What do you do once you have paid your debt and saved up?

image 1

I’ll tell you what I did… I bought a Camaro!!!

After three long years of paying off $83,000 of student and car loans, and another year of saving approximately a year’s worth of living costs, I decided to buy the car of my dreams.

http://boston.craigslist.org/gbs/cto/4950259633.html

Of course it is manual (would I drive anything else?).  And it is pre-2014, because let’s face it: the new 2014 Camaro headlights look like a cheap throwback to the 1993 Camaro style.

And my Subaru turned 5 this year.  That’s practically old age for a car.  So with bittersweet feelings I traded her in while she still has good trade-in value.  Surprisingly, I got $6,000 for her, which offset the price of the Camaro down to $21K.  That’s actually a pretty good deal for a Camaro!

I know this nevertheless sounds like unbridled luxuriousness.  But I have been saving money for a year now, sitting on it, because there is no other good place to put it.  Stock market is too high, real estate market is too tight.  So for once, I am turning my car fantasy into a reality.  At least I will be driving around having a blast until the stock market takes a dump and I am ready to put money in there.

So what should I name the Camaro?

Why mall massages are the best

it_moved

Sometimes you need a massage.  I think of this as medical, like the chiropractor or PT for plantar fasciitis.  But where to go – a spa?  A therapeutic place where the people have medical acronyms after their name?  Or… the mall?!

I have noticed the phenomenon of asian-run massage parlors cropping up starkly in the middle of otherwise culturally-diluted malls.  Have you seen these?  The one at my mall is called Asian Island.

I used to pass right by these places, wondering how such an establishment could create the level of privacy and trust necessary to enjoy a rubdown while essentially nude.  But that was before my hospital ordeal, during which multiple strange men went rifling around under my already too-loose gown.  Now I have no sense of privacy.

So dispelled of that notion, I was free to enjoy the following reasons that a mall massage is better than a fancy spa massage.  How shall I count the ways?

1) It is cheaper of course!  Not only do the 30- and 60-minute rates beat all the spas and salons around, but Asian Island also provides flexibility at $1/minute down to 20 minutes.  The full hour is $50.  An hour-long massage at a spa is usually at least $75.

2) No weird Enya music or strange scents.  Just strains of vaguely Asian-sounding music streaming from the front lobby.  At least it doesn’t make you feel like you are supposed to be having some sort of enlightening experience.

3) The Chinese invented acupressure and acupuncture.  While I am prone to over-think choices like “deep tissue massage” or “sports massage,” I can pretty easily get behind whatever a Chinese bodywork practitioner wants to do.  Chinese medicine is ancient; they had already figured out natural cures for everything while the rest of the world got decimated by a series of medieval plagues.  Who am I to say otherwise?

4) The charm of bits of Mandarin spoken right in front of you.  While my lady laughed with a lady on the other side of the curtain and chirped little orders to the assistant in the hallway, I was taken back to a time and place where I spoke pretty decent Chinese on my own for a summer in southern China.  That language for me is like a sixth sense with a musical tonality.  But for others, this unmitigated language barrier probably increases the desirable wall of anonymity.  I could see it both ways.

5) Free hot stone treatment!  I have always boycotted hot stone massages on principle.  Hot stones usually add about $30 to a massage price.  I take exception to this because stones are basically free.  You can walk outside and find one.  And heating a stone can probably be done by throwing it in the oven.  So the hot stone fee is a huge scam.  But lo and behold, they brought out hot stones in the middle of my pretty cheap mall massage just because.

So if you find yourself needing a massage, I recommend checking the mall.  There’s, surprisingly, nothing like a scrappy, impersonal experience filled with foreign sounds and thin curtains when others would have you take out a small loan for unnecessary luxuries such as “privacy.”  As long as it doesn’t move!

Two more reasons it’s good to have an emergency fund

In paying off my $2,500 portion of the $48K hospital visit, I have learned that it is very, very useful to have an emergency fund.  And not just so you can pay the bills!

Reason #1: I was able to contribute post-tax dollars to my HSA, which will give me tax money back.

So… my employer switched our health insurance from a conventional plan to a Health Savings Account.  Basically stuff is covered similarly as before, but the HSA has a much higher deductible ($1500 vs. $300) and a much lower out-of-pocket max ($2500 vs. $5000).  To offset the high deductible, participants can contribute up to $3,300 to the HSA (in addition to the $500 my employer throws in there) to pay this high deductible with pre-tax dollars.

Not having foreseen this hospital calamity, I had not elected to contribute pre-tax dollars in advance.  But once the bills arrived, I researched and discovered that in fact you can contribute post-tax dollars to the HSA, submit a receipt to the IRS with your taxes the following year, and receive tax back with the tax returns as if the money had been contributed pre-tax.  Pretty freakin’ sweet.  My initial $2,500 bill came to $3,100 with follow-up appointments, so I put $3,100 in the HSA to “launder” my money through this system before paying.  Because this reduces my 2015 taxable income by $3,100, I will get about $868 extra at tax time next year.

Linking your bank account to the HSA website is not a stroll in the park, and each transaction takes about 5 days to clear.  So if I did not already have the money saved and was relying on excess from each paycheck, I would not have had time to do this and meet the net-30 day billing period on time.

Bottom line: I had all the money available, so I was able to funnel the money through the tax-sheltered HSA system before paying.  I will get/save $868 that I would not have been able to preserve if I did not know about or have time to make this contribution prior to paying the bills.

Reason #2: The hospital which issued the majority of my bills has a “prompt pay discount” which I was able to get in on.

And what a discount: 20%!  I could hardly believe it.

I think anybody who has ever had medical bills would know that you don’t really have to pay them on time.  It’s not like a credit card bill; they generally do not levy a late fee.  I would imagine a hospital would have a hard time getting a late fee out of someone who has not paid because they cannot afford it anyway.  And it would have to be pretty severely overdue to even get sent to collections or reported to a credit agency.  So even I have come to think of medical bills as a pesky thing to get around to.  The due date of a medical bill does not set fear into my heart and chills onto my neck the way a credit card bill does.

Then I noticed a strange little anomaly between the price on one of the bills and the price listed on the website when I went to pay.  It was lower.  So I called and the hospital billing guy said “oh yeah, that’s our prompt-pay discount, but it goes away after 30 days.”  So if you pay on time, you will get a discount relative to what was billed against your deductible, and if you pay late, you will owe exactly what got billed against your deductible.  So I proceeded to do exactly what those clever marketing/accounting executives wanted, and said to myself, “Holy shit I need to pay these bills asap!!!”

Bottom line: I had the money available, and a novel billing system got my attention.  Because I chomped on the bait to pay quickly rather than follow my instinct to get around to it later, I saved a pretty incredible $500 across the 4 different bills.  Seems like cash flow is more important to the hospital than profit margin.

Total money saved/retained: $1,368

Overall I would say that having an emergency fund also gives you the right mindset for saving more money.  I knew I could pay the bills, and had a bit of time and latitude to investigate options and get all the facts before forking over my savings.  I have been on the alternative situation as well, sweating getting the bills paid at all.  And I have to say that in that mindset, you are not cool-headed enough to get clever.  Make that 3 good reasons to have an Emergency Fund.

Ask and you may receive … “equal pay”

This topic has been in the news a lot lately.  Like other headlines, this topic strikes me as alarmingly retro.  Before you get all worked up, let me share my viewpoint:

I conducted my first salary negotiation at age 19.  I got offers for a swim instructor job at a nonprofit org at $9/hr, and at a private school at $10/hr.  I had to offset the $300 Red Cross certification course I had just taken, and both offers sounded low to me.  So I dipped my little toe into the waters of negotiation and told the private school the whopping lie that the nonprofit had offered me $11/hr.  They matched this value and I worked there, paying off the cost of the cert the first week of the summer.  It doesn’t sound like much, but it was an instant 10% raise.

Hey, if it worked for a pimply teenaged Philosophy major, everyone should give it a try!

Once I entered the real “working world” however, I received the guidance that I should not ask about salary and just do whatever convincing talking it would take to get the job.  Because I was a worthless, skill-lacking [millenial] (this term was not invented but that was the truth).

But as I got into my temp-to-perm job, the “temp” period ran out and I was tired of having no health insurance.  My boss assured me that she wanted to grant me full employment, but the HR paperwork was slow-rolling.  So I researched personal health insurance and offered my boss the low, low price of increasing my wage by the required amount per month so I could buy insurance, and I would stop bugging her about the paperwork.  Request granted, surprisingly easily.  That was about a 20% raise, plus peace of mind being insured.

Then another 3 months rolled by without full employment secured, so I turned the screws a little tighter.  I interviewed at the top competitor and disclosed the salary offered there.  Before the competitor’s determination was even made, my boss felt compelled to grant me full employment at a slightly better salary.  Good thing too, because I do not think I would have gotten the other job!  Another 5% raise.

Fast-forward two years.  I just just gotten a Masters’ degree, and once again had a large educational bill I needed to offset with a well-paying job (I would have been hopelessly underwater at my last job much longer).  I received an offer from my current employer and had the nerve to tell the HR guy on the phone that I was anticipating [about 15% more].  He said “no negotiations on this offer.”  I said “no problem, when can I start??”

Hey, you win some you lose some.  But through raises reflecting work superior to my peers both male and female, I was making the sum I had requested within 6 months.  So ultimately, a win.  And it was through my doing, not luck or another woman.  My manager was a man.

So I just puzzle over this question.  Maybe pay is not equal because women generally do not ask for more and men generally do.  Maybe some workplaces are anti-woman.  Maybe… <gasp> some men are doing better work than some women in some places, or are better qualified in some cases.

I do not think it is possible to really know whether someone else, man or woman, is really doing better work than me and deserves better money.  But I do know that you do not get what you do not ask for, and what you do not work for.  I am all about pushing limits – those of others, reality, and myself.  And it has worked for me in different areas of the country, in different industries, and in organizations of different gender makeup.  And so I hope this approach is working for others as well!

How much would you pay to escape the tundra?

50 shades MA

By popular demand (one request), I will skip to the end of my proposed list of “Spring Cleaning, Winter-style” topics and go straight to cheap vacations out of the wasteland.  Because, you know, winter sucks at this point.

So I present you with the very best prices that the internet has to offer today, which are surprisingly really low.  So low it’s like that Flo Rida song.  (I even clicked on a supposed $28/night hotel deal on Groupon, but definitely do not recommend going there.)  Check out some legit items:

http://www.groupon.com/deals/ga-club-tesoro-at-wyndham-cabo-san-lucas-resort-5

$300 for 4 nights in Cabo?  This is a crazy world we live in.  All you’d need to do is find good airfare.

https://vacations.jetblue.com/service/show_hotel_details.cfm?is_landing_page=true&room_gds=local&hotel_code=526&area1_display=BOS&date1=05/11/2015&date2=05/14/2015&area1=BOS&area2=FLL&promotions=1&intcmp=jbgadest

I can honestly, but shamefully, say I have paid this much just in airfare to return home to the 305 for Thanksgiving.  I can tell you Fort Lauderdale is nice and much quieter than Miami if that is your thing.  I think this was the best overall Getaway deal on Jetblue, but there were a bunch of other deals to other destinations in FL, Jamaica, and the Dominican.  This batch of deals just started today.

http://www.jetblue.com/deals/once-upon-a-springtime/

Jetblue also decided to start a 2-day sale this morning, just as I went to publish this post.  It is all coming up Millhouse!  My pick from this list would be DC for $84.  Good luck with blackout dates!

Beyond Groupon imagery and internet bait-and-switches, I could provide the following classic frugal recommendations:

  • Drop in annoyingly on family and friends in warmer climes; claim weather asylum while you lounge all over the couch and eat their snacks.
  • Screw multi-day trips, ain’t nobody got time for that!  If you’re just sore and tired you could do a spa thing locally.  Get a questionable massage (“it moved!”), or go hang out in one of these salt caves.  Then drink lots of beer.  Because you just did a spa thing.
  • Go for places that aren’t so typically spring-breaky to avoid the squeeze.  Instead of islands and beaches, you could go bare your bits in Las Vegas or Texas.

One thing I will not tell you is to “embrace the beauty of snow!”  If you like to ski/snowboard, fine.  If you are over it and wonder what it would be like to walk around barefoot or take off your hat, I don’t blame you.

Overall this winter has taught me that 2/24 is not the time to start planning.  Possibly the better way is to plan these “tundra escape” trips back in October, and hope to hell that you do not get snowed out and spend your vacation days sitting on the floor in Logan airport.   I am headed to Texas next month, but it is to get in some early season cycling.  Presumably the winter wasteland insanity will have worn off by then.

What is your wasteland escape plan?  And how much would you pay to accomplish this?  I am looking at about $600 for my Austin trip, which is roughly the sum to which I have grown accustomed any time you have to get on a plane.  But this is an area in which I bet other people are much more clever…

Images from https://www.facebook.com/MassachusettsMemes?pnref=story

Spring Cleaning, Winter-style

My dad flew all over the world during his career, and had a saying about long, international flights: you can read a book, get drunk, pass out, read another book, and there will still be 5 more hours left…

If you live anywhere in New England, you probably know why I have been thinking about this joke lately.  Winter is our international flight, and it is not over yet.  I’m pretty sure we’ve all played in the snow, shoveled the snow, cursed the snow, baked baked goods, shoveled more, worked from home, lumbered to work with half as many lanes and twice the time, and stared at more snow falling.  In total defeat.  Some of us even got to turn livestock into domesticated pets.  We’re stuck at home, so may as well make the best of things there.

chicken spa

P.S. Chickens were not meant to live with us.  Or anywhere near us.  The most luxurious garage condo just makes them long for the comforts of the coop.

And let’s face it: there’s no point doing any physical cleaning because we’ll be tracking in salt (not to mention other schmutz) for at least another couple of weeks.  So I figured it’s a good time to clean up the ol’ finances, which can also spruce up the home.  There’s always time to get drunk again later!

So I’ll be posting some ideas on:

  1. Cleaning up the 401K
  2. De-cluttering winter bills
  3. Not using misery as an excuse for sloppiness
  4. Planning a frugal, if temporary, escape

Is there anything else you’d want to hear about, between rounds of shoveling, IcyHot-ing your back, and playing cards?

If you are under 35, you are in the same “national net worth by age” bracket as Mark Zuckerberg…

Also it means you are a Millenial like so many arm-scarf knitters!  Which is more annoying?

While poking around trying to figure out something else about wealth demographics, I found this interesting and super depressing article on the Wall Street Journal which measured national median wealth by age group.  It noted that the median net worth under 35 is $10,400; the average is $75,500.  Toward the bottom it explained why the median is a more relevant measure than the average, which you might recall from school.  But this explanation will never let you forget it again:

Why is the average so much higher than the median? Take a simple example of three guys: Tom, Steve and Mark. Tom has a net worth of negative $10,000 due to outstanding student loans. Steve has a net worth of $10,000. Mark (let’s say his last name is Zuckerberg) has $33 billion. Their median net worth is $10,000. Their average is $11 billion. A few outliers (like Mr. Zuckerberg) can earn enormous amounts more than the median and drag the total up for everyone; conversely, it’s rather difficult to get yourselves millions of dollars in debt and drag the figure down.

So in most cases it makes more sense to compare yourself to the millions of people on your immediate left and right than to Mark Zuckerberg.

I like to think of it more as:

  • Do you have a net worth of at least $10,401?
    • Yes: cool, you’re in the Mark Zuckerberg club!
    • No: that’s ok, you’re in the company of 20 million other people under 35. 

Obviously the statistics in this article are an indication of the skewed wealth distribution, if the average is not much higher than the median.  But I am not about wealth distribution, I am about doing better with what you have rather than complaining about what you don’t have or what someone else has.  You want 33 billion under 35, go invent a Facebook while you’re still in college.  There is always that option.  But if you want to improve your means realistically without thinking up a culture-defining invention, focus on the median and how to take prudent steps to surpass it.

So I joked at the beginning about being in the same bracket as Mark Zuckerberg, but actually I saw the whole statistic as motivating.  If you can pick yourself up out of debt and get over the goal line of $10,401 to be in the top half, what can’t you do?  Just by getting out of debt and putting together a bit of savings you leave millions of other people in the dust.  And if you are better off than so many other people, there must be power in that.

Bet you didn’t expect it to go that way did you!

From the WSJ: Consumers Hoard Gas Savings; Banks Experience “Shrinkage”

The Wall Street Journal informs us that people are saving the $10 extra they don’t need to spend on gas these days!

Basically the article says that the economy is better, blah blah blah, and we should, by all measures, be running out to spend money.  Because that is the foolhardy knee-jerk reaction exhibited by Americans at all other points in history when the economy went from calamitous to terrible.  But… we are not running out to the stores!  We are taking our $50 and saying “I can do something better with this than blow it immediately!”  People are paying down credit debt: a sign that the credit problem in this country has reached an all-time low.  It is like when druggie celebrities finally give up and turn themselves in to rehab.  But this is probably for the best.  Good for America!

Amazingly, banks are witnessing this turn of events with horror.  But this shouldn’t be so surprising: what is good for banks is bad for everyone else, and vice versa.  People paying down their credit debt naturally is bad for banks.  Discover Company actually “blamed lower gas prices for ‘lowering its growth rate.'”  Which I believe is financial talk for “I was in the pool!”  I anticipate lots of flashy credit card sign-on bonus offers arriving in the mail before too long.

I have some observations about this whole thing:

  • If you are seeing $60/month savings as the article’s statistic suggests, I feel sorry for you.  It sounds like you are driving around a lot, or have an overly large or highly gas-inefficient automoile.  Both of those situations seems undesirable to me.  I have seen about a $20/month reduction in gas costs myself, and drive 6 miles to work in a moderately sized Subaru.
  • The idea that $20 or $60 in a month would be a windfall is kind of shocking to me.  Although it sounds like the rest of America had the same reaction.  How much money would have to arrive at your doorstep before you would consider spending any of it lavishly?  For me that sum would be about $1,000.  So at my rate of monthly gas savings, the gas prices would need to stay low for about 4 years before I would get excited.
  • It is also really sad to expect that people would run out and spend an extra $50 in an economy like this.  I remember the Bush Stimulus and getting an actual large check in the mail around 2007.  The economy was doing well at the time, but I wasn’t, and I spent the money paying down debt.  But I could see that move stimulating commerce on the larger scale.  These days however, it is not surprising that people are stuffing bills under the mattress.  Consumer debt is higher than ever, and wages are historically stagnant.  Not to mention our economy is incredibly inflated with bond purchases, and people are losing confidence in our Treasury Notes and the stock market.  There is every reason to be nervous right now.

Anyway this article brought a smile to my face, with the triple punch of consumers being sensible, analysts being silly, and banks being sad.  Happy snow shoveling for everyone in the Northeast!

Answer: how much do you think a 5-day trip to the ICU costs?

Well my friends.. I was pleased/shocked/entertained to find that I received the following responses to this quiz, in ascending order:

  • $1
  • $43,157.58
  • $50,000
  • $50,000
  • $65,000
  • $130,000
  • $130,001
  • “over $100,000″
  • $112,000
  • $340,000
  • $300-$400K

So who won???

I suppose I am relieved to say that, well below both the median and mean values offered by my most esteemed friends, my total billed costs were….

$48,355.93.

And with the fascinating guess of $47,157.58, my good friend Jimmy won this challenge!  Jimmy how did you do it??  Did you hack into my health insurance online account?

But to all 11 of you, thanks for playing!

In all seriousness though, I should conclude from this exercise that at least in this example, healthcare costs are not as bad as we imagine them to be.  Or possibly, unfortunately, my costs were relatively not as bad as those experienced by you or people you know who have been in similar situations.  I hope that is not the case because this cost is staggering enough as it is.  But it is interesting to see that 9 of 11 people guessed higher, with 7 of these 9 guesses significantly higher. 

Whether you believe me or not, I had guessed about $30K before I saw the bills so the reality surprised me.  Though I’m not too worried because I hit my (still pretty high) out of pocket maximum of $2,500 and am off the hook for any bills after that.  So $30K or $48K or $350K is of no material difference to me.

Here is the source data to satisfy all your many curiosities.  Maybe it is an over-share, but I do not see any other way for average people to acquire solid healthcare cost data. 

Hospital bills with costs explained

The blue line is where I hit my 2014 deductible of $1,500, and the red line is where I hit the out of pocket max of $2,500.  I also re-coded the column called “Visited” from mumbo-jumbo to something understandable, for your pleasure.

As I looked through these bills, many of them make sense.  Before you get too hot and heavy about, for example, an ICU room costing $8,000/night, consider that no fewer than 4 medical professionals had to care for me nonstop.  Not to mention the slew of food ladies, custodial people, and front desk clerks that seemed to be genuinely needed to keep things running.  It all adds up – as you can see if you are used to costing up services as I do at work.  If you were to bill out just the 4 full-time medical folks at a blended rate of $85/hr for the 4 days * 24 hrs/day, you would have the $32K bill.  Of course the nurses and PAs were looking after 6 beds not just 1, but when you take into consideration all the other costs, I can’t really argue.

Clearly some medical services price-gouge (such as $2,600 for a 5-minute ambulance ride, lovely and expert though my ambulance ladies were).  And some are just unnecessary (such as the $300 heart ultrasound, which the ICU admitted they only ordered because the ultrasound specialist was in on her day off, even though they estimated my risk of heart problems as low).  But I couldn’t tell you what else all this should cost on the whole.

Given what strikes us all as a really high overall cost ($48K), combined with the very large amount covered by insurance ($32K, considering United has received only $18K for me in premiums since I joined), combined with the artificially “low” feeling of the subsidized max of $2,500, I am left with this existential question of “what should healthcare really cost?”

The hospital people assured me that I probably would have died of hypoxia or organ shut-down or a variety of other side-effects related to pneumonia had I not gotten in there.  And I clearly do not have any other source of constant oxygen provided with a Bipap mask.  So if you assume they are correct, I suppose the cost of their services should be commensurate with the value of my life.  But that is way too high!  I am worth more than $48K.

Alternatively, if you really billed just the straight cost of the employees’ wages, materials, and equipment usage (and I’ll throw in upkeep and calibration), with a modest profit margin, I assume it would be way lower.  (Because as many of us know, many healthcare workers are not paid commensurate with their training and the criticality and severity of their working conditions.)  Maybe the price would be so low that people could actually afford to pay for it by themselves without the interventions of insurance.

So I assume that the final cost is a blend of true cost and a bit of “we saved your life” jazz, clearly subsdized by the Health Insurance Industry.  If the question is how much I think it is really worth to me, to have had access to life-saving technology that I needed (though without surgery or other procedures, to put it in perspective), I guess I would honestly answer with a number possibly higher than $2,500.  I don’t mind that the cost was capped there – lower would be better, but I do not really see how.

Does anybody get anything else out of this?  Is $2,500 too much to save your life?  Is a $48K bill too high even though insurance paid for $32K of it and rejected $14K of the cost?  Or is there a way to reduce all of these costs?  Would we be better off without health insurance?

Quiz: how much do you think an all expenses-included, 5-day trip to the ICU costs?

IMG_5871

If you’re tired of all your money and want to blow it away at a rate generally impossible, try getting too sick and rolling the dice!

But I am long over the pneumonia now and this is about how much things cost.  The person who guesses the total billed cost of this exotic vacation (closest but not to exceed) will receive something awesome from me!  Unless I don’t know you, but let’s face it: that is unlikely.  In the meantime I will give you some clues by way of lessons learned about winding up in the hospital:

  1. Don’t bother going to your regular doctor first.  When I woke up that morning, I knew I had to get to a doctor.  I did not think I needed to go to the hospital.  What they taught me at the hospital was that if you feel like you absolutely need to get to the doctor and it cannot wait, you probably need to go to the hospital instead.  And unfortunately for me, “care for a critically ill patient” is billed by my doctor’s office at the rate of $856/visit rather than the usual $250/visit.  If I had known all this I would not have bothered with that!
  2. Get to the right hospital the first time.  Only a hospital virgin like I would have the poor sense to allow myself to be sent to a little local hospital, only to find that I was in deeper shit than that and would need to go onto the larger regional hospital.  So instead of one ambulance rushing me to one hospital, two abulances rushed me to two hospitals.  More ambulances, more problems.  To the tune of $2700/ambulance!
  3. Avoid the ambulance if possible.  Most amulance companies are not covered as part of the United Healthcare HSA network.  However the urgent need for care and the typical trade-off that you will not be prioritized if you drive in make the ambulance seem imperative in some situations.  So, you know, it’s a trade-off.  But a dumb one.  What is insurance for if it does not cover all emergency services?!
  4. If you have to do all this, only do it until New Year’s Eve.  I learned that claims are processed based on the year in which the service was rendered, not the year in which the claim was processed.  Since my whole ordeal was 12/24 – 12/28, these costs were fortunately all billed to 2014.  I hit my out of pocket max for 2014, but that is probably better than having charges go against my 2015 deductible which I thought was the case.  So you need to wrap everything up and pull a Kill Bill on 12/31 if you do not want your next year’s deductible double-dipped.
  5. Obviously try not to let yourself get this sick!  A sick day or two and a normal visit to your doctor at the normal “before the shit hits the fan” rate of $250/visit is obviously worth avoiding all this insanity.  In my case, I made the mistake of thinking I was catching aother bug when really it was my same bug from November coming back for round two: thunderdome.

So now with some facts handy, what do you think was the total cost of this exotic vacation?  Don’t forget the following separately billable items:

  • the 4 days and nights of intensive care
  • the X-ray (false negative)
  • the CT scan (useful)
  • the heart ultrasound (unnecessary)
  • the IV fluids and drugs once the CT scan identified pneumonia
  • the many IV lines they had to place while my veins got irritated (about 6)
  • the blood gas analysis
  • the various other drugs: inhaled steroids; anti-nausea drug and anxiety drug to counteract the effects of the inhaled steroids, various horse-sized vitamin pills
  • the ER visit at the first hospital

Good luck!