My father will be 100 years old in two weeks. Confined to a wheelchair and struggling to keep his spirits up, his sense of humor gets him through most days. He gets a little confused from time to time, like when he asked me why he wasn’t in a nursing home. I said, “Dad, this IS a nursing home,” and upon reflection, he replied, “That’s crazy. I should be in a funeral parlor.” Free of having to remember much, his mind is left open to just “free associate,” and fantastic one-liners just keep popping up to continually entertain the staff at Manor Care --- a well-run national chain of over 150 facilities owned by the Carlyle Group private equity firm.
Handling the affairs of an octogenarian has given me a real education into what can be a byzantine labyrinth of insurance and benefit features --- and that’s just trying to understand them BEFORE they run off the rails for one reason or another. Or before they change the rules and start reneging on what they had promised to pay. Or before they make any pretense of reneging on a promise and just stop paying because their accounting is un-reconciled.
Some may recall the report from a previous column whereby I had to finally call the CEO of Manufacturers Life who had purchased John Hancock Insurance. They were refusing to pay my mother several months owed to her on her long term care policy, and try as hard they might, they just couldn’t get the second-grade arithmetic to balance. A call to the CEO (from a financial columnist in California) finally got it straightened out, but how many seniors late in life have the energy to sit for hours listening to music while waiting on a recorded line to talk.
The latest quagmire is a little more problematic, but it calls into question the whole issue of “vouchers” which promises to be everyone’s solution who proposes to abolish the Affordable Care Act as “their first act upon getting elected.”
My dad worked for a major Fortune 500 company as his last job with the promise that his health insurance premiums (for both my parents) would be paid for the rest of his life after retiring. I would call that a condition of employment. He could have worked for a smaller company for perhaps higher salary, but he took the whole compensation package into consideration and made his career decision accordingly. While no one expected my dad and mom to live to 100 and 94 respectively, that was the company’s problem and not something my parents needed to worry about. Besides, the premium would have been just for supplemental coverage once my folks were covered by Medicare.
Well, the company paid the premiums for about twenty years until my dad was in his 80’s. Then, they decided to set up a flexible spending account to pay the premium, but with a dollar cap of about $2,500 per year which was more than the premium. At the time, I talked their representative in Salt Lake City and asked how older people could possibly figure any of this out on their own. The helpful person at the call center said that they have extremely difficult conversations with people who are left totally confused. As it was, I spent half a weekend day sorting through decisions about carriers and funding choices before getting the flex account set up. And a portion of my company actually administers these programs.
The “voucher” if you want to call it that, has now been cut to $1,200 per year for reasons that have yet to be explained. And the accounting for that is faulty. Before I noticed that the now-reduced pittance wasn’t being paid, they were $4,000 in arrears. Where’s my $2,500 per year? Who knows? The system worked better when they just paid the premium. Meanwhile, the great thing about vouchers, if you’re planning to replace Medicare or Affordable Health with “something just fabulous” is that they are dollars that can be capped --- and then reduced. My dad and I can afford to pay the difference but what about people whose circumstances leave them trapped --- people who were promised healthcare for the rest of their lives as part of what they worked for. As would be expected, Dad’s former company pays its stockholders a three percent annual dividend and its CEO’s compensation is excessive by any measure.