Friday, January 29, 2010

Why So Many People Are Without Health Insurance

I learned more than I ever wanted to know about health insurance last year. This had a lot less to do with the great national debate than it did with my own family situation. In 2009, due to a perfect storm of empty nests, college graduations and job transitions, I suddenly had to find out how it all works.

Before then I had worked for the same company for thirty years. I joined the company, had medical insurance, and didn’t think about it too much except for the annual grumping. Yeah, I complained when we had to start contributing to the coverage, and I complained when we had to figure out which plan to choose, and I complained each year when the cost went up.

I truly didn’t know how good I had it.

In 2009, it became very clear to me why so many people are without medical insurance. Here are my top four reasons:

1. Medical insurance is way too expensive – When I left my job I was offered a transitional plan to continue my current coverage at the same cost (to me) for twelve months. (If you find yourself in a similar situation jump on this deal, it’s the best you will get.) I really thought $300 a month to cover two kids and myself was expensive. It is. But the total cost of the plan (via a straight COBRA option) was closer to $1000 a month. Sure, there are public plans out there if you can qualify (i.e. you have no pre-existing conditions), but they either provide little coverage, or they cost at least twice what I was looking at for the COBRA option. Ouch!

I was very lucky to have access to that transitional plan.

2. Recent graduates are particularly vulnerable to finding themselves uncovered - Fulltime students can be covered until age 23 as a dependent. With my oldest son graduating from college in 2009, I could cover him through the end of the year on my plan, and then he was on his own. In today’s job market, many college graduates will find themselves without access to a medical plan. Those who don’t head off to college are even less likely to have access to a company-sponsored plan. Sure, he’s young, and he’s healthy. But – he drives a car, and he plays sports, and occasionally he crosses the street. Lack of coverage is not worth the risk.

We are very lucky. He landed his own corporate job with his own corporate sponsored medical benefits.

3. Early retirees and older employees who lose their jobs are particularly vulnerable to being priced out - Access to a plan is the first big hurdle, and being able to retire from a big corporation, I do have access to medical benefits – but without the big employee subsidy. As an early retiree, I have a medical account where my company put money aside for me to cover the cost of insurance prior to being able to qualify for Medicare. To cover just myself under the retiree rates (more than double what it cost me to cover myself and two dependents as an employee), this account doesn’t go far. It will last me no more than four years. But (and this is a big but) if I use up every penny in this account I will no longer be eligible to participate in that corporate plan.

Those who have to go outside for coverage, as so many who lost their jobs do, will find outrageously high price tickets (due to the age pool) if (and that’s a big if) they can qualify at all! Short of keeping your job and your medical coverage for as long as possible, the only solution for this group today is to not get sick.

I am very lucky. I could be covered under my spouse’s plan, at a considerably lower cost than my retiree plan.

4. It’s way too complicated – The rules are not designed to help you, or to keep you healthy. I have a stack of medical insurance notifications that I have received in the mail over the past year about four inches high. Some days I received two packages – often contradictory. I logged dozens of hours with my ex-corporation’s benefits department over the past year. I called to select the transition benefits. I called to find out how long my son was covered and then again to take him off my plan. I called when I was trying to decide whether to continue coverage for my second son on my plan or to cover him under his university plan. It turns out his college has a plan at a great price due to the younger/healthier insurance pool. (If you have college-aged children who need coverage this is definitely something to check out!) I called to find out if I can come back to my retiree plan in a later year if I opt out this year. The answer was yes – as long as I can show I had other coverage during that time, and as long as I still have at least $1 in the medical account I mentioned above. Each time I called I learned something new. And each time I called I learn more about ‘qualifying status changes’, and things to watch out for. It’s very murky territory.

What is clear is that there is nothing easy or straightforward about this topic.

Did you notice how many times I used the word ‘lucky’ in this article? I am comfortable with the coverage my family has for the time being. I wish I could say this is due to great planning or hard work or intelligence on my part. It’s not. It really is all about the circumstances.

Share your health insurance stories, and any ideas to navigate this …um… mess… here.

Reminder - today is the last day to enter the WFWF Bad Boss Contest. A big thanks to everyone who entered so far. As I suspected, there are some pretty bad bosses out there! Finalists will be notified by e-mail on Sunday. Check back Monday (yes, I said Monday) to see the first of the finalist stories. There will be guest posts all week next week, and next Friday you'll be able to vote for your favorite!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Galleon Watch – 01/28/10 Update

Perhaps it’s timely, as we get ready to jump into “Bad Boss Week” next week, that at least one of the defendants in the Galleon case is admitting to his wrongdoing. The New York Times DealBook reported yesterday that Mark Kurland, senior executive at New Castle Funds, has pleaded guilty. Despite his plea, and admission that he “knew what he was doing was wrong,” he is not cooperating with the prosecution.

And the plot thickens…

Of particular interest to this audience is the fact that Kurland has direct knowledge of at least one call between Bob Moffat and Danielle Chiesi, where the AMD restructuring was discussed.

If you need to catch up on the story, you can find prior installments of the Galleon Watch here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Bad Boss Stories – A Contest

It’s winter and it’s cold outside. Neither the Olympics or March Madness have started yet, and I am really bored with football. So let’s dish about bad bosses, shall we?

I propose we designate the week of February 1st “Bad Boss Week”, and in honor of this occasion I am hosting the first “When Fridays Were Fridays” bad boss story contest.

Here’s how it works:

Submit your best (or should I say worst?) bad boss story in 200-700 words (that’s a guideline, not a rule). Corporate boss stories may have a slight edge, but any boss stories will be accepted.

Enter by sending an e-mail to , with the subject line “Bad boss stories”. Entries must be received by Friday January 29th at midnight eastern time (but I won’t be watching the clock).

This is a non-fiction contest (true stories only) but – please don’t use any real names, and feel free to change a few details if necessary about the ‘bad boss’ (to protect the guilty).

Finalists will be chosen by the judge (me). Each finalist story will be run as a guest post on this blog during the week of February 1st. In your submission please include a short bio (if you’d like) and a link to your own blog, website, wherever (if you’d like). If you prefer to remain anonymous as the writer (to protect the innocent) please let me know.

The winner will be chosen by you (the readers of this blog), via your votes between February 5th and February 8th. (Check back on Friday February 5th for instructions on how to vote). The winner (based on your votes) will receive a $25 Amazon gift certificate.

Ready? You have one week to raise those awful bosses from the depths of your memory and write a short blog post about them. I can’t wait to hear your stories!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Galleon Update – Yet Another Extension

You may recall that today was the deadline for federal prosecutors to bring indictments against Mark Kurland, Bob Moffat and Rajiv Goel – the three lingering dispositions from the original complaints.

And the answer is…

An extension has been requested for another month. According to the NY Times Dealbook, it appears that deals are likely for all three.

Earlier this week, there were reports about the identity of the individual referred to as ‘Tipper X’ in the SEC complaints. NY Times reports that the secret witness is Thomas Hardin, an investment analyst.

Check out prior installments of the Galleon Watch, and don’t forget to check out this week’s regular column!

Three Decades of Workplace Fashion

While everyone else is still reminiscing about the good and the bad of the past decade, I thought it would be fun to talk about three (yes, three) decades of fashion in Corporate America.

I’ll go first, starting with the 80’s.

I know what you’re thinking; the 80’s were so boring. Well, yeah, they were. I remember getting memos about what (and wasn’t) appropriate to wear to work that suggested the only appropriate attire for men was white shirts and ties, and women needed to wear skirts. I tried to find a photo of what would become my work ‘uniform’ for the majority of this decade, but alas, I seem to have shredded any evidence that I ever dressed like this, so you will have to bear with me as I describe it to you.

I wore what every aspiring female manager wore – a suit. A boxy-cut, shoulder-padded, totally unflattering, matching skirt suit. Never pants – only skirts, with nude stockings and pumps. I wore these suits with a button down shirt, usually white or pinstripe. Sound awful? The crowning accessory for this glorious outfit was the tie. I had quite a collection of those colorful (so I could express my creativity) silk items that I would tie into a beautiful bow at the neck. Sadly, I wore this every day.

I kept those bow ties for many years in the cedar closet. At first I thought they may come back in style (thank goodness they didn’t), then I thought they might be useful for a craft project (never had time for that). Eventually they made their way to the Salvation Army (so someone else could make a pillow out of them).

When my company started allowing ‘casual Fridays’ later in that decade, I had a big problem. I owned absolutely nothing appropriate for a non-suit workday. I didn’t own a skirt without a suit jacket and I wouldn’t be caught dead in pants at work.

But I got over that very quickly in the 90’s.

I ditched the suits and vowed never to wear stockings and pumps to work again. My ‘uniform’ for the 90’s was uber-casual – khakis and a top in the summer, corduroys and sweaters in the winter. I even wore sandals (with no socks) to work. This was partly because my unit had moved into an area that was previously occupied by a manufacturing division, and there were no carpets on the floor (leather soled shoes were dangerous here), partly because I was a working Mom and had no time to think about what to wear, and partly because no one cared. The memo to managers about dress in that era read something like, “Please remind your employees that cut off shorts and low cut tops are not appropriate.”

And now we move to the 2000’s (have we decided the appropriate term to summarize that era?).

In this decade we were bombarded by fashion advice. Stacey and Clinton from TLC’s What Not to Wear taught us that we can think of suits as separates. The good news was that we learned we could wear black with brown because they are both neutrals. The bad news was that we had to actually think about what to wear.

I reintroduced the suit to my closet again for this era. But this time it was pant suits, with jackets cut shorter and more fitted. I wore wool pants with twinsets, and leather and suede jackets. This was a decade of variety, but I still stayed away from stockings and skirts.

Your turn. What was your least favorite, or most favorite workplace attire in the last three decades? C’mon, I know I’m not the only one who wore those awful bowties…

Friday, January 8, 2010

Women Need to Be More Like… Men?

One of the most interesting stories I came across in 2009 was of a man – a successful writer/freelancer/entrepreneur – who was in fact a woman.

In her – or is it his – revelation in December on Copyblogger James Chartrand tells a story of how she created a male identity for herself to make more money. She was struggling for work as a female and making next to nothing. Her strategy worked.

Wow. Go James!

But not every woman has the luxury of being able to change her identity. Most of us who work in Corporate America (for example) need to go to the office every now and then, meet with clients, be heard on conference calls.

Another blogger suggests that businesswomen who have been successful at breaking through the glass ceiling look like men. Brace yourself for his blog post.

Ahem… Really? Okay, I admit that many businesswomen have short hair (myself included), but isn’t it possible that women do that so that they can free up twenty minutes in their morning routines?

This week I ran across another column on this theme. Dr. Carol Kinsey Goman shares the results of a study on nonverbal communication that suggest body language and silent signals could be holding women back. Her study indicates that women who take a leadership role in an intellectual discussion, tend to elicit more negative nonverbal responses than their male peers. And when one person in the room sends a negative nonverbal signal, others in the room tend to follow. And it’s not just the other men in the room who follow.

Yes, this is real. I know because I have seen it in action. Heck, I have not only seen it, I have participated in it. Are we all partly responsible?

James Chartrand wrote in her column:

… if just a name and perception of gender creates such different levels of respect and income for a person, it says a lot more about the world than it does about me.

There is a lot of truth in that.

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Galleon Watch – Another guilty plea linked to new charges

As I noted in earlier posts on the Galleon insider trading scandal, there was speculation that some of the defendants who have not yet been indicted were trying to cut deals with the prosecution. We now have signs that this is true in at least one case:

On December 31st, the New York Times reported that Anil Kumar (former McKinsey director) agreed to waive indictment and is expected to plead guilty.

This week, the New York Times is reporting that additional charges will be brought against Raj Rajaratnam, Galleon founder. These new charges are specifically related to AMD (Advanced Micro Devices), the link between Kumar and Rajaratnam.

It looks like the Feds are dealing with the little guys to beef up the sentence against the big fish. I am watching closely as the clock runs down to Bob Moffat’s January 15th indictment date. Could there be a deal there too? Stay tuned…

Friday, January 1, 2010

Taking Stock

It’s a new year – time for taking stock of our lives and making positive change.

So let’s start by taking a look at how you feel about your job:

How satisfied are you with your job?

If you don’t love your job or feel satisfied most days, what positive change are you going to make this year?

If you do love your job or feel satisfied most days, what suggestions do you have for those who don’t?