, so I really need to find out what options are available on the marketplace to see if I can afford, somehow, to continue my BCBSAL insurance, or if I need to enroll in my employer's plan. November, not March. That's a huge difference, and potentially has a major impact on my family's health insurance.

And, in case you didn't think it could get any worse, check out this spot from Senator Ted Cruz (note: it's kind of a long video, nearly 30 minutes, so if you don't want to watch it now, skip down and I'll give you the synopsis):

Yeah. His numbers may be slightly questionable, and some of the leaps he makes (during the "fact check" portion of his speech) are as well, but the concept is the same. Essentially fining employers for hiring American citizens and legal permanent residents instead of hiring illegal immigrants granted amnesty under the proposed legislation. It becomes even more of an issue when taking into account the fact that a CPA I know has done an analysis for a business client of their firm and found that the business would actually save money by paying the fines instead of providing insurance to their employees. Add to that the fact that by firing current employees for which they'd owe fines and replacing them with illegal immigrants for which they wouldn't, and you can see lots of potential issues with this legislation.

Oh, and that $600+/month increase in my insurance? If I had that, don't you think there'd be another vehicle on my list above?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Giving away my money

I pay taxes. And what does the government do with that money? Well, among other things, they give it to other nations. Recently I mentioned the aid to Pakistani students in the form of scholarships (even though, despite paying taxes, my kids are not offered any scholarships by the government, and I have to pay for my own kids' college as well as helping out with Pakistani students' college). And, now, the US is quietly releasing $1.6B in Pakistan assistance.

Washington, while claiming to "grow the economy and create jobs," is also giving our tax money to foreign businesses, such as spending a large chunk of the money to develop the new healthcare exchange on a contract to a Canadian software firm, instead of hiring an American company to do the work. I'm not sure how that works to grow the American economy and create jobs for Americans (which, personally, I don't think should be Washington's responsibility; they should be focused on preserving our liberties and freedoms and creating an environment where the American people take care of the economy and job creation).

But it gets better: the US is not only using our tax money, it's borrowing in order to give money to other nations. In fact, they just added $328 billion to our debt figure (now that they can borrow again).

So, where does that put us? Why, when we're unable to even pay our current interest without borrowing more, are we sending billions of dollars overseas? Don't get me wrong, I do support assisting those in need. But I don't think that's the government's responsibility, particularly when we can't even pay our own bills. Should I, as an individual, borrow twice my yearly income in order to give to the poor? I think I should be offering aid to the needy based on what I have, not on what I haven't. Without first getting my own affairs in order, I shouldn't be trying to aid others, as I risk putting the whole system out of balance and adding to the problem when I go bankrupt and become needy myself. But I also think it shouldn't be the government's position to offer assistance, especially from a deficit. People should do that, whether individually or by forming groups and coalitions. Forced charity isn't really charity, is it?

I also am facing "forced charity" in the form of a $600+ per month increase in my health insurance under the "affordable" care act. And the promise of Obama that "if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan" doesn't seem to jive with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Alabama saying, "due to new requirements of the affordable care act, your current health plan can no longer be offered after December 31, 2013." I don't know about you, but I don't happen to have a spare $600 per month sitting around in my paycheck. Yeah, every month.

On a completely different subject, the keyboard in Google jelly bean isn't too smart sometimes. For instance, it typed ragout instead of really, and fire instead of for. And when it gets the word wrong and you go back, it bases the available options on the word it selected, not on likely alternatives based on the location of letters on the keyboard. And often the word you meant to slide type isn't one of the options (which, "options" is a tough one to get right), such as when it puts "pet" when I want "per" - per usually isn't one of the available options. I like the built in slide type feature, but it falls short of Swype or Swift Key.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

"Affordable" Care Act?

Hello, my faithful readers (all 3 of you). Just want to take a moment to regale you with my experience (so far) related to the "affordable" care act.

First, the website - virtually useless. After 12 days, I finally have completed the "application" process (although it didn't tell me when I did; I had to log off and back on to find out it had actually completed 5 times). Initially, I created an account, but couldn't log in with it. Eventually, after the site went down for maintenance (a couple days in), I ended up creating a second account, which could log in, but couldn't "verify" my identity (with Experian). I ended up on the phone with an ACA help desk guy who attempted to connect me with an Experian help desk person, but he couldn't figure out how to conference the phone call, and had it where I could hear him and the Experian girl, she could hear him but not me, and he could hear us both. I found it amusing that the Experian rep knew more about what was going on with the servers and the interaction than the rep did.

At any rate, eventually I went back to the first account (a day after another shutdown/fix), which now could log in, and it successfully verified my identity. I then spent the next few days entering my personal/family info. Over, and over, and over, and over... at least seven times I had to reenter the same info since kept forgetting everything I'd entered and forcing me to start over. And the UI for the application process? ridiculous. One to three minutes delay PER PAGE of info, with only one to three questions per page. And having to repeat the same info multiple times within the context of a single application process. Health insurance info - had to enter the same info for each family member, instead of having an option to apply the info to all family members. And the various employers of my family members? A total of four employers, I had to enter the employer info for each employer six times (one per family member). That's 24 separate steps for something that should have been done once in four steps.

Multiple times I contacted the chat help desk, usually with the response, "We have a lot of visitors right now, causing problems accessing the website. You can call the helpdesk to register." Occasionally I would get, "We are having glitches with the website right now, please keep trying." (Once, after successfully completing the application process, and still being unable to see health care options, the help desk chat rep said, "Please call the help desk; they will be able to help you complete your registration or your application" - I'd already told the chat agent that I was past that point - even providing the current URL and error message.) After finally getting the application process completed (without notification while logged in - I had to log out and back in to find out it had actually completed), I went to the "enroll" page to see what health plans would be available, and got a new error there ("General exception while call RetrieveAvailableOperations service"), with no health plan options shown. That's where I currently am on the application process - application completed, no health plan options available for review.

Why am I bothering? Since I already have decent health insurance through BCBSAL? Because I got a notice from BCBSAL that my current plan is being discontinued at the end of 2013, and they will automatically enroll me in a "comparable" plan that meets the new ACA guidelines as of Jan 1, 2014, unless I elect some other course of action. What's that "comparable" plan? Well, it increases my premium, for family coverage for my family of 6, from $553/month to $1080/month while reducing the coverage amounts. Specifically, copays (office visits, ER visits, hospital visits, etc.) and deductibles both increase. So, I'll be paying nearly twice my current rate for lower coverage. Just for fun, I checked the BCBSAL website to see what other plans they offer directly (since I can't get to the marketplace), and the least expensive plan that will be offered, the "bronze" tier, is still over $250/month more than my current plan and is essentially a "zero coverage" plan - it offers 3 office visits at a $40 copay (higher than my current copay), and then you're responsible for 100% until reaching the family deductible of $12,700. I checked the Humana website, the other insurance company that will be available on the marketplace, and their direct offerings are even more expensive than the BCBSAL options. With that in mind, I don't expect to have any great options available on the marketplace (probably not even a government subsidy to help with the increased premiums), but I can't tell you what options might be available since the site doesn't work. Nearly two weeks after it's opened.

Edit: I misread my notice from BCBSAL - actually, the change is from $503 to $1080 just for the health insurance, and the $50 dental rider is being replaced with a $75 dental plan, making the overall change from $553 to $1155, or an extra $602/month.

Fortunately, I do have an insurance option available through my employer. As of yet, I don't know what the cost of that insurance will be in 2014 (the open enrollment at work isn't until November), but I do know that they are no longer covering spouses if the spouse has insurance available at her employer (my wife does not, so will be insurable under my work plan). Why have I not used it before, and was using BCBSAL? Because the insurance option at work is a "high deductible" plan, and, since it's not an Alabama-based plan, the treatment options available to us in Alabama are more limited than what BCBSAL covers (yes, they will cover treatment, but a lot of it will be "out of network" and incur additional cost due to higher copays and non-negotiated rates). For instance, my current dentist is not included in the plan at work, but is included under BCBSAL. At any rate, assuming no major changes in cost of my work-offered plan, hopefully my family's available income will not be too severely impacted by the ACA.

But what if I was self employed instead of working for the company where I work? I'd be facing a major change in either my available income or my health insurance coverage (or both). Or I could elect not to carry insurance, and face a fine by the IRS when filing my 2014 taxes. That penalty is "only" $285 for 2014, but increases in 2015 and 2016 (to $2085) and beyond. Still, might be cheaper to pay the fine and put the remaining money aside to cover medical costs (than to carry the additional cost of BCBSAL insurance).

And what about other people in Alabama? I personally know of the following besides myself (which, I assure you, are all truthful, not hearsay, but I will not disclose who said what in order to maintain their privacy):

  • two people have had their part-time hours cut (in order to pull their hours under the point where the employer would be required to offer insurance under the new ACA regulations)
  • 3 people have their BCBSAL premiums double while offering less coverage (including one who has BCBSAL through an employer)
  • one person whose insurance increased "a lot" (I don't have specifics) with a 33% increase in deductibles
  • one person whose employer-provided BCBSAL "meets guidelines," but no information yet on whether premiums will change
  • one person whose company is likely dropping BCBSAL due to a 40% increase in premiums
  • one person who is on Alabama Medicaid with a BCBSAL supplement, which is "already very expensive," who had the supplement cost increase by $10/month
  • one person who says she will be now able to obtain insurance, although the details of this case are hazy at this point (I'm hoping for clarification)
If you're wanting to see more about increasing premiums in Alabama, check this article.

Also, in case you were wondering, the website cost a lot of money to create (and it doesn't work!), and a large chunk of that money was given to a Canadian software firm, not American software designers.

If you live in Alabama, the "Affordable" Care Act is likely going to cost you. A lot. Sorry, but know this: I didn't do it.