Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Power, Influence, and Advertising

So I’m about eleven months away from the expiration of my car lease and I don’t think it’s too early to start researching a new vehicle. My current ride is the official state car of Arizona, a white four-door sedan. Very comfortable, extremely reliable, great on gas mileage, and it was affordable.

Next time around, however, I’m thinking of going a little bigger, possibly something SUV’ish, truck’ish, or even Minivan’ish. That’s because I will probably be doing a little bit more hauling of grandkids, groceries, and plywood, not necessarily in that order.

And so, I’ve begun my top secret research, looking at advance photos of next generation SUV’s and minivans, possibly even crew cab pickup trucks, the other official vehicle of Arizona. I’ve also been checking websites such as Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, Consumer Reports, and the big auto magazines. It’s amazing how much information is out there…down to the last millimeter of every nook and cranny of every vehicle.

Well, I think that I’ve got my short list of contenders whittled down to my top five… or six…or seven. But all the statistics and photos in the world don’t really tell the story of what it’s like to sit behind the wheel, get the speedometer up to 30 or even 40 miles an hour, and see how many rolls of Costco toilet paper fit behind the last row of seats.

This morning I was on my 6 AM walk with Bruno the Wonder Dog and I walked right past a neighbor’s open garage. Inside was one of my short list cars. My neighbor was about to drive away and I greeted her a good morning and casually said, “How do you like your new Jeep?” She stopped in her tracks and went on for five minutes about all of the things, large and small that she loved about the car. I thanked her, after verifying that she didn’t work for the dealer or the manufacturer, and continued on my way.

As I walked I thought to myself, “This car is now near the top of my short list. It sounds like the perfect choice.” And it occurred to me that my neighbor’s spontaneous little speech had more influence on me than all of the research I had done to that point and all the advertising that I had ever seen for the car and the brand. A few heart-felt words from a neighbor swayed me more than anything else I had seen or read.

What’s my point? It’s that in today’s highly connected world, whether through social media, mass communications, texting, or talking we are influenced by buyers/users/consumers/raving fans far more than by sellers/marketers/advertisers.

Which made me think, “How do our customers really feel about what we do? And are they telling us about it when we screw up? Are they telling others when we do a good job?” Based on my car research experience I’m asking all of our readers to share the good and the bad with each other, and to especially let us know when we’ve let you down or missed your highest expectations. If you do, we can work on constantly improving our flaws. And if you share your positive experiences with friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers we can serve more of you to the best of our abilities. We can also share many of the great insights that we learn from you each and every day as well. So start texting, tweeting, posting, e-mailing or calling. We’re looking forward to getting our “report card”.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Last in our Series About Preparing for 2017

With a dwindling number of ever higher cost, higher out-of-pocket, fewer provider health insurance plans on the 2017 horizon it is likely that many folks around the country will, unfortunately, choose to go without coverage and pay a tax penalty. Some of you may not even have a choice in the matter as there may be counties (there is one in Arizona right now with nearly 10,000 Obamacare policy owners) that won’t have any insurance companies offering plans at all.

If you choose to be uninsured next year or you simply have no insurance plans offered in your area there are things that you can do and resources to know about, that can help you tremendously if you develop a medical problem or are simply in need of preventive care or screening services.

Here are several of the very best:
  • Use a Community Health Center for primary care and non-life threatening problems. Community Health Centers, largely funded by the federal government, have been around since the 1960’s. They now serve more than 9,200 communities throughout the US. For more information about this valuable medical resource click here.
  • Join a low-cost telemedicine/wellness service. The best of these services provide 24/7 access to board certified physicians who can be accessed by telephone or, in some cases, by video calls. Nearly 9 out of 10 minor health issues may be diagnosed, and treated by these services. Physicians may prescribe most types of non-narcotic medications. Some of these services use a monthly subscription fee model, others use a “per visit” copayment model. One of the ones that we like the best is Healthiest You.
  • The retail mini clinics that can now be found in many drug stores and mass merchandisers can be an affordable resource for primary care. Usually a flat copay amount takes care of everything that happens during your visit. If attached to a pharmacy and you need medication, you can take care of everything in a single visit.
  •  Urgent care centers offer another “front-line” option for medical crises and certain preventive care services. However, you need to be cautious, as the level of care and professionalism varies greatly from company to company. Also, some of these centers will try to pile up a lot of medical and lab tests at very high cost.
  •  If you need lab work use one of several online re-sellers. These companies use the major national labs for their blood draws but they buy tests in bulk and re-sell them at deeply discounted rates, sometimes as much as 80% less than you would pay directly to the lab itself. Our favorite is Walk-in-Lab. This service does not require a doctor’s order (save on the cost of an office visit) and the test results are e-mailed directly to you.
  • If you need a procedure or a higher-cost diagnostic test get medical providers to bid for your business. There is actually an online auction site for consumers that can be used for qualified medical professionals to bid on many types of procedures and tests. The site also includes qualitative information about each medical provider. To learn more go to MediBid.
  • Become a medical tourist. Many medical and dental procedures can be performed by Western-trained, highly credentialed physicians and dentists in foreign countries, but at much lower rates than those charged in the US. One company, MedRepublic, was started by American physicians. They personally investigate the qualifications and clinical results of all providers in their international network. Even if you are already insured you may find that many elective procedures and dental services such as implants are not covered on your plans. Medical tourism could save you thousands without sacrificing quality of care.
  •  Save on prescription medications. There are several websites and phone applications that check prescription prices, coupons, and manufacturer incentives in real time at all pharmacies in your area. These services could save hundreds on the cost of medications. We like GoodRx. Our own free Prescription Discount Card can save up to 75% on human and pet medications at nearly 60,000 pharmacies. Also, if you are on a limited income and have been prescribed expensive medications there are several prescription assistance programs that could reduce your prescription costs by thousands of dollars. With a program like LoneStarScriptCare, if your income qualifies, each medication will cost $20 per month regardless of its actual cost.
  • Save on care with medical professionals and other health care practitioners with SingleCare. This service will soon have providers throughout the country but they currently service much of the west and southwest. They have arranged for special low-prices on dozens of medical services for cash patients.

We hope that everyone in 2017 will have access to affordable, accessible health care  but if you find that you simply cannot afford, or have no access to insurance, the resources shown above could save considerably on your costs of care while providing access to highly qualified medical professionals. Thanks for reading.

Alan Leafman, President
(800) 955-0418

Monday, August 22, 2016

#3 In Our Series About Preparing for 2017

If you are not yet on Medicare, and you are responsible for providing your own health insurance in 2017, the news continues to worsen. Last week Aetna announced that they will not participate in public markets in 46 different states, including the most populous ones. There is speculation that Aetna made this move in retaliation for the federal government’s pushback on Aetna’s proposed takeover of Humana but, regardless of the motivation, consumers will have one less major carrier from which to choose coverage next year.

This series is devoted to preparing you for next year and arming you with as many alternatives to Obamacare as possible. I have already identified alternatives in two previous articles, both of which may result in better coverage, greater choice of doctors and hospitals, lower monthly costs, lower out-of-pocket costs when you use your plan, and potential net savings of thousands of dollars, even for those who will pay a fine for not having an Affordable Care Act-compliant plan. Specifically we discussed short-term health insurance plans and health care sharing ministries.
No health care plans are perfect, and even the very best plans are designed to assure that everyone in the “chain of care” gets compensated…doctors, hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, therapists, and other care givers. No health care plans, however, are designed to potentially provide extra cash for patients. Think about it. When you are sick or injured there are many forms of economic losses to you in addition to the cost of medical care. Here are several:

·         Lost pay from time off
·         Lost pay for your spouse or partner if they are required to care for you while you recuperate
·         Travel and parking expenses
·         Deductibles, co-payments, or other unshared amounts
·         Substitute child care, parent care, or pet care
·         Experimental treatments and medications not covered by your health care plan
·         Modifications to your home should you have special needs as a result of your medical condition

Fortunately, there are a number of supplemental products, with more being introduced all the time, that provide direct cash payments to you to help replace most, if not all, of the expenses mentioned above. These products may be purchased individually, and, if properly combined, they can build a wall around your hard earned resources so that a medical crisis doesn’t also turn into a financial crisis. Here are some brief descriptions of these affordable plans:

·         Hospital Indemnity Plans – the best versions of these plans pay:
o    Up to $6,000 per day of hospital confinement
o    Up to $6,750 per day of intensive care confinement
o    Up to $600 per day for confinement for mental illness, alcohol, or substance abuse
o    Up to $2,250 per day for a rehabilitation or skilled nursing facility
o    Up to $2,250 per day for outpatient radiation or chemotherapy
o    Up to $4,500 per day for outpatient hospital or ambulatory surgical center
o    Additional cash benefits for surgeries (amounts depend on type of procedure), including benefits for assistant surgeons and anesthesiologists
o    Additional cash benefits for pathology and radiology services
o    Up to $80 per day for outpatient physician visits
o    Up to $525 per day for diagnostic, lab, and imaging services
o    Up to $15 per day for generic prescriptions
o    Up to $400 per year for emergency room services
o    Up to $100 per year for urgent care center services
o    Up to $125 per year for preventive care services
o    Up to $1,500 for emergency ambulance services

·         Critical Illness Insurance Plans – a sudden illness can have a devastating effect on your finances – these plans pay lump sum, tax-free benefits of up to $250,000 directly to you to use as you see fit – plans cover:
o    Heart attack
o    Cancer
o    Stroke
o    Kidney failure
o    Organ transplants
o    Coronary artery bypass surgery
o    Angioplasty

·         Accident Insurance Plans – the best among these plans provide up to $100,000 in benefits for:
o    Household accidents
o    Job-related accidents
o    Sports or recreational accidents
o    Automotive or boating accidents
o          and more

Most importantly these plans’ benefits are paid directly to you to use any way you choose. Too often you have no control over the way that benefits are paid, and to whom they are paid, on a traditional health care or Obamacare plan. These supplemental plans give you the tools that let you choose a low-cost, catastrophic health care plan and use your supplemental benefits to take care of smaller medical bills and, most importantly, to take care of you, your family, and your finances.

For 2017 the maximum out-of-pocket costs for Obamacare plans is increasing to $7,150 for individuals and $14,300 for families. Now is the time to prepare your strategy for next year.
Thanks for reading.