Ask the grumpies: worth fighting insurance company?

L asks:

My employer switched health insurance companies/networks recently and a service that used to cost $75 with the old network’s discounts now costs $175 with the new network, apparently there is no discounted price. It’s the exact same service and a month apart, so it’s not like prices went up in the meantime. I told the benefits department at my company this and they gave me a bunch of bullcrap about how the new network is supposed to save us money and unfortunately my case is one where it costs more than twice as much. There’s a distribution list and I asked and there are other people seeing similar increases in service costs.

While I can absorb this, it is rather annoying and I now have the high deductible plan, so it is 100% my cost. I did finally get the bill in the mail from the provider and sure enough, it is $175 like the insurance company’s website said it would be. Do you think that I can call the provider and try to negotiate my own discount since there was such a large discrepancy between back to back visits? I really wish my employer would do something like this since we as individuals have no pull with the insurance company, but they have enough employees that they probably would…



Well, the only time we’ve ever had luck negotiating with an insurance company is when we’ve been in the right. And even then it has sometimes taken multiple phone calls. Still, it’s always worth a shot, if you think your time is worth it– you can report back to us.

What do our readers think? Have you ever had any success negotiating with an insurance company? Any thoughts for L?

Man’s search for meaning Part 2: Plant your garden

The Penny-Arcade guys are awesome.  They started out as a couple of dudes with a web-comic.  They’ve taken that web-comic and their fame and channeled it for something much bigger.  Yes, they run conventions, but more impressively, they started an awesome charity called Childs Play.

This charity, aimed at showing that video games are not evil incarnate, and that gamers can do good, connects children’s hospitals with games, books, toys, and other resources to help sick children keep their minds off their illnesses.  Donations started small– one hospital and the PA guys’ garages as storage facilities, and they made deliveries themselves.  Now they’ve ratcheted up into a large non-profit that connects with and ships directly to hospitals.

You can donate here.

And now for some negative griping.

Compare the PA guys to the onanistic navel-gazing you see from other movements.  The minimalists.  The travel the world folks.  The motivationalists.  [Note:  we are not saying that all minimalists, world-travelers, self-helpers etc. are onanistic con-artists, but you know they exist.]

The Penny Arcade dudes are real.  They have authenticity.

So much of that motivational crap seems so hollow and insincere, aimed just at making money off other people.

For the most part, they’re not actually doing anything.

The P-A guys, OTOH, are teh awesome.

And that, perhaps, is why I don’t expect them to get mid-life crises.  When you’re busy doing things that are real, you don’t have time to feel like life is meaningless.

also:  I like the word onanistic

Our next blog

One of these days, when we decide to leave academia or decide it’s time to sell our souls for more income…

We’re going to create a new blog.  We’re going to call the guy who owns the blog, Steve.  That way we won’t have to put up with patriarchal BS.  (Shhh “Steve” doesn’t really exist.  He’s just a front man.)

Steve will run a personal finance blog.  He will recycle our old and extremely awesome money posts.  We’ll disappear them from this blog so if anybody notices that there might be plagiarism, only google cache will be able to help.  We may even say that we sold the posts to Steve, so he’s not actually stealing our work.  In theory the controversy would drive up hits, and we could even write a guest post for Steve explaining that we love his blog and sold him a few posts.  Something like that.

We’re thinking of some version of for the blog host.  We’ve got some back-up plans in case that turns out to be too expensive.

He’s going to start with the plan of making moneys.  He’s going to have advertising.  He’ll do the Yakezie challenge.  He’ll accept sponsored guest posts.  He’ll do all the things that Nicole and Maggie don’t have time to or don’t want to sell their souls to do.  Heck, depending on how much time we have, he might even write paid posts for other blogs!  We’ll see.

Readers will be able to cheer him on as he works to make money so he can quit his soul-sucking dayjob.  We haven’t decided what his current job is, but we know he doesn’t like it.

We’re not sure if he’s single or married or if he has kids yet.  Probably if he has kids, there’s only one.  Hm… maybe he could be a divorced single dad with custody, but the kid has insurance through the ex-wife.  I dunno.  Or maybe he’ll just be a single guy.  So many decisions!

It’ll be awesome.  One of these days when one of us quits her dayjob.

Until then…

Stock investing: Focus on what you can control

With the market recovering, assorted PF bloggers are getting into the details of stock investing.  They all have some system that they think is going to beat the market.  Most of these systems take a lot of time, but they say the time expense is worth it if they can make higher returns than the market.

On average, once fees and transaction costs are considered, people who try to actively manage their portfolios make LESS than people who just stick money in diversified target-date funds and sit.

That means that the majority of people who sink time in with whatever system they’re following are making less money in the market than the people who just set and forget.  On top of that, they’re making less money than they would be if they were spending that time doing something that actually earns money.  (Cynically, some of these folks are getting advertising $ from their blogs for misleading people into becoming active investors.)

What can you control:

1.  The amount of money you put in
2.  The diversification mix of your portfolio
3.  The fees you pay

What can’t you control:

1.  Market returns
2.  The random walk down WallStreet

And what you might have difficulty controlling:

1.  Man’s (and to a much lesser extent, according to Greg O’Dean, Woman’s) tendency to trade too much and at exactly the wrong times

If you want to invest like Buffett, then buy some Berkshire Hathaway funds.

Even better, pick a target date and buy a Vanguard Target-date fund.  (If you’re not sure about when you’re going to retire, pick a late date.)

link love

Guess who was grading this week?

Starcrossedcayla read all the parenting books.  Here’s what she found out.

Hyperbole and a half updated.  She’s right.

sweet juniper with anti-suffrage propaganda

tor blogs explain how boob plate armor would kill you

laura vanderkam notes that false dichotomies aren’t helpful

We were in this week’s carnival of personal finance.

Googled Questions Answered

Q:  who is mrmoneymustache

A:  This guy.

Q:  who is laura vandekams husband

A:  Perhaps you should ask her!  Not Mr. Money Moustache, though.

Q:  do you love me still proper grammar

A:  Proper grammar will always love you.  However, sometimes it is a tough love.

Q:  should i get equifax premier plan

A:  Absolutely not!

Q:  best time to have a baby in college?

A:  No

Q:  how do i cut a three year old nap without getting him grumpy

A:  If he’s getting grumpy, then he may not yet be ready to nap less.  Is there a reason you need to cut the nap?  If it’s a preschool thing, maybe you could work with them.  Of course, if you mean that the nap is 3 years long, then that’s something we hope you’re talking with doctors about.  More of a coma than a nap…

Q:  is feminism still important in 2013

A:  YES.

Q:  how do people from the midwest talk

A:  The way people are SUPPOSED to talk.  Well, except people from Wis CON sin… or the Yupers.  They talk funny.

Q:  how do i cover ugly looking vertical shades curtains

A:  #1 thinks curtains are good enough.  #2 suggests you rip the vertical blinds out and destroy them.

Q:  things to make kids

A:  Um, do you really need a tutorial for this?  If so, we recommend asking a librarian or your doctor or finding a high school health text book.  Now, if you know the standard way and are having difficulty, then you should definitely talk to your doctor.  We also recommend Taking Charge of Your Fertility for more general information.

Thoughts on Harvard

The other month on Wandering Scientist’s blog, an anonymous poster told me that I would regret it when the dean at Harvard calls to tell me that my child has flamed out, if ze gets in.  (Why did said anon do that?  I think because six year old DC1 does workbooks on weekends, and therefore must not be enjoying childhood?)

I responded that Harvard is a cakewalk for kids who get in and my kids most likely wouldn’t have any trouble there.  And I wouldn’t encourage them to apply there because I’d hope they would go someplace where they’d get a better education.

Seriously, Harvard has really high grade inflation (yes, there “have been studies”).  They have large lectures taught by graduate students with little practice, both their own and graduate students from other schools who they hire for peanuts.  (What they offer to adjuncts in my field is a joke.)  Many flagship state schools give better undergraduate educations, and, depending on your parents’ income and the state you’re from, at a considerably lower price.

Harvard is great for graduate school.  But undergrad, it’s an easy A.  Very difficult to flunk out or even to get more than a few Bs.  You have to work at not getting As.  I suspect the grade inflation is to keep parents happy given that so many classes are large lectures taught by people who are not yet famous professors.  (They argue it isn’t really inflation, just the student body quality, but outside metrics disagree.)  [Exception:  One of the colleges doesn’t have the same grade inflation that the others do– it curves to a B rather than to an A- or A.  I always feel sorry for those students.  They can actually show up to class and do the work and still get the occasional C!]

Now students at Harvard do run themselves ragged, but not with schoolwork.  Harvard tends to accept students who did a million extracurriculars as high school students and who try to do the same as college students.  Many of them fail at that and do mediocre jobs at several things rather than focusing on doing well at a small number.

That’s not to say that Harvard isn’t a good school or there aren’t reasons to go to Harvard.  Certainly the student body is elite and a kid can make great connections that will last a lifetime.  There’s also the imprimatur on the resume.  Exceptionally good students can get research assistant work.  But all in all, I would put it up there with Michigan or Berkeley (both great State schools with the same problems at the undergrad level, though perhaps not so much killing with extracurriculars) in terms of the educational experience.

Personally, I prefer the SLAC model, and I know that ‘tech schools are far more challenging.  If my kids want to go into a field that isn’t offered at a high quality SLAC, we’d be looking for schools with strong supportive programs in their area of interest.  I can’t really see a good reason for recommending Harvard to my children.  As a parent, I have concerns about the big ‘tech schools too, but if they really want to go, we’d have to talk about it.  DC1 would definitely have to be able to emotionally manage that perfectionist streak that shows up from time to time.

Now, for a kid whose parents make under 75K [update:  see comments for actual numbers], I think is the current number, Harvard is free.  That would push it above the state flagship.  There’s also some evidence suggesting that having an ivy on a resume helps out children with low SES although it has no effect on those from high SES backgrounds.  (Our kids are high SES, even if their parents were not.)

As for whether or not my kids could get into Harvard, I know as well as anybody that at those levels it’s a crap shoot.*  One of our friends from high school had straight As, perfect SATs and was the state math champion.  He didn’t get into Harvard.  After all, there are 50 state math champions.  So he went to Stanford.  (And did very well.)

Parents with gifted kids generally aren’t about competition.  We’re more concerned about helping our kids fulfill their potential, something that can be a precarious business when the K-12 system isn’t set up to work with you.  (Also, we’re too exhausted!)  And no, a Harvard education isn’t a holy grail for us.  We know better.

*Legacies, apparently, have a much higher chance of getting into Harvard.  So there’s that.

Chicken with waffles: a theory of meat and bread

So, the other night my partner and I were talking right before sleep.  For some reason he was telling me about chicken with waffles.  Despite living in the South for several years, he has only recently tried them, and waxed quite poetically about them.

Something about the warm crispness of the waffle, the meatiness of the chicken, and the delightful crunch of the fried part, tied together perfectly with only the lightest of syrups, syrup that would be totally out of place on the fried chicken by itself but seems integral to the chicken-with-waffles experience.  (Yes, you eat the chicken and waffle at the same time, he says, the chicken is on top of the waffle, syrup on top of that.)

This lead us to discuss what seems to be a hierarchy of breaded products and meats.

Beef we eat in Roast Beef sandwiches, or in a pot pie.  It stands up well to rye and hearty wheats.

However, pork needs a lighter touch, but still more dense than waffles.  Think bacon and sausage with pancakes and syrup.  Nom.

Waffles with chicken we have already discussed, and their part in the breaded meat hierarchy should have been an obvious missing link.  Someone would have had to invent it if it hadn’t already been invented.

Then, of course, we have the most delicate meats of all– seafood.  Obviously we have those in crepes.  (Assuming we’re sticking to wheat products.)

Are you a fan of meat and bread combinations?  What are your favorite?

Recessions and health

Recessions can be good for your health.  Recessions can be bad for your health.  Apparently it depends on who you are.

Recessions seem to decrease the death rate among younger folks.  This has been attributed mainly to a decrease in automobile fatalities (see Christopher Ruhm’s work).  The thought is that during a recession there are fewer cars on the road, so folks are less likely to get into an automobile accident.

Oddly, recessions also seem to decrease the death rate among older folks.  Recent work on this finding (by Doug Miller and company) suggests that in a recession the quality of people working home health care jobs decreases the mortality of older peeps.

However, recessions aren’t all good.  A new paper by Courtney Coile, Phil Levine, and Robin McKnight finds a delayed penalty to hitting a recession (and losing your job) in your late 50s.  That’s the age when it’s hard to get a new job (because of things like age discrimination), but you were planning on several more years of highly paid (compared to your earlier years) work before hitting retirement, or at least before hitting the early social security claiming age of 62.  It is a difficult time to have to start spending down instead of bulking up.

Worse than that is the loss of health insurance in the years before Medicare eligibility.  The authors suggest that this lack of health insurance is driving the negative results that they find.

How negative?  They find that a worker who loses hir job at 58 in a recession lives 3 fewer years than a comparable worker who does not lose hir job.

What can you do, besides marrying someone who can cover you with hir health insurance?  Well… probably not much.  You can save a lot while you’re young.  You can create side incomes.  You can build professional networks.  And you can support pushes for affordable universal health care coverage in your state.

Are you protecting yourself from job-loss in your 50s or beyond?  If so, how?

link love

Modest money asks what procrastination really costs.

We’re thinking of teaching DC1 programming this summer, but how?

Last day to purchase books for donations for this school.  From guyslitwire.

College misery is also irritated by the search for meaning, only this time enforced at work.

Donna Freedman celebrates another anniversary.  She really is famous on the internet!

Mutant Super Model with advice about divorce and separation.  Her google question answers are better than ours.

Delagar with a 19th century history lesson.

Yawning animals from the fw.

The punchline on this docrat comic... if only it worked that way!

Historiann asks what your best title ever is.  Rear admiral?

James Chartrand.  We’re going to do this too one of these days.  (We’ll explain in a future post.)

academicats are awesome.

We were in this week’s carnival of personal finance.

I found something awesome in a comment on some far-flung internet corner:  “When I encounter passive voice in essays, after I point out/correct the first instance, I add “by zombies” to the rest–always a hoot.”  I will write BY ZOMBIES.   Yes I will.