Category Archives: medical

The Plague of 2012 Hit Our Home- Oy!

Recently, we experienced an illness in our home that left us quite literally: gasping for air – for weeks!  It is probably one of the longest illnesses in our home and appears to be lingering into week #3 which starts today.  I honestly do not remember the last time I could not get out of bed for days.  It is uncharacteristic and honestly, with all that is going around it sure caught us off-guard.  We thought we caught something from our trip and it is likely we did but then once we returned to dry, windy Colorado, it got even worse.

For fourteen years I have received the flu vaccine and until last week, I never got the flu.  Well, there’s a first for everything.  Oddly, my daughter also got the flu and I could not even move- I felt like doing nothing!  In any case, after about 9 days of this, and my flu symptoms were gone, I still could not stand up straight without getting winded or throwing up from coughing so hard.  It was horrible.  My low-grade fevers returned and I was immobilized yet again.  Of course, with the CDC warnings and the latest trend of all doctors running scared of prescribing antibiotics for anything, I was having a tough time with my doctor’s visits.  So, here is the timeline of what happened:

Tuesday February 21 nighttime- it hits – first the coughing started and on…

Wednesday February 22- our plane ride home, I had a fever and so did my daughter.  We were all running on empty by the time we arrived home.  It was a long plane ride and lord knows how many people we infected on that ride.  I thought, hey it’s probably just my body needing rest, I should be good to go in two days which is normal for us- two days and usually we are fine with anything – viral or not.  My husband was also feeling ill by the time we landed and feverish too.  But he still went to work the next day and my younger daughter was fine so we made sure to separate her from the sick people- ie. me and older daughter.

Friday, February 24- older daughter and I were both diagnosed with the flu.  Because it was almost day 3, TamiFlu is less effective but my doc prescribed it anyway.  This probably was a bad idea in retrospect because I was already on day three and Tami Flu has tons of side effects- the worst of which is nausea and vomiting so while I felt better by Sunday, February 26, on Monday February 27, I stopped taking it due to a horrendous vomiting episode in which I basically lost all the food I took-in for the day.

Also, on Sunday February 26-Monday February 27, our little one who had managed to escape the illness ended up getting an infection called pink eye.  This was our first pink eye in our family.  She probably got it from gymnastics class or her bday party (held at a gym).  In any case, another day of productivity lost.  Anyway, she needed drops and after 24 hours of the first dose, would be safe to go to school.

On Monday, I was well enough to work from home while nursing the sick younger kid but then hubby was fine.  My older daughter was recovered too although I regressed and slowly and surely by.. Wednesday, February 29, (yes leap day – an extra day of sickness), I was laying on my office floor by mid-afternoon praying for death.  It felt horrible and to top things off, the doctor I saw would prescribe nothing but rest and some cough suppressant with codeine.  Well, codeine is not good for me- it stays in my system for a long time and I was continuously drowsy.  I took the cough suppressant stuff but was still up nights hallucinating from the codeine, vomiting, or praying I would just get better.  In any case, I managed to get myself up the next day and take myself to a practice near my home and they took chest x-rays.  My cough sounded horrible and I looked like a walking zombie.  They ruled out pneumonia but the doc was still concerned that my flu had morphed into a secondary bacterial infection and prescribed azithromycin and thank God!  By Friday, March 2,  I was able to work from home again, and had the strength to make food… just 24 hours after the first dose and by Sunday, March 4,  I was feeling well enough to walk to the park with my kiddos.  Granted, I was not ready to run yet.

Poor hubby though, right around the time I started feeling better, he was getting worse and today we start week #3 of all of us being sick and it is back for him with a vengeance.  He has never had anything this long and he finally went to see the doc’s today but alas, they recommended rest and an inhaler.  Yeah, here’s a little secret for you all: Inhalers are useless for me and I can hardly use one- how can you breathe in at the same time you are pumping something in your mouth- seems unnatural.  In any case, I always laugh when the docs now recommend a worthless inhaler in lieu of the unpopular antibiotics- yeah, that is not the CDC “do not prescribe” list… YET!  But soon… soon it will be.

As of today my older one now has pink eye too and hubby is taking a sick day after years of never taking one unless it was for the care of the sick kiddos.  Man!

Update 1 – it is now well into week #4 after our return home, THURSDAY, MARCH 15, 2012 and my sore throat is getting worse. Of course, we had a backyard/nearby fire in the meantime which irritated things even more.  Hubby is feeling better and hoping to do the half-marathon this weekend but me, I am feeling horrible.  On March 16, my birthday, they ruled out strep but said there is fluid behind my ear and the sore throat is viral. Praying we all get well soon to enjoy a wonderful Spring and Summer!

Update 2- it is now week #5 of our illness starting, and March 21 and it looks like my older daughter is running low-grade fevers but just at night or late in the afternoon.  The school thought they were over 105 but they are really only about 100-101 so nothing to worry about but nonetheless, it is exhausting to have a sick household for this long.  I hope this weekend goes better and we can all be recovered to celebrate… April Fool’s Day! 🙂

Lessons Learned and Why I wrote this article: I am not writing this just for my health (ha- pun intended) but rather to tell you that you have to be your biggest advocate.  Health care in this country is not kind even to those with good insurance.  I can’t even imagine not having health care.  What I learned from a friend or two, you have to call (ie. “bug”)  your docs often and talk with the nurse line as things are progressing.  If they can call-in something great but here is a secret: they will never Rx antibiotics over the phone now especially since the new scare is “some super disease is going to take over the world and all yea who have taken antibiotics will die instantly.”

I doubt that is true and all I really care about is getting better.   And let me assure you I am not the one who runs to the docs the instant she is sick – granted,  I will run my kiddos to the doc the instant they are.  I am not the one who the docs need to be worried about abusing the system but as time as gone on I am losing my patience with the medical community.  I am a mother of two, a wife of one, and have two full-time jobs outside the home – being sick for 12 days (instead of just 2-3) is not something I care for nor will tolerate, and if it means my immunity will be lower or my resistance lower to whatever massive disease is brewing, so be it.  I will cross that medical bridge when it is time but for now…. I have a home and family to take care of and most importantly, to get well so I can take care of myself too so I can do all of the above.  So, if that means I take an antibiotic to reduce the time it takes me to get well, so be it.  I do not take antibiotics willy nilly and certainly have not been this sick for a stretch more than once every three years.

I am almost 40 and I figure if some horrible outbreak was supposed to happen, it may have happened by now anyway.  I certainly do not believe everything the big bad government tells me nor am I susceptible to giving into fears.  All I know is that I paid $5.00 co-pay for a drug that made me, ME again and I paid over $15.00 in co-pays and lord knows what for lab tests and x-rays that did nothing for me.  But it gave me peace of mind and ruled out something more serious.  When I go to the doctor, it is because I have tried everything else first and I want to get well not to get a lecture in what I already know – drink fluids, rest and here, use this frigging inhaler.  I go to the doctor because I do not have access to drugs to treat myself and trust me, I know what is wrong with me on more occasions than a random doctor knows.  I know my body, am quite in-tune with it and I tend to take decent care of myself albeit not excellent care.

All I am saying is that you have to advocate for your child and for you.  If you know you need something, ask for it.  As a friend said, build a rapport with your doc enough to say … “I get it – you do not want to give antibiotics but I need you to do this or I will find someone who will understand my health needs and my personal needs better than you – I want to allay your fears.  I will not abuse drugs but after 9 days, I am coming to see you because I have accepted defeat and ultimately, need them so I can take care of things that others cannot- ie. My small children.  Please understand me as a patient and I am wiling to keep you as my doctor – my most trusted adviser in health matters that I choose to discuss with you.”

If that doesn’t work, and the games do not work either (ie… yes blood is literally shooting up through my lungs), I know a Canadian pharmacy on line that I can recommend.  Ha! In any case, you must advocate for yourself and your children in health care especially in a time when doctors are a dime a dozen, insurance and health industry are so corrupt, and when the cost is just too high to wait another a few days to go see the doctor again.  Don’t take no for an answer and if you must, find a new doctor, or make sure your kids go to medical school and become the best damn doctor out there!

Happy Spring all and here’s praying that we are in our final week of the pandemic outbreak of viral/bacterial HELL!

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Financial Friday- Special Tax Day Edition*

*This post was featured on April 15, 2011, at denverparent.net.  I am re-posting here on April 18, 2011 – this year’s tax deadline. 

Flexible Savings Accounts

This week’s Financial Friday comes on the heels of a budget deal, a closely averted government  shutdown, and today is April 18 but normally, tax day is on April 15th- a day when you are reminded of how much of your hard-earned money goes to the Government for lord knows what.  All of this is what inspires this week’s Financial Friday article on saving your money.   If you missed the previous articles, click here to view Saving for your Child’s Education, Part I, Part II, and Part III. 

If you are like most Americans, both parents work outside the home, resulting  in hefty child care expenses.  For two kids under the age of 5, we pay over $1900 a month!  That is almost $24,000 a year and this is considered middle of the road.  If you go for a higher end daycare/learning center, including fees and tuition and food, you could be looking at almost $30,000 for two kids per year.  It is no wonder that more and more families are choosing one parent to stay at home.  If you have 3 or more kids, and a job that pays less than $60,000 a year, it is simply not worth it for both parents to work outside the home.  It makes more sense for one parent (the one who earns less whether that be the mother or father) to stay at home.  But, if you are both working, it is important to look into Dependent Care and Medical Expense Expense or Flexible Savings Accounts (FSA) through your employer.  These are great tools to save some money while also cutting your tax burden.  Ideally, when you set these up (usually during open season designated by your company’s plan), you designate a yearly amount up front and depending on the number of pay periods per year at your job, the money is taken out pre-tax.  That’s right!  These are pre-tax dollars which means you do not pay tax on them, and you get all the money back as well (assuming you spend it).  So depending on your circumstances, it is a great way to prevent Uncle Sam from getting some of your hard earned money but alas, not all. 

Dependent Care FSA
The first of these plans and the one I think parents are the most interested in is the dependent care spending account.  The contribution limit of this plan is $5000 per family not per child.  Dern!  I wish it was per child because $5000 only covers 2-3 months for most families who have two or three kids attending a full-time day care program.  It is important to note that this plan is not just for your dependent children but one that you can use for the care of your dependent parents or grandparents as well.   This account is also useful for children who cannot care for themselves due to handicap or disabilities beyond the age limits specified for before school/after school care.   But, keep in mind that the person or persons on whom the dependent care funds are spent must be able to be claimed as a dependent on the employee’s federal tax return and additionally, the money cannot be used for summer camps (other than “day camps”) or for long term care for parents who live elsewhere (such as in a nursing home).

Unlike medical FSAs (see below), dependent care FSAs are not “pre-funded” and employees cannot receive reimbursement for the full amount of the annual contribution on day one. Employees can only be reimbursed up to the amount they have had deducted during that plan year. So, you may not get your final payment on the full $5000 until after your final paycheck issues in December of the calendar/tax year. Something to keep in mind if your adjusted gross income (AGI) is under $35K, is that you may fare better to taking a deduction on your taxes under something called the Child and Dependent Care Credit rather than do the Dependent Care FSA.  If you are dual income or have multiple kids in day care and make over this amount combined you get phased out as your income rises above $35K so by the time you count two incomes, if you make $100K or more AGI  it is generally better to utilize the $5000 shelter of a Dependent FSA.  Even if you spend $24K in one year on child care expenses, if your AGI is over $100K, you will only see about a $500-$200 tax credit on that entire $24K so better to get your $5K from Uncle Sam through the use of the dependent FSA. 

Medical Expense FSA

The most popular however, of these plans, is a medical or health care flexible spending account.  You should check the rules on these because they differ but the IRS in 2011 changed the rules for reimbursement for over the counter medicines (OTC) so check the rules before you decide how much contribute.  You can read my previous article I wrote about flexible savings account and all the changes that took effect January 2011 on reimbursements.  Under this plan, you get your prescriptions money back (the co-pays and out of pocket expenses), the deductible you pay on your health insurance can be paid back to you, and the cost of dental, and doctor’s visits and procedures.  You can also submit your receipts for some OTC items but check the rules of your plan.  The main thing for us parents is that we get our co-pays and deductibles back, and you know as parents of young kids, we are always taking them in to the doctor’s office or ER.  Wellness visits are generally covered 100% by insurance but all those extra trips we make for the horrible croup-like cough, the fevers, and all the other fun stuff our kids go through as they build their immunity in school and day care is not always 100% covered so this is a good way to get your pre-tax dollars back tax-free!  According to IRS section 125, benefits received from a health insurance plan are not considered taxable income.  Also, unlike the Dependent Care FSAs these are pre-funded up front, meaning that if you made an election of $3000 for the whole year of 2011, on January 15 (after your first pay check) you could technically use all $3000 of it even though the money has not been funded yet (if you split it over 26 pay periods).  So, if you were to lose your job in March or April, you still get to keep the whole $3000 without paying tax on it.  There are provisions in place for the company to pay your remaining share that was not paid into the account yet.   

The main disadvantage of these accounts is you lose the money if you do not use it but you get 15 months to use it- January 1 through March 15 (of the following year), so use it! There is currently no federal cap or contribution limits to the Medical FSA but individual companies may impose limits so make sure you estimate your costs properly and read the rules on your plan. It is your money, though, and you should keep as much of it as you can!  Warning: The Health Care Reform that passed in 2010 does cap the FSA contribution limit to $2500 but those changes do not come into effect until 2013.

As we mourn the loss of anywhere from 15-35% of our income on this tax day, April 15, 2011, let’s not forget to consider all the tools at our disposal created by Congress and approved by our President to loop around the hefty tax burden we carry.  Use those tools if they make sense for you and your situation:   Health Care Flexible Spending Accounts, Dependent Care Spending Accounts, the tools previously discussed on Financial Fridays- the State 529 College Savings Accounts, Coverdell ESAs (to save for our kids’ education), Custodial Savings Accounts for our children and and let’s not forget to save for our retirements pre-tax through ROTH IRAs, and our 401Ks through our employers, and Traditional IRAs.  These are all great ways to dodge the tax bullet just a little and make sure our families are taken care of as our federal budget dwindles, the deficit increases, and social programs like medicare, medicaid, social security, and such are on the decline.  After all, we should all do what we can to become more fiscally responsible and teach our children the same.

Disclaimer: All parts of this series were written by the author in her personal capacity and not attributed to her profession, or any organizations, employers, or the like that author is affiliated with. The author is interested in these topics and blogs for recreational purposes and not for financial gain. All views and opinions are of the author and not attributable to any company and not meant as an endorsement to any company or organization. Most importantly, author is not a financial expert, tax attorney, estate planner, or accountant, nor works in the financial planning field. This article is written solely for the purpose of sharing information and knowledge with the readers. All readers should consult with their own attorney, tax planner, financial or estate planner, and/or accountant prior to making investment decisions. The author is not liable and will be held harmless for any investment loss or risk undertaken as a result of opening any of the accounts aforementioned.

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Modern Marvel: The Electric Toothbrush

photo image courtesy of Amazon.com

I have always had one of those rotating motor toothbrushes- well, at least for the last five years.  My parents got it free with rebates and gave it to me.  It was interesting because the toothbrush head on that one was round.  Recently, my husband and I decided to get the Sonicare(c) toothbrushes since they’re all the rave and my husband really, really wanted one.  So, we took the leap and got the Sonicare Essence with Quadpacer (whatever that means).  Wow! 

All I can say is the first couple of times you use it, your mouth will tickle and vibrate and you will wonder if you can ever get used to all the weird sounds and vibrations.  After all, if you have never used an electric toothbrush, it is quite strange initially.  It’s been a week now, and I think I am in love with mine and even brush my teeth more often now.  It really does help your mouth feel clean and your teeth appear to look better.   My husband is raving about his.  Of course, it is probably all in our heads but speaking of heads, the toothbrush heads are quite nice and shaped like a real toothbrush, not round.  Of course, a pack of replacement heads are quite expensive, running $60.00 for just 6 of them, and the prices go up from there.

Some things to know about the price of the toothbrushes themselves- the best price we have found on this pack of 2 is Costco at $79.99 (this was with a $20 mfr rebate).  Amazon sells them for $95 and it just goes up from there.  Of course, the dental bills it saves you may be well worth it.  Most dentists recommend these brushes.  I can’t wait to use my WaterPik water flosser- also recommended by my dentist for those hard to reach back teeth.  If you have a flex spending account, neither of these are  covered so you will not get your money back on them from your flex spending account.  In any case, I think the electric toothbrush is great!  If you register for rebates at sonicare(c), you will get a rebate on the replacement brush heads and some other offers valued at almost $30.  If you have any questions, post them here and I’ll be sure to post an answer.   Happy Brushing!

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Health Care Flexible Savings Accounts- New Changes coming in 2011

This story is also featured @milehighmamas.com!  See it here
Please leave a comment or ask your tough questions there or here!

If you’re like me, you and/or your spouse have a flex spending account or health care spending account that you put money into, biweekly or monthly. These are great tools if you have anticipated expenses for the upcoming calendar year. For example, if you know you are going to have surgery or a large medical expense like new glasses, new contacts, etc., health care spending accounts or flexible spending accounts are a great way to save a little money. Here’s how it works: Because the money goes into these accounts pre-tax, the contribution is taken from your salary BEFORE it is taxed. Then, when it is paid out to you for eligible expenses, you are not taxed on this money either. It is a great tax shelter but… while that sounds great, read on because putting in too much can come back and bite you a bit as well.

For this calendar year, I overestimated a bit and put in WAY too much. I don’t know whether it was that we have less expenses or just that my new insurance was that much cheaper, but I continued with last calendar year’s amount and it turned out to be too much so as we embark on 2011, I am looking to spend well over $800 before March 15, 2011. Most flex spending accounts give you until March 15, 2011 to incur eligible expenses and they have to be submitted to the company running your Flexible Spending Account by a set deadline. Check with your company because it can be crucial to getting your hard-earned money back!

So how does all this work? Some companies offer a card- so it tracks what you pay in and tracks what you spend too. You get a debit card and you just charge your eligible expenses on that all year long. Many high deductible plans work that way as well. However, MOST companies who offer the flexible spending account require manual enrollment, and your health insurance numbers for paperless reimbursement AND a bank account for automatic deposits. Their websites are chalk full of information and you can track your spending/reimbursements on-line. You have to physically submit a receipt for over-the-counter and eligible items (read on- some OTCs are going away in January 2011 from automatic reimbursement so stock-up now) and then they review the items and pay you back. For example, for costs incurred on eyeglasses, you submit the receipt and you are paid back. For 2010, if you bought Tums, Advil, and cough drops, you have to remember to save the receipt and you get paid back but you have to submit the receipts along with your claim form. It’s a little tedious for working parents and most people in general to collect receipts, copy them, and then send them in manually (fax or postal mail) with their claim form which also has to have a lot of information. Frankly, sometimes it’s a nightmare to submit these! As far as prescriptions, dental and medical visits, if you use your insurance card, then there is generally a paperless reimbursement option so the money automatically appears in your checking or savings account. You have to set that up on-line or when you enroll. So, all in all, that is a painless process if the paperless reimbursement process is working as it should be.

Big change starting January 2011 that you need to be aware of: No more OTC meds like Advil© or its generic equivalent, Tylenol© or its generic equivalent, Tums©, Prilosec, etc., etc., will no longer be reimbursed without a doctor’s note. That’s right folks! If you have a headache and buy Ibuprofen, don’t bother saving the receipt unless accompanying that receipt you also have a doctor’s Rx for that headache medicine. Nice! So, if you are estimating what to put in this year, I would make sure you take out all those OTCs (I approximate AVGERAGE households average about $200 a year) unless you can get a doctor’s note for them. This is a hugechange and many people are re-calculating their costs for the 2011 Calendar Year. Many other things will still continue to require what is called a LETTER OF MEDICAL NECESSITY. These are a hassle too and I have been through a lot to get reimbursements for things my doctor prescribed. For example, if you have a doctor’s note to say buy a humidifier for your allergies, you will sometimes get hassled from the flexible spending account company for buying a more expensive model so you will then need to do a cost comparison and tell them why you bought this humidifier versus some $10.00 model. I kid you not.

So, in sum, there are pros and cons to a little tax savings. While this is a good program and I think people should put in what their estimated costs would be, I would urge you to calculate your spending for this past year and conservatively estimate next year’s because if you put in too much like I did this year, you are at risk for just outright losing that money and then you blow any tax advantage you may have received by putting the money in, in the first place.

With Flex and Health Spending Accounts like all financial accounts, accuracy & diligence is key- I think they are good if you are willing to put in the time to keep great records of your receipts, do the work of sending them in, and also are okay with running around collecting medical necessity letters and OTC Prescription letter if needed. Then you may make out okay. But, if you simply do not want to deal with it, only put in what your estimated true medical/dental/vision costs are for the year – that way you do not have a balance and you definitely do not want to lose the money. Happy Estimating!

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