Things to know about your health insurance drug plan

In order to get the maximum benefit from your #health-insurance drug plan there are a number of things of which you should be aware. The insurance company is looking to make money. They will always steer you toward the drug that is the least expensive option for them.  Generally, this is known as the  generic form of the medication. Checking with your doctor to see if he/she thinks the generic will have the same benefits as the brand name drug is wise.  I know for example, several doctors who do NOT recommend the generics for certain thyroid diseases. For maximum effectiveness,  they would choose Synthroid over the generic version..

Many drug plans will save you a substantial amount if you order the drugs in a larger quantity from a mail order service. When you are in need of a medication long term this can add up to a substantial savings. Typically when you leave the doctor’s office,  you are given one prescription. Generally, you  rush to your pharmacist because you want to start taking the drug immediately.  Ask your doctor for 2 prescriptions, one to take to the drug store and one to send off to the mail order prescription service.

You should also be aware that certain drugs which are covered by your prescription drug plan may only be covered in certain quantities. Again,  check with your insurance carrier because  the cost difference can be substantial. I recently heard from a friend that his doctor had given him a prescription for 10 pills to be taken over the course of a month. He was told by the drug store that his insurance did not cover this drug. Before going back to the doctor and asking for an alternative medicine he called the insurance company and they told him they did cover the drug but only for 6 tablets a month. The price difference was astounding. Under his plan the drug was $10.00 per pill. Not under the plan the drug was $31.30 per pill. His savings was $127.80 by just making the phone call and getting the 6 pills covered under his plan and the other 4 at the list price.

The disparity in price for the same medication based on whether you have insurance or not is not justifiable in any way other than the drug manufacturers and the insurance companies are in collusion to set a retail price that is not justified by any rational. We the public will continue to be ripped off by this behavior unless we demand that our congressional representatives do something about this abuse. The big drug companies and insurance companies spend millions on lobbyists to protect their interests. We the #Consumer need to make our voices heard.


The phone tree again

We have avoided being repetitive in our consumer blogs, but this story is too good to pass up. After our blog on the problem with phone trees we received several comments from our readers. They shared the various methods they have used to speak with a ‘live’ person. Apparently, it does not always pay to be polite.

When you are dealing with a voice activated phone tree apparently many of them are programmed to intercept four letter words and send you directly to a carbon life form. We tested this out on five voice activated phone trees and it worked on all five. We were amazed by this!

My favorite story comes from one of our followers who tells us she spent 10 frustrating minutes in an endless loop saying “Agent” and “Representative”. She made no progress during those long 10 minutes and out of sheer frustration said “F..k it”. Immediately afterward she heard, “you are being transferred to an agent …”.She tells us she has used this on 3 other phone trees and it has consistently worked for her.

We also tried, “Ah S..t” and that seems to work as well. This was just too funny not to pass on to our loyal followers.

How to protect your computer

Today we surrounded by computer savvy people. The unscrupulous kind, can gain access to our personal computers. Unwanted software can be a commonplace annoyance causing our computers to function slower than normal. That is the best case scenario! At worse, passwords can be altered or your #identity can be stolen. This serious problem is costing the American consumer an estimated 18 billion dollars a year. Once your #Identity is compromised it is a long, hard and expensive process to fix.

The best solution is prevention. You should have two pieces of software installed on your computer, one for antivirus and another for malware protection. If you install multiple pieces of protection software such as, Norton Anti-Virus and McAfee at the same time they will often fight with each other and cause you more problems while not providing you with the protection you need.

The best protection available today is a combination of two products. Microsoft Essentials is an excellent product and is a free download from Microsoft. It is important to allow it to continually update its virus patterns because there are literally 6000 new viruses released a month.

The second product is Malwarebyte Anti-Malware. There is a free one month trial and the full version of the product costs $24.95.

The two of these working together should keep your computer safe from most malicious attacks. As always it is important to use common sense and not go to websites that look dangerous. Additionally, there are two types of files you should NEVER open unless they come from trusted sources. They are files that end with either .exe or .zip. These files are often attached to emails and unless you are very sure of the sender of these email just hit the delete button.


The long wait at the doctor or the lab

Are you tired of waiting on long lines at the doctor’s office? Are you frustrated when you go to a lab for tests your doctor has ordered and you wait hours just to get into the room for the test. I have suffered these same indignities, which have led to tremendous frustration on my part. Over the years, I have developed some strategies that are helpful.

When making doctor’s appointments, many doctors are now charging you for a missed appointment but think nothing of keeping you waiting for hours in their office. Obviously their time is much more valuable than yours. When I am going to make an appointment, I first speak with the receptionist with whom I schedule an appointment. I ask for a day when the doctor does not have morning rounds at the hospital and does not have surgery.

This is important because either of these activities can make the doctor run much longer than he/she planned and thus keep me waiting for hours. Then I schedule the first morning appointment the doctor has on his schedule. I make sure I show up 15 minutes early to get any paperwork done. Often while you are filling out paperwork they will slip in another patient (as double booking appointments is a common practice). I want to ensure that I will really be the first patient the doctor sees.

A similar strategy works well for lab appointments. I schedule the first appointment of the day and I show up at least 15 minutes early. I find labs often schedule more than one person for the same time because of “no shows” and/or because they have multiple technicians. However, often there is only one room with the equipment needed for your test, therefore being the first on line can be essential to being taken first.

These strategies are not fool proof because a medical emergency or a bad weather conditions can always throw off scheduled appointments. However, I find that these tips help keep my blood pressure down. I also gain a feeling of control over my life and my time, when I do a little planning.

The endless phone tree

Most of us have had the unpleasant experience of being stuck on an endless phone tree. Phone trees are of two basic types, the voice response tree and the touchpad tree. The voice response tree asks you to respond to specific questions and has a limited vocabulary with which it expects you to respond. For example, if the question requires a yes or no response you can’t say “yeah” or “yup” or “OK”, you must say “Yes” or “No”.

On the key pad phone tree you must respond with the options they provide. The typical choices will include: Do you speak Spanish, Do you want to place an order, Do you want to repeat these options and Do you want to speak with billing. None of these options help, if you are trying to resolve an issue such as a product you ordered not being delivered .

After being stuck in this endless loop many of us just give up. But there is a better solution. If you are on a voice activated phone tree try these unannounced options: “Agent”, “Customer Service” or “Representative”. These will usually get you to a customer service representative with whom you can speak. On a keypad phone tree try “O”, “*O” or “#O” and these will usually get you to a customer service representative with whom you can speak.

Finally, if none of these work you can go to the business’ website which will usually have an option for “Contact Us”. There you can write an e-mail to the company to voice your complaint. This option will usually be successful but may require a longer wait time for a response.

Protecting your children as you age

Most of us will spend twenty years or more being responsible for our children and taking care of their needs. Eventually, they will be out on their own and have their own families to take care of. Our population is getting older. Our life expectancies are increasing. Therefore, the chances of us living to an age, where we will need help taking care of ourselves, is also increasing. The burden of this expense can be significant and could completely wipe out one’s retirement savings.

The question becomes how can I protect my savings and not become a financial burden to my children. The answer is a form of insurance called long term care insurance. The policies are only offered by a few companies and you should investigate to see which offers the plan that best fits your needs and pocketbook. The companies that offer policies that are worth investigating include: Genworth, Mass Mutual, Transamerica, Mutual of Omaha, John Hancock and a few others. AARP also offers a policy through Genworth.

Some of the things to watch for, which affect the cost of the policy and its benefits are: the waiting period between when you are qualified to receive the benefits and when the benefits actually kick in, the length of time the benefits cover, the number of symptoms you must exhibit to be eligible for benefits, which facilities or types of in home care are covered, can you receive benefits temporarily and then go off benefits until they are needed again and of course the cost. Additionally, some plans which insure both you and your spouse, allow the benefits to be shared between the two of you. Others however don’t. For example, if your plan allows for 5 years of benefits for each of you then some plans will allow one spouse to use 8years of benefit while the other uses only 2 years.

Most policies cease requiring premium payments once you are receiving benefits. Also, depending on where you live there are tax implications for the premiums. For example, New York State allows you to use part of your premium as a deduction when you file your New York state income tax. For specifics about possible tax savings you should contact a tax professional.

Recently, my 92 year old mother needed to move into an assisted living facility. Fortunately, she had long term care insurance from John Hancock which is paying approximately $73,000.00 a year for five years to cover the costs. Simple arithmetic tells me that if she were to use up the full five years of benefits she would have saved $365,000.00. This is a price tag, if she had not had insurance which would have come from her savings . Let’s not forget to mention the significant amount of money she would have lost on the interest to her savings.

The Power of Social Media

In the past the ability of consumers to complain and achieve and positive result was difficult if not impossible. Most businesses chose to ignore complaints, send them to low level functionaries or in the most extreme cases threaten the person complaining with legal action. This has changed significantly over the past several years.

Six years ago, I was flying from Albuquerque to New York and I missed my flight do solely to an error on my part. The agent at Delta was not only extremely helpful but went out of her way to get me a hotel room at a reduced rate at a hotel near the airport and to book me on a red eye so I would get back to New York only a little late. I was extremely grateful and wanted to send a recommendation to the CEO of Delta about this outstanding employee. When I got back to New York, I called Delta’s 800 number and I asked for the CEO’s name and the address of corporate headquarters. I was given the fifth degree about why I wanted this information and was ultimately told that I should send my letter to a much lower level official at Delta. I went on the internet and in a few minutes found the information I was looking for and I sent the letter to Delta’s CEO.

The world is changing and I think even the large corporations with deep pockets are realizing that a confrontation with a small company or individual is potentially a big problem for them. As an example, in June of 2010 a gentleman named Giorgio Galante took AT&T to task in his blog. He also sent two emails and made two calls to AT&T’s CEO, Randall Stephenson. He was threatened with legal action by AT&T management if he attempted to contact the CEO again. This story hit the social media and AT&T received tens of thousands of emails. Then it hit the print media and TV. AT&T formally apologized to Mr. Galante although not through its CEO.

Mr. Galante at the same time he had sent the email to Mr. Stephenson sent a similar email to the now late Steve Jobs at Apple about several iPhone issues. Mr. Jobs or someone on his staff on his behalf responded to Mr. Galante on his concerns and what Apple’s position was and why.

The result, AT&T lost a customer and received a ton of publicity about it acting like a bully. Apple kept a loyal customer.