M. Giant's
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Wednesday, December 03, 2008  

Putting the Fits in Benefits

Before Trash and I found jobs in our chosen vocations, we had jobs outside our chosen vocations. They paid the bills, plus they helped us gain knowledge that we have continued to use in our regular lives. For instance, I spent nearly a decade toiling in the retirement plan services industry, so I'm in charge of our 401(k)s. You can probably imagine how well that's been going lately. But in my defense, I'm a tad rusty.

Trash, on the other hand, used to work for a large health insurance company, so now she manages our benefits at around this time every year. She compares the plans offered by my employer to the plans offered by her employer, then decides which one we're going with, or whether we each go with our own. It's all completely over my head. I start getting these e-mails and interoffice packages during the fourth quarter, and I just dump them in her lap and say, "Here." And she does her thing, and somehow we all get to keep going to the doctor and getting our prescriptions.

I'm glad to say that this year, her job turned out to be almost as tricky as mine. Her employer has a few standard health plan options. My employer has ditched all traditional health plans in favor of several brand-new options that nobody has even been offered and that nobody understands. Trash is used to comparing apples with oranges for this kind of thing. This time she was being asked to compare apples with time-traveling robot werewolves.

Making things trickier was the fact that her benefits enrollment deadline for next year passed a few weeks ago. My benefits enrollment period didn't start until the week after hers was over, and details about my plan options were pretty hard to come by in advance. But after a weekend of agonizing, she decided to let her deadline pass so we could sign up for one of my futuristic space-benefit plans.

Then we found out something interesting today. I've got one of those health reimbursement accounts where a little money comes out of each paycheck pre-tax. For this year, we've been putting in enough for prescriptions and copays and a little extra just in case of an emergency. That "little extra" is turning out to be a problem. When I signed up to make the contributions last year, I knew that anything in that account that I didn't use over the course of the year would be forfeit Which was fine; even if ten or twenty dollars were left behind, I'd still be ahead in tax savings. What I didn't know -- until I got an e-mail today that Trash had to interpret for me -- is that if there's even a dollar left over in that account at the end of this year, I lose a quarter of my medical benefits for next year.

Those time-traveling robot werewolves just went rogue on us.

Trash and I were already in a mode where we've been casting about looking for anything to get that account balance down to zero by the end of the year. For one thing, kids don't seem to need to go to the doctor as much during their fourth year (or their parents don't seem to need to take them there as much). But, like, I got my glasses fixed, and we've been refilling every prescription we can find around the house as fast as we can, including some we haven't used for years (hello again, leeches). And after doing everything we can come up with, we're so close.

About a dollar close.

So I think what I'm going to have to do is this: stop by a Target clinic and complain of a general malaise, just so I can get charged a twenty-dollar copay. That's not fraud, is it? I actually am feeling a malaise, for real. I think it's been brought on by worrying about our health care benefits. That'll make anyone feel malaise-y.

Besides, I don't think I have a choice. Otherwise how are we going to cover the cost of the ulcer Trash is going to get from all this?

posted by M. Giant 7:33 PM 8 comments


Are you on one of those plans that allows you to spend on ANYTHING medically-related? Or does it have to be prescribed? Because I've used mine up with a giant bottle of Advil in the past (or maybe TUMS, for Trash and her ulcer).

By Blogger Julia C, at December 3, 2008 at 8:28 PM  

Flu shot!

(The verification word is motrins, I kid you not.)

By Blogger Emma Burns, at December 3, 2008 at 9:00 PM  

I am in that same situation, except we've got a lot more money left. That email almost made me cry.

Of course, our 2 year old got diagnosed with pneumonia today, so it looks like we might be okay.

- G. Grod

By Anonymous Anonymous, at December 3, 2008 at 10:12 PM  

Do your plans ever include massage therapy? Ours do. That's what I'd be spending that leftover $ on.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at December 3, 2008 at 11:08 PM  

I always use my extra flex-plan money to buy OTC cold medicine, which I will inevitably need sooner or later.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at December 4, 2008 at 4:05 AM  

You are switching from an HRA to an HSA, aren't you? You are screwed. Seriously, unless they let you buy OTC meds, which many don't, someone is going to have to visit the doctor by the end of the year.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at December 4, 2008 at 6:39 AM  

As someone else said, mine let me pay for all sorts of nonprescription meds (basically anything - tylenol, allergy meds, etc). It also works for chiropractic & acupuncture appointments. Good luck!

By Blogger yasmara, at December 4, 2008 at 6:51 AM  

All flexible spending (health reimbursement) accounts have the same rules. You can spend the money on anything health-related (OTC drugs, supplies like bandaids, etc.). Drugstore.com is a good place to go spend the leftover cash in your account -- they have an "FSA Store" that only lists eligible items.

I usually close out my FSA year with a visit to the dentist for a cleaning and x-rays.

By Blogger Yaniv, at December 5, 2008 at 7:16 AM  

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