Paying For Heart Surgery When You’re Not as Rich as Randy Travis

Travis performs

Travis performs “Three Wooden Crosses” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Very sad news broke this week about Randy Travis. The country crooner, whose hits ironically include a song titled “From the Hard Rock Bottom of my Heart,” was hospitalized with a life-threatening heart problem that arose from viral cardiomyopathy, a condition that is characterized by a weakening of the heart muscle due to a virus. The virus that caused this disease is usually pretty harmless, but in some patients, extremely dangerous complications can arise. For Travis, the complications weakened his heart, and he required hospitalization and emergency heart surgery.

Travis is pretty fortunate, financially.  He is also pretty wealthy. Therefore, the costs associated with this problem are not likely to set him back financially like they would most Americans. How can people who are not rich like Randy Travis pay for heart surgery?

The easiest way to pay for a heart surgery is to let someone else pay for it. This tip may sound like a joke, but it is the way most people pay for heart surgery. Insurance is a risk management system in which many people pay premiums so that they do not have to bear the entire brunt of a financial loss. Some will come out ahead by paying less in premiums than the amount of the health benefits they will receive. Others will be on the opposite end of the stick. Health insurance can come from the private market or the public coffers through programs like Medicare and Medicaid. While there might be a copay for these procedures with insurance, the insured will not have to pay the whole tab.

Another way to pay for heart surgery is by raiding a retirement account. This is not really advisable in most instances, but desperate times can call for desperate measures. The money can then be paid back over time in the best-case scenario, and getting the doctors paid off will take a major burden off of the back of any heart patient.

Taking out a home equity loan can also be a way to pay for a heart surgery. Those who have some equity built up in their home can sometimes find enough to pay off some emergency bills. Of course, it usually takes years to build up this equity, so many will not have this option available to them.

One final way to pay off a heart surgery without being rich like Randy Travis would involve getting a second job. This might cut down on the amount of time available for cardiac rehab, but the doctor will want his or her cut. It is likely that the hospital will be even more serious about getting paid. This will especially be the case if the hospital is for-profit. It might take some time, but those who are able to survive the extra work should be able to eventually pay off their bills.

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The Lord Will Provide

Debtors like to make excuses.

When I used to work collections, I’d try to work out a payment plan to get people out of debt, and I often heard “The Lord will provide” as their only excuse for not paying the money they owed.

That’s crap.  It’s not a financial plan.  It’s not a life plan.

It’s a crappy excuse to make you feel better about why your life sucks, has always sucked, and will–most likely–continue to suck.

Over the weekend, I got to spend quite a bit of time with family, including some that we don’t get to see often.   One couple in particular really stands out.   Neither of them are employed.  She’s got some medical problems and has several major surgeries recently.  I’d give her a pass for that, but she was unemployed for many years prior to that.  He used to have a job, but lost it a couple of years ago, and is now milking welfare with his wife and daughter.   They recently lost their house and had to move in with his mother.

Neither one is looking for work.  Between the two of them, they smoke 4-5 packs of cigarettes a day.  They want to buy a house soon, or rent an apartment, or something.  They aren’t very clear in their planning because, “It’s in God’s hands.”

No plan, no ambition, no goals.  I don’t understand how anybody can go through life with no intention of improving it.  How can you try to hide behind platitudes instead of making things better?

Here’s the bumper sticker that can actually improve your life: “Good things come to those who bust their asses and make good decisions.”

It’s not the easy path, but in the long run, it’s a better path and one of the few paths that doesn’t lead to royal life-suckitude.

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Unlicensed Health “Insurance”

Gibraltar monkey

Image by Salim Virji via Flickr

Health insurance is–without a doubt–expensive.

As much as I hate the idea of socialized health care, it does have one shiny selling point to counter its absolute immorality: it’s cheap.  Assuming, of course, you ignore the higher taxes and skewed supply/demand balance.

Here in the US, we’re free from that burdensome contrivance.  Instead, we have health care and health insurance industries that are heavily regulated and ultimately run by people who have A) never held a job outside of government or academia, and B) have no idea how to run either a hospital or a business.  That works so much better.    Some days, I think our health system would be better run by giving syringes and band-aids to drunken monkeys.   The high-level decision making wouldn’t be worse.

Thanks to that mess and the high unemployment rate that somehow hasn’t been remedied by the 27 bazillion imaginary jobs that have been save or created in the last 2 years, some people are hurting.    Not the poor.  We have so many “safety net” programs that the poor are covered.  I’m talking about the “too rich to be considered poor, but too poor to be comfortable”, the middle class.

If are much above the poverty line, you will stop qualifying for some of the affordable programs.  The higher above the line you go, the less you qualify for.  That makes sense, but the fact that we have so many safety net programs means there is a lot of demand created by all of the people who are getting their health care “free”.

That drives the prices up for the people who actually have to pay for their own care.  Yes, even if you have an employer-sponsored plan, you are paying for the health insurance.   That insurance is a benefit that is a part of your total compensation.  If employers weren’t paying that, they could afford higher wages.

As the price goes up, employers are moving to a high-deductible plans, which puts a squeeze on the employees’ budgets.   Employees–you and I, the people who actually have to pay these bills–are looking for ways to save money on the care, so they can actually afford to see a doctor.

In response to that squeeze, some unscrupulous people(#$%#@%! scammers) are capitalizing on the financial pain and selling “health discount plans” which promise extensive discounts for a cheap membership fee.   These plans are not insurance.   In a best-case scenario, the discount plans will get you a small discount from a tiny network of doctors and clinics.  Prescription drug plans are no better.  You may get a 60% discount, but only if you use a back-alley pharmacy in Nome, Alaska between the hours of 8 AM and 8:15 AM on January 32nd of odd leap years.

How can you tell it’s a scam?

The scammers will try to sell you on false scarcity. They’ll say the plan is filling up fast and you have to buy now if you want to get in on it.   For all major purchases, if you aren’t going to be allowed time to research your options, assume it’s a scam.  Good deals won’t evaporate.

They aren’t licensed. Call the Department of Commerce for your state and see if the company is a licensed insurance provider.  Pro tip: they aren’t.

They don’t want you to read the plan until after you’ve paid.   That’s a flashing, screaming, electro-shock warning sign for anything.  Once you’ve given them your money, your options are reduced.

The price is amazingly low.  Of course it is.  They aren’t actually providing any services, so their overhead is nonexistent.  They only have to pay for gas to get to the bank to cash your checks.

Really, the best way to judge if something is a scam is to go with your gut. Does it feel like a scam?  Do you feel like you’re getting away with something? Does it sound too good to be true?

To recap: health care/prescription discount plans = bad juju.

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Deathbed Regrets

Missing chocolate chip cookie.

Image via Wikipedia

A friend recently pointed me to an article written by a hospice nurse.  This nurse spent her career working with people who were dying, beyond recovery, and aware of it.   Her job, primarily, was to provide comfort, whether that be physical or emotional.

During her conversations, she found several themes when her patients discussed their regrets and she lists the 5 most common regrets in her article.

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

I don’t see this one being an issue for me.   While I did buy in to a standard life template (college, wife, kids, suburbs, office, etc.), I am me.  I am undeniably me.

I’d be delusional to think that I wasn’t a bit…different.   I see things differently than a lot of other people, I react differently, and I’m vocal about it.  That sometimes makes it hard to get close to me.  I doubt anyone who is close to me would argue with that.

I also tend to do things.  Most people talk about doing things, I try to make them happen.   “I wish I were out of debt”, “Honey, I want to start a business”, “Let’s drop 40 pounds this year”, or “I want to build a trebuchet”.   I think I know why my wife gets nervous when I say “I have an idea”.

I may not be running anyone else’s script, but at the end of the day, I’d regret not doing things more than I’d regret trying them.

I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This one is a personal struggle for me.   I’m scared of missing my children grow up.   I hate the idea of looking back and finding my children as adults, with few memories of how they got there.

At the same time, I’ve got a pile of debt I need to get rid of before I can dial back too far.    I could quit my job tomorrow, but that wouldn’t be providing a good life for them.

My worry, and the worry of some people close to me, is that, once the debt is gone, I won’t be able to let go of my extreme work hours, even though I’m working so hard now to be able to work less later.   “Later”, in this case, means a couple of years, not retirement.

I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Ugh.  Feelings.  If this is a standard deathbed regret, I’m screwed.   My loved ones know I love them, but other than that, I’m happy to be in control of myself.

I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

I do.  It’s not always close contact, but it is contact.

I’m of the opinion that life’s too short to spend time with people you dislike, so some people have been relegated to the past.   My friends, my family, my loved ones are a part of my life, even if it’s occasionally months between emails or years between visits.

I wish that I had let myself be happier.

I think I do pretty well on this front, too.   Happiness is a choice.   I could worry about all of the things that aren’t perfect, or I could enjoy the things I have.  I choose to enjoy what I’ve got, even while trying to improve the rest.

In the words of Denis Leary : “Happiness comes in small doses folks. It’s a cigarette, or a chocolate cookie, or a five second orgasm. That’s it, ok! [You] eat the cookie, you smoke the butt, you go to sleep, you get up in the morning and go to…work, ok!? That is it!”

Happiness isn’t a hobby farm, a new job, or a dream vacation.   Happiness is a date with my wife, or cuddling with my kids to Saturday morning cartoons, or taking my son to the range.

Happiness is the things I’m doing now, not the dreams I’m hoping for someday.

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