The benefits of the doubt
When it comes to health care, the most important question facing the American people is this: Is the pain reliever you need to get rid of the headache caused by your employer’s open enrollment covered under medical insurance or do you have to spend thousands of dollars in deductibles before you can write off a bottle of aspirin?
That’s what I asked a very nice and very knowledgeable human resources coordinator named Luann, who recently helped me navigate the process because my 4-year-old granddaughter, who is more technologically advanced than I am, isn’t on the payroll and is already covered under her father’s plan.
“My niece is better on the computer than I am, although I’m an online shopper, so I’m really good at this,” said Luann, who had been on the job for only three weeks before the rollout.
“Too bad the company isn’t rolling out the barrel,” I said.
“That would help,” Luann replied as we sat at a monitor in the HR department and she showed me how to log on to the program.
There were four categories: benefits, health, money and protection.
“Is there a Powerball option?” I asked.
“I’m afraid not,” Luann replied. “If there was, I wouldn’t be here.”
Then we hit the initials: HSA (health savings account), FSA (flexible spending account) and, the one that really stunned me, STD.
“Please tell me it doesn’t stand for what I think it does,” I spluttered.
“It stands for short-term disability,” Luann assured me. “Why?” she added with a smile. “What did you think it stands for?”
“Something that I’m sure isn’t covered,” I said.
I was already signed up for the company’s dental and vision plans, but for the past two years I have been on my wife’s medical plan because it’s less expensive.
“Her deductible isn’t as high as ours,” I explained. “But no matter what plan you’re on, with deductibles these days, you pretty much have to be in a train wreck for them to take effect.”
“There’s a simple solution,” Luann said. “Don’t take the train.”
“Good advice,” I said. “But if something happened, I’d have to pay out of my own pocket. And my pocket isn’t big enough to hold all that money.”
“So what’s the answer?” Luann asked.
I told her the absolutely true story of my three unsuccessful campaigns for vice president of the United States, in 1992, 1996 and 2000, when my running mate, media prankster Alan Abel, was the presidential candidate.
“He ran under the name of Porky,” I told Luann. “I used my nickname, Zez. We were the Gershwin-inspired ticket of Porky and Zez. We ran under the banner of the Cocktail Party. We came up with our health-care plan in New York City, so we called it Big Apple Coverage. Since an apple a day keeps the doctor away, we proposed a 10-cent co-pay on every apple. That way, everyone could afford medical care.”
“I would have voted for you,” Luann said.
“Some people did,” I told her. “They probably couldn’t afford their prescription medications.”
“So there still isn’t an answer to the health-care problem,” Luann said.
“Yes, there is,” I responded. “Porky and I had another proposal: Everybody in America becomes a member of Congress. That way, we’d have the same plan they do and we’re all covered. Either that or kick Congress off their plan and make them shop for insurance like the rest of us.”
“It’s too bad you didn’t run again last year,” Luann said.
“I’m old now, so if I ran, I’d sprain an ankle or blow out a knee,” I said. “And I wouldn’t meet the deductible.”
I thanked Luann for her help and good humor but said I was going to stick with my wife’s medical plan.
“Stay healthy,” Luann said, though after dealing with me, she no doubt needed a pain reliever. I hope it’s covered.
— Jerry Zezima