Scary Stories

Happy Halloween!

Last year on this day I posted about my scariest money decisions of all time.  First time I had ever confessed to some of them.  That brought me up to present day, so today I thought I would share my scariest money stories of 2014.

Even a year full of financial wins such as paying off a metric ton of student loans and building a savings account can have some real hare-brained schemes in the mix.  Consider the following:

  1. The time I almost bought a house.  OK this one doesn’t really count because I didn’t really do it.  But it gave me the opportunity to act on a hunch that I have learned through my adult life: if a financial move makes you really scared, even if at first you were excited about it, don’t do it.  Something otherwise right for you might be wrong because of timing or inadequate planning.  Better to wait until all the stars are aligned.
  2. The business trip that cost me money.  Needless to say, if you have to pay at the end of an expensed business trip, you are doing it wrong.  I failed to notice a mistake on my expense report (and got all whinypants and blamed that on the stress of my job).  It just sat there until I received really angry, corporate-y emails and fixed it.  By that time the balance on the enormous travel bill had racked up $35 in late fees.  Ughhh.  Also really scary is the possibility that your management could be angry with you, which fortunately they were not in my case.
  3. When the chickens flew off.  Of course chickens are cute, and I would do whatever I can to help any animals under my care or even in my vicinity.  But when I bought two little white chickens this year and they flew off into the sunset the moment I opened the box, on some level I just thought “if I never see them again that’s like $20 down the toilet!!!”  As luck would have it, they hung around the general area and are now happily (or at least chicken-happy, which is to say adorably cranky) coop-bound egg-layers.  Lesson learned: open the box directly into the coop, not pointing at your face.
  4. Chiropractor madness.  Earlier this year my neck starting hurting real bad, and I blew great sums of money on various massages and pillows, culminating with about $360 worth of chiropractic visits across multiple offices.  In conclusion: a) neck feels better now b) all chiropractors are crazy people.

OK ok.  It’s been a pretty bland year.  I’m sure you won’t need to sleep with the lights on after those stories.  But it is crazy how even a person obsessed with personal finance can land some doozies and near-doozies just from occasional forgetfulness, poor judgement, and outright muppet-ocity.  (That is when insanity results from unleashing flocks of animals and you go running around in a dither with head back and arms forward.) 

Now time to go find myself a last-minute costume from stuff I already own :)

Your loans have been taken over by a firm that stole from US soldiers and got caught.

If you have received a letter from a company called Navient, then you had a Sallie Mae loan that is now processed by Navient.  I got a Navient letter.

I have noticed over the years that nearly every new company that loans are transferred to is worse than the previous one (hello, Brazos).  So I decided to check this one out, out of curiosity.

It turns out that Navient, which used to be owned by Sallie Mae but which Sallie Mae split off this spring, has been investigated for stealing from US soldiers.  According to a Huffington Post article surprisingly titled “Obama Administration to Reward Student Loan Company Accused of Cheating Troops,”

In May, Navient and its former parent, Sallie Mae, agreed to pay a combined $139 million to resolve Department of Justice allegations that the two companies had swindled up to 60,000 service members out of tens of millions of dollars and forced other borrowers to pay unfair fees on their student loans.

 

Another HuffPost article notes that

Federal authorities said Sallie Mae and Navient broke the law in three ways: The companies failed to honor troops’ requests after receiving them, did not follow up with troops whose documents may have been deficient, and failed to inform troops of the 6 percent cap when they requested other benefits under the law.

“Defendants’ conduct was intentional, willful, and taken in disregard for the rights of servicemembers,” the Justice Department said.

 

All this was done knowingly out of accordance with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which was established specifically to reduce interest rates and fees for soldiers.  Apparently Navient did not deny it, but did indicate “processing errors.”  Disgusting.

So Sallie Mae/Navient paid fines.  And as a result of this non-denial of criminal activity without any criminal punishment, you would think that the Department of Education would at least punish Navient by way of canceled federal contracts right?  (Because as you will recall, the DoE under the current administration changed the student lending system from servicing federal loans to giving contracts to private companies to service them.)  Well the answer is no, the DoE actually decided to give Navient more contracts since this happened!

So now the watchdog orgs are outraged.  They are calling for the head of the Education Secretary.  Interestingly, Navient was actually ranked last among the four major student loan contractors.  And yet, despite criminal activity and the worst ranking, still more contracts.  I am with the watchdog orgs.

In other news, since Sallie Mae shed this albatross and calls itself “just a bank” now, it actually posted higher profits this quarter.  Good for you Sallie Mae.

So I just wanted to share this with you, in case you got a Navient letter.  Naturally I find the deliberate abuse of both deployed and non-deployed soldiers ethically repugnant.  I suppose because of the nature of their work, they may be a bit too busy to notice bogus fees or spend time on the phone challenging inaccurate interest rates.  So to the student lending industry, this may make this demographic “fish in a barrel.”

It shouldn’t surprise me is that a slimy company like Navient would stupid enough to target (or at least equally swindle) a group that is specifically covered by protective federal legislation.  But it should be noted that if they did this to troops, even out of ignorance, they will do the same to everyone else.  Until caught anyway.  Since the DoE did not cancel any contracts or call for the termination of any Navient executives last time, this is business as usual just like on Wall Street.  And DC.

Making other people rich…

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One of the advantages of creeping ever so mildly up the corporate ladder, as I have, is the ability to increase the wealth of others.  Or at least the opportunity to attempt to do so.

The leaves are changing and it is getting cooler in New England.  And it is rating/ranking/review season at my company.  Also the end of the fiscal year.  So it is a perfect time to apply for last minute achievement awards!

I am really amazed that after 5.5 short years at my company, I have gone from complete peon to a person who has earned achievement awards… to a technical lead who actually nominates teams of other people for such awards!  I tell you it feels awesome.

At the beginning of this year, I was placed in the most daunting role of all my time here: sent to a newly merged business unit to lead a small program for my functional division (new role), and to lead all related proposals for new business in this area (new role as of 2013).  This business unit did not even have support from my engineering division previously, and predictably did not want us around.  It has been an incredibly challenging time.  Right from the start I figured “well regardless of how it goes, everyone up the ladder must realize this is a totally ridiculous situation.”  I thought that I, as well as the people enlisted to work with and under me, were thrown in here as fodder.

But for all the good, bad, and ugly, 2014 blossomed into a decently good (or at least minimally bogus) year in this new area.  There were some confrontations.  There was some BO, I’m not going to lie.  But I also got surprising kudos here and there and took them back to the old headquarters.  Nearing the end of the year, I realize it’s gone well enough that it’s time for a party!  The corporate version of a party anyway.  Money.

So I put in for a team achievement award for the 6 folks who were technically assigned to work under me in various capacities.  These awards are not always selected and awarded, and I got mine in 2 days past the deadline.  But I am getting ready to pester the award people with all the perspiration with which I do everything else around here, to make sure it goes through.  If it works, not only is it a nice little financial reward in time for the many holidays coming up, but it is also a great accomplishment for everyone to add to their annual review paperwork – a great security in a time of economic uncertainty.  Finally, there is a residual benefit to me that the higher-ups can see that I am generous and value the others around me.  But the copious chicken eggs I bring to work already demonstrate that :)

I am totally jazzed that this might work, and further that I might be able to present these awards myself to each person.  This is gonna rule!

Ladies’ shoes: a crapshoot

It is inevitable that some money gets wasted because you don’t use whatever it is you bought.  Perishable food that goes bad.  Gym memberships.  Downloaded Kanye West albums.  But probably the absolute worst thing for me is shoes.  Because many ladies’ shoes are absolute garbage and you have little way to know until it is too late!

No matter how old and practical I get, I always get screwed with shoes about half the time.  In fact, it’s not even like I really like the other half.  The other half are smelly, or make my feet sweat, or are just kind of meh.  But at least they fit, and do not give me blisters or injure me.

But the really bad half.. well ladies, you know what I am talking about.  You pop on the new shoes, admire yourself in the mirror in a variety of silly poses, and walk out of the house… then within 45 minutes you feel like you have been dropped into that Bear Gryllis show and are wondering how bad a blister would have to be before it gets infected.  You hunt around for bandaids, even bothering your cube neighbors if necessary.  You scold yourself for not leaving a reliable pair of shoes around your desk.  But you wouldn’t be able to put those on anyway!  And so you contemplate whether you could just walk around barefoot for the next 8.5 hours through your large defense engineering complex.  Or fashion fake shoes out of stapled together paper, a la Chapman’s sanitary pad slippers in Orange is the New Black.

That is way too much crazy to endure before the first cup of work coffee.  This happened to me recently, about 5 minutes into a 2-hour presentation I gave to the military.  There was no desk under which to kick the horrible shoes and put up my feet.  Just me on a stage, standing ever so imperceptibly on my tippy-toes.  And at the end, per the site protocol, I had to escort the visitors back through our Deathstar-sized building.  With my shoes on of course.  Also on tippy-toes.

I wanted to throw those shoes directly into a trash compactor just from the trauma. Or a vat of Dip from Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  I was so sure about these in the store.  And I did not wear them immediately, so I do not remember what I did with the receipt.  Oh, and I wore them outdoors so the DSW people probably would not like that either.

You really have to carefully follow every step of the Shoe Algorithm in order not to get cheated in the shoe game.

  1. Buy the shoes and save the receipt and box
  2. Walk around in the shoes for a really really long time in the house
  3. If you still want the shoes, wear them AT work (not TO work, on the street); pack the new shoes in your bag so as not to get street scuffs
  4. Keep the shoes (yay – discard receipt and box) or return them (boo – fall into a sartorial fit of despair, consider buying more expensive shoes to solve the problem)
  5. Do not buy more expensive shoes – they are junk too

I basically broke every rule here, so I am not surprised it ended with Goodies 0 Junk Shoes 1.  And you really need to be prepared to ultimately make a return, even if by mail, even if it requires turning your house upside down for the receipt or begging and crying to the DSW clerk if you could not find it.  This is about where I lose interest these days.  But I will need to confront or improve the process if I want to improve my shoe budget retention rate.  Because about half the shoes I buy are totally unacceptable.

Let me take a tally to see how shameful it is, from most recent:

  1. Caterpillar work boots, $168.  Too tight despite the dimensions noted online.  Returned.
  2. Wing-tipped heels (to replace other similar $50 heels), $40.  Need to exchange these by mail for larger size.
  3. Crap shoes described above (to expand my look), $30.  Donated.
  4. Fancy boots (to replace other fancy boots after 7 years), $70.  A little painful at first but a win over all.
  5. Patent leather T-strap heels (to expand my look), $30.  Blister city.  Donated.
  6. Little black heels, same make and model as the only other reliable pair of shoes I can recall in 5 years.  $43.  Meh but worth every penny.

My recent metrics would indicate that I am horrible at buying shoes, with about a 50% success rate.  Am I worse than average you think?

The time I saved myself $29,000.

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A.k.a. I avoid getting pwned for once!  I almost went and bought a house.  But that would have been a big mistake.

For the one or two of you out there who read this blog semi-regularly, it has been hibernating.  That’s all I can really say.  I was quietly saving money with the intention of starting into real estate investment.  But I wasn’t sure about it, and wasn’t juiced up to write about anything else.

Then one day, for a variety of reasons, I decided I had found a great investment: a cute little ranch in awesome shape, in an award-winning school district not too far away.  I put an offer on that ranch with a 10% down payment.  And it was actually accepted.

With 10 days on the clock I started thinking about it.  This investment would wipe out everything I have.  I would have no emergency fund left.  I would have to rebuild that – still, I figured, my sweet rental income would boost my savings rate.  

But I also still have $6000 of student loan debt that I had quit paying in favor of going into investments.  I know – my whole life purpose has been to pay off the loans.  But I have a strange habit of saving the last of things (even bad things) rather than moving on.  And this investment would ensure that I hang onto that nagging balance for a long time.

The kicker was that I would have no other money left to pursue other investments if I wanted.  Cash placed in a Vanguard account earns you interest, and can also be withdrawn any time to use as an emergency fund or to seed another investment or self-employment.  I can’t believe I had not thought of that before.  Real estate returns can be much more exciting but your investment money is really illiquid.  Unless you want to take out a line of credit, which on a rental is total insanity.

The thing that really settled things is that I started asking around about real estate with 4 days left on the clock.  And I heard really bad things, all from people who had been in real estate before.  At first I made excuses to myself about why this or that person had a bad time and how I would do better.  But then I realized I can’t do better than all these different friends.  I can’t believe I didn’t think to ask people before.

So I backed out of the house and went and got a haircut.  First pro haircut in over a year!  Maybe this is a better speed for re-entry into the dollar-spending world.

I already saved $2 today… have you?

Good morning!  I bring you this post from work.  (Shush, don’t tell anyone!  Actually I have half the day off due to our flex work schedule.  So I will start the clock in a few minutes.)

Yes, I already saved $2 today, and it wasn’t from skipping the fancy latte, because I already do that anyway.  (If you must know, I drank homemade iced espresso which I brewed last night.)  No, I saved $2 today by biking to work.

It is August once again, which seems to be the time of year when I am most juiced up about biking.  This year, however, I went ahead and bought myself a pretty snazzy bike.  And I love it.  I fly on it, and feel infallible.  It is worth all $470.  It is amazing how the right equipment will take you from struggling and trying to maintain interest in something to dominating and feeling kinda legit.

So far I have only taken my new ride, which I have named She-Ra, on leisure rides.  And while weekend fun is priceless, I thought She-Ra and I could go on some healthful, cost-saving adventures.

Some time ago (when gas prices were probably similar to now – I have not seen them budge significantly in ages) I estimated that my car costs $0.15/mile in gas.  My driving commute to work is 6.5 miles, so it costs me $1.95 per day to drive to work.  Bam!  $2 saved.  

What about wear and tear though?  I am glad you asked.  Because summertime seems to be when every possible road is under construction.  So the bumps, combined with extra road-rage-induced traffic, result in unacceptable wear and tear in my opinion.  There are two logical driving paths to work: a) the winding, quiet neighborhood streets and b) the more direct thoroughfare full of lights and cars.  By default I always choose A.  But summer road work led to cops directing you while you wait and watch caterpillars moving earth around.  That is a bit too much for me.  So around July I switched to route B, which as it turns out is being resurfaced.  Read: exposed manhole covers and other protrusions waiting for you to drop your car all over them.  No thank you.

By comparison, there are actually delightful biking routes that are neither available to nor practical for cars.  Today I rode 3.5 miles down the bike bath, then cut through the neighborhoods, and arrived at work after 8 miles and 40 minutes riding.  300 calories burned rather than $2 of gas.

So with respect to offsetting the cost of the bike, I guess I would need to commute to work 234 more times in order for She-Ra to completely earn her way.  But I think the benefits of joy, fitness, mental health, and giving Subie a rest make up the difference :)

Another good reason to swipe less

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My bank recently deactivated my debit card and issued a new one (including new 16-digit #) because I may have been involved in a questionable transaction.

I assume the bank means well. There would be no other reason to do something so disruptive.  It seems a little extreme though.  Or, to put it another way, it is a sad state of affairs in which there’s so much identity theft that we go cut up our cards even when there is a chance a theft happened – and despite how much there is, the bank does not seem to know if it has happened or not.  It’s a frightening world out there, or at the very least, a headache.

This reminds me of an old Seinfeld stand-up bit where he says the bank tried to talk him into some investment to make his money “work for you.”  And he goes “I think my money has worked enough already” and goes on about how the money made its way through the world to him, and shouldn’t have to have a job now.  Same way I am feeling about my debit card.  Every time I take it out of the wallet and send it out into the world, there is a real risk involved.  Maybe I should give my card more of a break.

If you wrote down all the times you make a credit card transaction in a week, taking into consideration the possibility of surveillance and fraud, it would be sobering.  I guess that is also why neither of my parents have ever been keen on using debit cards too much.  My dad operated entirely on cash withdrawn from the bank once in a while, and wrote checks for his bills.  And he was a corporate leader, well versed in modern technologies both industry and consumer.  He chose to conduct his finances offline, something worth considering.

I don’t mean to be all “money in a shoe box under the bed” but the many other results of debit card usage can be annoying when you get to thinking about them.  You are tracked by your purchases; your expenditures and location become data points that can be shared and bought.  And then you can be electronically robbed.  A gas station owner tried to rob me once via wrong amount of money charged to my debit card ($65.20 rather than $6.52).  I had to chase that down in an investigation with my bank.

So unfortunately, more swipes more problems.  This is just another thing I try to minimize in my minimalist lifestyle.  I have noticed that weekly grocery shopping over eating out daily, filling up the gas tank once from empty (rather than filling halfway and always looking for better rates), and staying out of the coffee shop altogether minimize debit transactions and opportunities for all these problems.  Do you make any effort to limit plastic transactions, or am I being paranoid?

Ms. Goodies Gets Schooled in Real Estate

For anyone interested in real estate investment income, my lessons learned should be of interest.  The price is right anyway!

I’ve been looking at multi-unit rental income properties with my real estate agent, who owns multiple properties herself and therefore seems very savvy.  She has given me the following tips, which help you narrow down from broad to specific.

  1. Buy in good school districts.  Yeah, you generally hear that.  But in buying big multi-unit places, you get tempted to look for the cheapest deal possible or in a town near you for convenience.  But these things really do not matter if they are not in a school district, because you will have a hard time finding reliable, long-term tenants (like education-minded parents) to keep your units rented.
  2. Buy 3-4 unit places rather than 2-units.  Five or more units is considered commercial real estate and has all different (and more restrictive and expensive) lending and insurance rules.  But in the up-to-4 unit world, you want to be at the upper end, even as a newbie.  Basic investment diversification: if you own a 2-unit place and one tenant bails, you’ll probably be dropping money just to make the bills.  With a 4-unit in that scenario, you will at least not be in the red probably.  “Enough units and low enough costs that you could keep one unit empty at all times” is the way my agent likes to put it.  And the thought of one always-available unit seems useful in other ways…
  3. Kids, kids, kids.  More emphasis on kids.  Which makes sense, because the root of all the advice is to try to rent to stable families.  Don’t buy units with just a stall shower (bad for babies).  Any place on a busy street or situated close to the street needs ample/boundaried backyard for a safe place for kids to play.  House can’t be in front of a gun dealer, no matter how low-profile.  You know the problems when you see them, and these are the ones we have seen so far.

So I keep these things in mind.  This weekend we went to see a property I was very excited about, which seemed to meet all these criteria.  A 4-unit place in a famous local school district; situated on an acre but right in the cute, historic center of town.  They are asking $360K, which seems reasonable compared to all the multi-units around.  And the house is in great shape and has long-term tenants in place.  But it kind of fell apart as we looked…

  1. There is just one heating system, and the owner pays heating.  The owner said they just charge the tenants $100/month more than they would otherwise, to offset.  But the oil heater also requires 2x/year maintenance, which sounds annoying and expensive.  The owner and my agent agreed that splitting out the heating with propane would cost about $25K.
  2. Sewerage betterment.  Apparently when old towns decide to improve the sewerage system, they charge each associated house proportionately.  And they charge multi-unit properties per unit.  So this house got hit with a $58K amortized bill, which still has about $30K debt.  This would be transferred to the new owner, so in effect these owners are asking $390K for this house rather than $360.
  3. The current owners are only making $150/month over the bills(!!!)  Much less than I would have guessed.  I have yet to look into the bills they are disclosing, and determine whether they tacked on any improvements onto their mortgage.  My agent did some quick math and determined that at the asking price price, with the current rent values and mortgage interest rates (but without sewer bill), I would make about $600/month over the bills.  But that is still not enough cushion in my opinion to cover inevitable maintenance costs for 4 units.

Before I heard about the $30K sewerage bill, I considered making an offer of $335K, citing that I would need to update and split out the heating.  But given the current owners’ margins, I have no appetite for inheriting the plumbing bill.  They would need to pay it off, which I doubt they would agree to.

Well, that’s a shame.  Back to the drawing board.

The Chiropractic Experiment

After a long time of pretty bare bones frugality, I am going to try to honestly document an experiment in what some might consider a highly extravagant luxury: comprehensive, ongoing chiropractic care.  At the same time, this will be a journey in discovering how my new Health Savings Account (HSA) “defined contribution” type insurance plan works.  I have not figured out yet whether the plan officially considers chiropractic care to be part of its covered preventative services.  So here we go.

Some background: I just feel lousy lately.  I have had a series of cumulative pains and troubles that have restricted and impaired my life lately.  First, starting a few months ago I started feeling all-over achy and weak when it would come time to go running; I would cut off jogs at 3 miles rather than hit 4 or 5 like I used to.  Then about a month ago, I started having pretty intense neck pain and stiffness, which has resulted in compromised driving posture and sub-par soccer performance.  More recently, I find I have no extra energy at the end of the work day and must immediately take a small catnap before doing anything else.  I don’t even make it out to run on most days.  Obviously this is getting worse and has to stop.

The other effect is that the chronic pain and fatigue have made me cranky at work and distracted with friends.  These are also deal-breaking behaviors.  I can’t afford to be cranky at work – being cheerful is one of my best workplace qualities, and a real differentiator at an engineering firm!

And I already tried to address my problems in simpler ways.  I offloaded some of my tasks at work to de-stress, got more sleep, drank more water, and even went for a back massage.  But none of this has helped.

So I had my first visit at a holistic health-type chiropractor today.  The consultation cost $45.  The doctor noted that health insurance companies do not usually cover the consultation.  So I guess $45 isn’t so bad for the full price of an up-front consult?

Apparently my back is in such poor shape that the doctor offered an adjustment today, in advance of reviewing my file with me (which happens at the 2nd visit and is usually the pre-cursor to chiropractic adjustment).  So I happily went for the adjustment, which cost $45 as well.  Huh?  That seemed a little extreme.  But the level of pain I feel in my body lately cannot be over-emphasized.  I was glad just for the opportunity.

So I dropped $90 today, and have not yet looked into whether my insurance covers this.  Since I have an HSA, it is basically some cash provided by my company along with some more cash I contributed, which can be accessed with an HSA credit card to pay medical bills.  I just used my personal debit card today. I am not sure this service is covered anyway, though in theory you should use the money in the account for services (whether covered or not) to help get you to the deductible amount.

Going forward, I am not sure how much these visits cost when covered by insurance – whether $45 is reduced to some other value.  But worst case scenario is that it costs the full $45 for every visit, and the doctor’s office suggests that I return once a week for the next few months.  That would come to $180/month.  It’s almost as much as I spend on food per month, but I suppose I would pay that for a few months in exchange for pain relief.

While this may be a “rip-off” I think results would be worth it.  What do you think?  What is the absence of pain worth?

Employer-sponsored health insurance: going the way of the perm?

 

Anybody spending any time getting upset about the implications of the Hobby Lobby ruling is getting it all wrong.  Employer-sponsored health insurance probably won’t be around much longer.

This isn’t even one of my zany theories.  I just started Googling “employer sponsored health insurance” to learn more about it, and many of the results for that benign search term were about how Obamacare spells the end of employer-sponsored health insurance.  The articles imply that crushing employer insurance was not one of the goals of the ACA, but the reality is that all the new rules place an untenable financial burden on employers.

It makes sense.  Employer-sponsored insurance was already kludgy as hell prior to the Hobby Lobby determination.  And the Hobby Lobby case just underscores how antiquated and ill-fitting this system is now.

Employer insurance started largely during WWII as a fringe benefit to counteract wage freezes, buoyed by a tax advantage for employers enacted around that time.  It peaked in the 60s and 70s, an expansionary time in US history for both socialized services and medical patronage.  A hundred years ago, people went several years without seeing a doctor; now health services and products are a large part of our lives.

The scale has tipped, and at this point insurance plans are expected to subsidize a slew of what might arguably be only somewhat medical items and services, such as face lifts, mood elevators, and Viagra.  Which I understand is expensive for the insurer (not to mention the insured).  I read in one of these articles that employer insurance coverage and participation both decreased through the ’90s and ’00s – marking the beginning of a period of natural contraction in this “semi-socialized” type of insurance.

So this is just my observation, but it seems like just prior to ACA, our relationship to health insurance was like that classic rock song “Stuck in the Middle with You” (or more specifically, the Hanes commercial with all the thongs on the laundry line set to this song).  A giant proverbial wedgie.  We all want health insurance, and everyone seems to know that private insurance is way too expensive.  So you need your job to provide cheap group insurance.  But as long as there is some coverage, it probably does not impact your decision on where to work.  And then inevitably you are dissatisfied with it.

At the same time, it sounds like employers have been coming to resent insurance for the non-value-added cost that it is.  They could never get rid of it altogether, but they could chip away at it and prospective employees wouldn’t know until it’s too late.  The insurance at one of my jobs did not even cover annual Well Woman exam.  What’s up with that?  But I continued to work there and just paid for these services.  Then at my current job the insurance seems a little too expensive.  But I just pay for it.  In neither of these cases was I going to leave my job over it.

So there has been a tension, at least in the plans I have seen.  Your company usually only offers 2-3 plans tops, so you really don’t have much of a choice. And your company had latitude to change up the whole insurance arrangement without any employee buy-in, as illustrated so brilliantly in the Dwight clip above.  The Office really nailed it on that one.

Enter ACA.  Obamacare was ostensibly supposed to make everything better and more comprehensive, but what it did is push a teetering system to the brink.  Employers did not like paying for the optional insurance plans before, and now they are legally required to provide bigger plans than they ever had.  I don’t think corporations will have much of a chance to engage in ethical medical conflicts.  The added costs of the ACA laws will compel employers to push the costs onto the employees through the back end, or consider taking the fee instead of continuing to cover employees.

I would be more worried about what happens next.  It would be nice to think that we might all enter the private market, and a competitive environment would develop in an attempt to earn all of our business.  But the insurance industry is far too regulated to welcome competitors and a free market.  And the same Federal Government that expanded its powers enough to enact a national health tax could also take over the administration of the system that redistributes the tax money.  Especially now that the group insurance environment is sufficiently distasteful that employers might voluntarily exit the market.