Thursday, January 27, 2011

Insurance Company Drops Vet Over 2-Cent Shortage

was an innocent enough mistake, according to Ronald's wife, Frances Flanagan.

"If I only had just hit the nine instead of the seven," Frances said.

When she was paying their monthly health insurance premium online in November, Frances swapped a 7 for a 9, leaving their $328.69 payment 2 cents short.

"And now we're just pulling teeth and trying to figure out what's the next step," Frances said.

Their insurance benefits administrator, Ceridian Cobra Services, based in St. Petersburg, Fla., promptly dropped the Flanagans for the 2-cent shortage.

The couple found out about losing their coverage at a doctor's appointment on Jan. 13 while they were at the Exempla Rock Creek Medical Center in Broomfield.

As Ron was getting prepped to have a bone biopsy, Frances was on the phone with Ceridian.

"The nurses were just getting ready to do the biopsy when my wife popped into the office and told them, 'Stop. We don't have any insurance,'" said Ron.

"And that's when they let me know that we no longer had insurance on account of the 2 cents, and they canceled us," said Frances. "Since then, I've been depressed. I haven't been able to hardly do anything. As you can see, we still have our Christmas decorations up. So it's been hard on me."

Ron has been fighting cancer since September 2008. He has multiple myeloma -- cancer in the bone marrow. Doctors at St. Luke's have performed stem cell transplant surgery twice. He needs another transplant before the end of February, and they have a donor. But because of the 2-cent mistake, Ceridian Cobra Services Two pennies. That's the difference between a potentially life-saving surgery and a dropped insurance plan.

Those 2 cents could cost Vietnam veteran Ronald Flanagan everything.

"Everybody we talk to is very surprised that 2 cents is enough to do this," said Flanagan.

It will not pay for the procedure.

In a statement, Ceridian Cobra Services told 7NEWS, "We did not receive a full and timely payment and (Mrs. Flanagan) was provided several notices of the shortage and a grace period reminder notice on the last invoice, along with extended grace dates as provided for under COBRA regulations."

The statement goes on to say, "Since the payment was not full, it fit into the definition in the regulations of an 'insufficient payment' ... Ceridian understands nothing is more important than one’s health ... Unfortunately, we simply do not have the capacity to be able to personally call continuants and remind them of the status of their COBRA benefits."

Ron Flanagan believes Ceridian does not value human health, but rather, the bottom line.

Ron said they never received written notice that they could be dropped. The couple said they only received a billing statement in December that showed the two-cent shortage, but it wasn't clear to them that it was past due, otherwise they would have just added two cents to their December payment -- which they paid in full, and which Ceridian promptly cashed.

"They never did a certified letter saying what could happen. They never made a phone call. As far as I'm concerned, they're looking for a way to drop you," he said.

The family believes the cause of Ron's cancer is likely exposure to Agent Orange while Ron was deployed in Vietnam. Now, he waits for the stem cell transplant he needs.

"My doctor said I could not wait months to decide on a transplant," said Ron.

"I spoke to my sister-in-law and that's when I broke down. And I told her I feel like it's all my fault," said Frances. "She just said, 'No. It's not your fault.'"

"The insurance company is paying out way more than I'm paying in. And I understand that. But, that's part of the insurance game," said Ron.

"We have God on our side," said Frances.

Ron is now considering going to the Veterans Administration hospital as an alternative, but it could mean he would have to travel to Seattle for treatment.

Federal law states insurance providers must give you a reasonable amount of time to make up a shortage.

Ron said he might start oral chemotherapy as a maintenance-type drug to manage his cancer.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Unabashed Frugality, A Guide To Pinching Pennies Without Shame

Many resolutions for the new year involve an asceticism of sorts, a pledge to avoid bad habits like smoking or drinking, or to cut back on eating unhealthy foods.  This year, many may have pledged to adhere to a stricter household budget, as the country takes baby steps toward emerging from one of the worst economies the US has seen in many years. 

Paradoxically, the stricter the resolution, the more unlikely you are to keep it.  Think about it, if your goals are unrealistic, you will get easily frustrated, give up, and go back to your old ways.
That is why I’ve put together a guide—a cheapness manual if you will—for saving money without sacrificing your sanity.
  • Buying in Bulk – Sometimes warehouse stores can be our worst enemy; we go in expecting to save money, and walk out with five pounds of peanut butter.  Another way to utilize this method without spending money on membership fees, is to simply buy multiples of your favorite product when it goes on sale at a local store. 
  • Freeze Food – This works for buying in bulk, but also for things like spaghetti sauce.  If you can’t eat it right away, freeze it.
  • Use E-Bay – In the early days of E-Bay, it was easy to get scammed by a dishonest seller and harder to know if what you were buying was authentic or if it would arrive in the condition stated in the auction.  E-Bay’s feedback policies have improved dramatically, and buyers are able to clearly view feedback ratings for sellers.  Clothing, electronics, and many other household items are available from E-Bay for a fraction of the cost for the savvy buyer.
  • Garage Sales – Part of the fun of going to garage sales is the thrill of the hunt, knowing you got something for a fraction of what it’s worth. Even if you’re not a bargain hunter, there are deals to be had on expensive items like kid’s sports equipment (trampolines or basketball nets) or exercise equipment.
  • Coupons – Sometimes coupons can be tricky, if you have to buy more of something that you don’t need to get the discount.  Combining coupons with sales are the best way to maximize your savings for items you would ordinarily purchase. 
  • Online Sample Sales – Sites like Gilt Group and One Kings Lane allow members to log on to purchase designer clothing and home accessories for a much lower cost than in the stores.  The trick with these sites is to look ahead for the sales you are interested in, then log on right when they start for the best selection.  Items sell out fast, so this is critical.
  • Cheap Gas Stations – can help guide you to the cheapest gas station in your area so you don’t have to waste gas searching for one.
  • Recycle and Reuse – Keep take-out containers, wash and reuse them for leftovers or lunches rather than tossing them in the trash.  Paper towels are expensive; reuse and disinfect a cloth to clean your counter with.  

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Save $ome Dough: A Handful of Chicago Rush Policies

With the holiday season several weeks behind us and a new year ahead, saving up the pennies to see a live show in Chicago may be problematic to some. Yet, thanks to the know-how of some local theatre companies, day-of rush policies exist to help fill those empty seats at the last minute. While not every theatre in Chicago offers Student, General, or other Rush programs, a good handful offer tickets at a severely discounted rate to patrons who don't mind waiting until the day of performance. Here's a noninclusive list of some local theatres' discount ticket policies.

Blue Man Group - For all performances, Student Rush tickets will be made available 2 hours prior to show time, in person at the Box Office. Students with a valid high school or college ID can purchase 2 tickets, per ID. Tickets are $35 a piece (subject to availability). There will be a limited supply of tickets, and they will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis, limit of 2 tickets per student with valid ID. The Briar Street Theatre, 3133 N. Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60657.

Broadway in Chicago - With so many different shows flying in and out of the Loop's big touring houses, it's always an ever-changing lineup of discounts. Whether it's a Lottery a la WICKED or Rush Seats a la JERSEY BOYS, it's always good to check out for current shows' promotions. Bank of America Theatre: 18 W. Monroe, Ford Center For The Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre: 24 W. Randolph, Cadillac Palace Theatre: 151 W. Randolph, Broadway Playhouse: 175 E. Chestnut, or call (800) 775-2000.

Chicago Dramatists - $15 Student Tickets are offered for every Thursday performance by calling 312-633-0630 or at the box office on the night of the show. Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago, Chicago, IL 60622.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater - No daily rush promotions, but $20 tickets are available for anyone 35 and under (students and young theater professionals included) in advance. Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.

City Lit Theater - Offers $10 student tickets (regular full price is $25) and can be purchased in advance.  Half-price day-of-performance tickets can be found through the League of Chicago Theatres' Hot Tix booth. City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Chicago, IL 60660.

Entertainment Book - Chicagoland's perennial penny-saver, the Entertainment Book, offers coupons to several area theatres, including Raven Theatre, Strawdog Theatre Co., Improv Kitchen, the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, Drury Lane Oakbrook. Make sure your book corresponds with the correct suburb, as all books to not feature the same coupons.

Goodman Theatre - Mezztix: half-price mezzanine tickets available at 12 noon at the box office and at 10am online (promo code MEZZTIX) day of performance; Mezztix are not available by telephone. 10Tix are $10 rear mezzanine tickets for students available at 12 noon at the box office and at 10am online on the day of performance; 10Tix are not available by telephone; a valid student I.D. must be presented when picking up the tickets; limit four per student with I.D. All tickets are subject to availability and handling fees apply. Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60601.

Hot Tix - Brought to you by the League of Chicago Theatres, Hot Tix sells half price theatre tickets at two outlet locations and online to plays, musicals, and special events throughout Chicagoland. Hot Tix, 72 E. Randolph (between Michigan Avenue and Wabash Avenue, across the street from Chicago Cultural Center) and 163 E. Pearson (at Michigan Avenue, in the Water Works Visitor Center).

Lookingglass - Student Rush tickets can be purchased for any show the day of the performance for only $20. Student rush tickets must be purchased in person. Cash only. Student ID must be from an accredited academic institution. Seating is subject to availability. Call the box office at 312-337-0665 or email to check availability beforehand. Lookingglass, 821 N. Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611.

Steppenwolf Theatre Company - 20 for $20: Twenty $20 tickets are available at Audience Services beginning at 11am on the day of each performance (1 pm for Sunday performances). Rush Tickets: Half-price rush tickets are available one hour before each show. Student Discounts: $15 student tickets are available online using promo code for each production. (Limit 2 tickets. Must present a valid student ID for each ticket). Steppenwolf Theatre Company, 1650 N. Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60614.

Theater Wit - All shows in the building offer $15 Student Rush tickets starting at 6pm. That includes Theater Wit, resident, and guest productions. Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL 60657.