Friday, October 28, 2016

Time for a break from insurance…let’s play two

As I write this the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians are tied at one game apiece in the World Series. It has been an unprecedented 176 combined years since either team won the championship of Major League Baseball. Who will win? As of right now, it’s anybody’s guess.
I suppose that most of you had a childhood hero or two. Growing up in the fifties, on the north side of Chicago, my boyhood hero was Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub.

After playing in the Negro Leagues and then serving in the Army for two years Ernie joined the Cubs late in the season in 1953. His first year on the team, he earned a grand total of $2,000.00. That’s not a typo. Today there are players who earn about $2,000 a minute. There are actually pitchers, who usually only play every fourth game, who earn about $8,000 a minute! Ernie never earned more than $100,000 in salary from the Cubs, the only team that he ever played for throughout his entire 18-year career. He never made it to the postseason either.

In 1954 Banks came in second in National League Rookie of the Year balloting, two spots ahead of Hank Aaron!  Beginning in 1955, Banks was a National League All-Star for 11 seasons, playing in 13 of the 15 All-Star Games held during those seasons (there was a time when there were two All-Star games per season). Incredibly Ernie was voted the National League MVP in 1958 and 1959, despite the fact that in both seasons the Cubs tied for fifth place, finishing 20 and 13 games out of first respectively. That’s something that never happened before or since. Ernie was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, and was named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999. He was one of the greatest players of all time.

The term “For the love of the game” was popularized during the career of another Chicago icon, Michael Jordan. It was coined years after Ernie had retired and it was even written into Jordan’s contract with the Bulls. If ever a phrase applied to Ernie and his exuberance for the privilege of earning a living by playing the game that he loved it was that phrase. No one who ever played the game before, during, or since radiated the enthusiasm that Ernie displayed. How could it not affect my own attitude about life?

Unlike so many contemporary heroes who, during or after their careers, have a fall from grace, a scandal, or in some other way stopped living up to their legend, Ernie never, ever let me down. No performance enhancing drugs, substance problems, or infidelity issues. He remained on his pedestal for his entire lifetime. Throughout his playing days and for the rest of his life he was the perfect gentleman, the classiest ambassador that the Cubs and the City of Chicago ever had. His optimism was infectious. It was nearly impossible not to feel uplifted any time that you saw or heard from him.

This quote sums up Ernie’s approach to life. “My whole life, I've just wanted to make people better".  And he did. And he was recognized beyond his prodigious accomplishments in the game. In 2013, at the age of 82 Ernie was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a civilian. Not too long after that Ernie passed away, just shy of his 84th birthday. I never stopped looking up to him to the day he died. When he died it made me feel like I was eight years old again, one of the saddest days of my life. When your boyhood hero dies it kind of closes a chapter that can’t be reopened.

So what lesson can we take away from the life of Ernie Banks? In major professional sports there are more than 200 teams throughout the United States. There are thousands of college and high school teams. At every level in every league there is only one champion at the end of the season. Does that make all of the other teams and players losers? The same holds true for business and academics. Only one number one company, only one valedictorian. The same goes for family and work life. Day to day living consists of a lot of losses and a few wins.

What did I learn from the life of the greatest Cub of all time? It’s that no matter what you do, if you do it with dedication, commitment, and integrity you’ll be a winner throughout your life. Even if you’re not playing on a major league stage…whether you deliver pizzas, work in an office, insurance brokerage, retail store, wait on tables, or toil as a professional, you can learn to love what you do no matter what that is as long as you have a positive outlook. You will even develop that overworked word, passion. That is the invaluable lesson that I learned from Mr. Sunshine, Ernie Banks and for which I am eternally grateful. Go Cubs!

Thanks for reading.

Alan Leafman,

Regardless, the people of Chicago and Cleveland are winners because they know that anything is possible.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Health Care Spending in the US

By the time we reach New Year’s Eve it is projected that total health care spending in the U.S. for 2016 will reach $3.4 trillion. What does that figure represent? 

 It is the total amount of money spent on care by government, private health insurance, and out of pocket costs to patients on all forms of care, treatment, and medications. As a nation we are approaching $10,000 per person, the highest per capita health care spending of all the large industrialized countries in the world.

 If you wonder why, despite our recovery from the deepest recession since 1929, you don’t find yourself with $25 or $50 extra bucks mad money at the end of the week it’s partially because all that extra “walking around” money is going to health care. By 2025 it is projected by the government that about $1 in every $5 spent in this country will go to health care. 

It’s hard to wrap your brain around a what a trillion dollars really means. Politicians, health care executives, pharmaceutical manufacturers have no problem throwing out these numbers…mainly because they’re talking about OPM (other people’s money). It’s amazing how casually it’s mentioned that annual spending on something like prescription drugs is approaching $475 billion. That’s about $1,500 for every man, woman, and child per year. Let’s look at some of the numbers with all the zeroes after them and try to put things into perspective:

 Fun With Numbers  

What else can we buy with “just” a trillion dollars?  
  • If college, on average, cost $30,000 per year for four years $1 trillion could pay the whole tab for more than 8 million students (and we will spend 3.4 times that amount on health care this year, or roughly tuition, fees, and books for 28 million students’ 4-year college costs).
  • New wheels…for an average car in the $20,000 to $25,000 price range $1 trillion could aquire about 42 million shiny new cars or roughly all the new cars sold in the US for five years.
  • How about a vacation home? $1 trillion buys you about 5 million of them.
  • What about all of the salaries for US senators and congressional representatives? Yes, $1 trillion’s got them covered for more than the next 10,000 years. So if we used the $3.4 trillion that we spend on health care that would pay congressional salaries for the next 34,000 years. Term limits anyone?
  • Sweet tooth? $1 trillion could buy every single person in the country 1,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies (make mine Thin Mints).
So, as you see, we spend enormous amounts of money on health care. What do we get in return? Let’s look at some key measures as compared to the rest of the world:  
  • Infant mortality – the US ranks 56th in the world1
  • Life expectancy at birth – the US ranks 42nd in the world1
  • Deaths per 100,000 of population from coronary heart disease – the US ranks 65th in the world2
  • Deaths per 100,000 of population from all cancers – the US ranks 129th in the world2
  • Deaths per 100,000 of population from diabetes – the US ranks 50th in the world2
  1. source: World Fact Book – US CIA
  2. Source: World Health Rankings – LeDuc Media
Are you angry yet? This message is not meant to be political. It’s too easy to try to indict one faction or politician for our massive overspending and underperformance relative to the rest of the world. It’s easy too, to point fingers at insurance companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, the medical community, and the legal community (yes, there is a lot of “defensive medicine” practiced in the US to avoid or minimize malpractice lawsuits). But this is a complex problem with lots of moving parts. All I know is that our system is unsustainable in its current form and unless the public organizes for real change we will be forced to live with an ever higher percentage of our hard earned incomes going to a health care system that is shortchanging us on value. There are valuable lessons to be learned from many of the other countries in the world. Time to take a closer look.
Thanks for reading.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Your 2017 Health Care Wish List

To Our Clients, Their Families, and Friends,

Ever find yourself in the middle of the grocery store, methodically going through the aisles, filling your basket with everything on your list and knowing, just knowing that there’s something you forgot?


Carrots? “Check”
Coffee? “Check”
Couscous? “Check”
Crackers? “Check”
Hmmm…what was that next one?

The now annual ritual of finding health insurance should be like a going to the grocery store. Have your checklist ready before you walk in so that you cover all of your bases. Open Enrollment is nearly upon us. The time when everybody who has a personal health insurance plan is getting their “We really value you as a customer” letters from their insurance companies to then quickly learn that:

  1. Your plan is going away
  2. Your insurance company is going away
  3. Your doctor has dropped out
  4. Your rates are only going up 28%
  5. Your deductible is going up another $500, or
  6. all of the above

So, like it or not, it seems like every November, right about the time that family, friends, holidays, and end of the year business come crashing down on you, you also get to pick a new health insurance plan. Thankfully, we have identified some great new, non-Obamacare choices for most of you for next year. Many of our new plans cost less, have lower out-of-pocket costs, and allow you to use any doctor or hospital of your choice. Many of you, for the first time in years, will see monthly rate savings of tens to hundreds .

Still, just like the plan that you have today and plans like you have probably had for many years, the new plans are designed to assure that everyone in the “chain of care” gets paid whenever you get sick or injured. These contracts (insurance policies are contracts) are designed to assure that whenever you rack up $10,000, $25,000, $100,000, or $1,000,000 in medical bills everybody gets their money:

  • Your doctors (the ones you see and the ones you don’t; pathologists, radiologists, etc)
  • Your hospitals
  • Your labs
  • Your imaging clinics
  • Your pharmacies

That’s really good news…for everybody who takes care of you. But what about you? Most of our clients work for themselves or they own small businesses without big corporation benefits. It’s time to add a new item to your list. Call it “income protection”.

For the first time in a long time we will probably be able to reduce your costs by quite a bit on your health care coverage. How about, instead of pocketing all of the savings, take a little bit of that money and “splurge” on something really helpful for yourself. Something like disability insurance, accident insurance, or critical illness insurance. Plans that pay you real money when you need it the most.

Relax, we’ll still make sure that your health care plan protects you and your family to the highest  degree possible, but we will be sure, this time around, to persistently remind you about the idea of protecting your hard-earned income. Disability insurance, accident insurance, and critical illness insurance are the only types of coverage that work for you when you can’t work. They are also surprisingly affordable. Contact us and see.

Thanks for reading.

Alan Leafman, President
847-559-9699 x 222

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Medicare and Obamacare Review Time is Now

Seems like just the other day that we finished enrolling our clients in Medicare and Obamacare plans for 2016 but Open Enrollment for 2017 is right around the corner.  

Here are some important dates to note in your calendars:

Open Enrollment begins October 15th and runs through December 7th

These dates primarily apply to Medicare Advantage Plans and Medicare Prescription Plans (also known as Medicare Part D). If you are covered by a Medicare supplement there are no open enrollment periods other than when you initially join Medicare, move, or lose other coverage. Changes in your Medicare supplement plans are available throughout the year but, in most cases, you will need to answer medical questions in order to qualify for a new plan. IMPORTANT: Medicare supplement plan designs were standardized by the government many years ago. Each plan is designated by a letter, from A through N. When comparing any company’s Plan F, for example, to another company’s plan F there are no differences in benefits but there could be significant differences in costs. So do your research, at least every two years. We now have more than a dozen companies that offer these plans.

Obamacare or individual and family health plans
Open Enrollment begins November 1st; absolute last deadline is January 31st

The deadline for enrolling for coverage starting January 1st is December 15th. However, if your 2016 plan has been cancelled as of December 31st you will be able to enroll for January coverage until December 31st.

If you miss the December 15th deadline you will have until January 15th to enroll for coverage beginning on February 1st. The last enrollment deadline is January 31st for coverage beginning March 1st. After that you will need to qualify for a Special Enrollment Period if you need to enroll in a plan before next year’s Open Enrollment.

“But I’m already covered, why should I bother looking for another plan?”

Four words….Plans Change Every Year. If you are enrolled in a prescription plan or a Medicare Advantage plan you should have already received your “ANOC” in the mail. The ANOC, Annual Notice of Change, is the document that tells you about all of the changes in your plan for the upcoming year. Financial terms of coverage such as copayments, health care network providers, pharmacies, out-of-pocket costs, and more may change every year. Nothing is worse than going to the drugstore in January and being charged $60 for the prescription that cost $4 in December! So let us do your homework for you and research your Medicare options for next year.

If you are enrolled in an Obamacare or an individual plan 2017 will see more disruptions in coverage than the previous three years combined!

Unless you’re a hermit you have been hearing stories for months about companies dropping out of the market, health cooperatives going out of business, and health care providers refusing to accept many health plans. Well it’s all coming to a head throughout most of the country. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation 38% of all the counties in the country will have only one or two companies in 2017:


As an example, in Maricopa County, which encompasses nearly the entire Phoenix metropolitan area, there were 140 health plans available from more than ten companies in 2014. For 2017 there will be one company and there will only be four plans available in Phoenix! That’s not all…rates will be up significantly (we know of carriers whose rates will be increasing by 50%+ in 2017), out-of-pocket costs will be up, fines for not having “the right plan” are increasing, and provider networks will be more restrictive than ever.

“Enough doom and gloom, how about some good news?”

OK. There is a silver lining for many of you. We have identified more legal alternatives to Obamacare than ever before. I’m not going to give you long explanations for all of these alternatives listed below (by now you know that I tend to go on a bit), but there are several lower cost, less restrictive options to Obamacare and we will have something for nearly everyone in 2017.
For example:

  • Medical cost sharing ministriesa great new option, no Obamacare fines
  • Minimum Essential Coverage planslow, low cost, no Obamacare fines
  • Short-term health  plansuse any provider or hospital
  • Two-person group plans including those businesses whose only workers are husband and wife – no Obamacare fines
  • Critical illness plans with benefits up to $250,000alone or combined with the above
  • High limit accident plansa great supplement for high deductible plans
I’m almost through…I’ve always been honest with you and now is no exception. Most companies that offer Obamacare plans have stopped paying brokers like us to assist people with their health care needs. The small handful of companies that still works with brokers pay next to nothing. Of course, the government has no problem awarding huge grants to organizations that pay seasonal, unlicensed navigators $50 per hour to assist with health care choices and they pay hundreds of millions in salary and benefits to the call center workers at, but brokers like me and our other agents, with a 27-year old health care brokerage…not so much.

My point is, that despite what the companies have done to brokers, we will still direct you to the few remaining, Obamacare plans but we will also do our best to make you aware of, and explain in detail, all of your other options. But don’t wait until the last minute. Thousands of brokers have left the health business and their clients will be coming to us and to others who remained in the industry. So we will be working overtime to assist all of you with Medicare and personal health plans for next year. Contact us now so that we can begin the preliminary research that’s needed in order to find you, your family, or your employees the best value in health care for 2017.

Thanks for reading.

Alan Leafman