You can't put a price on good health. You've heard the maxim, but in the era of high deductibles, caveat-riddled coverage, hidden fees and a healthcare system in flux, it's taken on a new meaning. Even if you have coverage, how do you budget for your health needs beyond the standard co-pays and insurance premiums? It's a question anyone who's ever received an unexpected medical bill has grappled with. According to a recent poll by Kaiser Family Foundation, 67% of over 1,100 people surveyed worried more about surprise medical bills than covering the cost of rent, food, electricity or insurance premiums.
In the same poll, 39% of insured adults under 65 claimed to have been hit with higher-than-expected medical bills in the past year—with some facing unexpected charges upwards of $2,000.
The truth is, health insurance doesn't guarantee you protection from medical-related debt. That doesn't mean you should pass on the care you need, but you don't have to be blindsided by the costs either. Arming yourself with information, doing your research and being your own advocate can make all the difference—for your health and your bank account. Here's what you need to know.
Avoid "in-network" loopholes
Just because a hospital or clinic is in your insurer's network, that doesn't guarantee the doctor treating you offers the same coverage. This is particularly common with surgical procedures that require multiple professionals. According to the Wall Street Journal, anesthesiologists, radiologists and pathologists are "the most likely to not accept many health plans." Meanwhile, specialists brought in for consultations and even MRI or blood-work could appear as an out-of-network charge on your medical bill.
To avoid added costs, contact the hospital in advance to request that all specialists and lab tests are in accordance with your network plan, and barring that, try to negotiate a rate beforehand. If you're still overcharged, you can contact a billing negotiator, (Consumer Affairs has a list of the best rated), which takes a cut from your reduced rate, or a nonprofit like Patient Advocate Foundation.
You can also advocate for yourself, as Forbes' Kelly Long did after a surgical procedure with an anesthesiologist that wasn't on her plan.
"In my case, I finally called the billing office of the anesthesiologist and asked if they would be willing to accept the amount my insurance was willing to accept," writes Long. "The billing associate consulted her manager and then offered me a 20% discount."
Ask about Facility Fees
Hospitals can charge for the use of their facility and equipment, which can be unavoidable in emergency situations. But if it's not a dire situation, or if your doctor works out of another location besides the hospital, it's possible to avoid the fee. Call ahead, ask about facility fees and whether there's a way to avoid them with a visit to another office.
Check for Billing Mistakes
Ever spotted a mistaken charge on a restaurant check? Medical facilities make mistakes too.
Calculate each item on the bill, and make sure there aren't erroneous procedures you didn't actually have. Here's the big one: Even if the procedure's name checks out on the bill, the CPT (current procedural terminology) code for a procedure could be wrong. You can find a list of codes at the American Medical Association's website. If your insurance company denied coverage for a procedure that you know is in your plan, make sure the code listed matches the procedure you had. If it doesn't, alert both your plan and the medical facility of the mistake.
If you're setting up an appointment for preventative care, check with your healthcare provider about what's covered, specifically the numeric codes for each procedure. Then, when booking the appointment, give those codes to the administrator to avoid mistakes later.
Other mistakes to look out for: double charges of the same procedure, misspelled names and inaccurate dates. Any one of these blips could lead your insurance to initially veto coverage.
Research your options—all of them
In an emergency, researching cost effectiveness should be the last thing on your mind. But if you've done your homework in advance, you'll save yourself a financial headache later. Check with your local fire department about the ambulance services in your area and confirm with your insurance provider that they're in your network. While you're at it, check in about your options for same-day care.
Providers, like Aetna, hospitals like NCH, and online platforms like Doctors On-Demand offer virtual care services, staffed by physicians on call to answer your immediate concerns and help you decide next steps. Most cost as little as a co-pay or offer a flat rate starting around $40.
If you need an immediate in-person visit and can't get an appointment with your primary care physician, you've still got options. Chain pharmacies like CVS offer walk-in clinics ($99-$129) for quickie problems such as sore throats or other minor issues, while urgent care facilities, which can start at $150 without coverage, offer wider services.
If your issue might be life-threatening (chest pains, shortness of breath, vomiting and other red alerts) it's time for a trip to the ER, which usually means a higher co-pay and resulting bill. But in times of crisis, money should be the last thing on your mind. But when you're feeling better, or better yet, before you get sick, you can arm yourself with even more information on ER fees and what to expect over at Vox, where they've launched a project aimed at exposing the hidden costs of Emergency Room visits. You can even help their cause by sharing your own bill.
Over two years into the most momentous event in our lives the world has changed forever … Some of us have PTSD from being locked up at home, some are living like everything’s going to end tomorrow, and the rest of us are merely trying to get by. When the pandemic hit we entered a perpetual state of vulnerability, but now we’re supposed to return to normal and just get on with our lives.
What does that mean? Packed bars, concerts, and grocery shopping without a mask feel totally strange. We got used to having more rules over our everyday life, considering if we really had to go out or keeping Zooming from our living rooms in threadbare pajama bottoms.
The work-from-home culture changed it all. Initially, companies were skeptical about letting employees work remotely, automatically assuming work output would fall and so would the quality. To the contrary, since March of 2020 productivity has risen by 47%, which says it all. Employees can work from home and still deliver results.
There are a number of reasons why everyone loves the work from home culture. We gained hours weekly that were wasted on public transport, people saved a ton of money, and could work from anywhere in the world. Then there were the obvious reasons like wearing sweats or loungewear all week long and having your pets close by. Come on, whose cat hasn’t done a tap dance on your keyboard in the middle of that All Hands Call!
Working from home grants the freedom to decorate your ‘office’ any way you want. But then people needed a change of environment. Companies began requesting their employees' RTO, thus generating the Hybrid Work Model — a blend of in-person and virtual work arrangements. Prior to 2020, about 20% of employees worked from home, but in the midst of the pandemic, it exploded to around 70%.
Although the number of people working from home increased and people enjoyed their flexibility, politicians started calling for a harder RTW policy. President Joe Biden urges us with, “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again.”
While Boris Johnson said, “Mother Nature does not like working from home.'' It wasn’t surprising that politicians wanted people back at their desks due to the financial impact of working from the office. According to a report in the BBC, US workers spent between $2,000 - $5,000 each year on transport to work before the pandemic.
That’s where the problem lies. The majority of us stopped planning for public transport, takeaway coffee, and fresh work-appropriate outfits. We must reconsider these things now, and our wallets are paying
the price. Gas costs are at an all-time high, making public transport increase their fees; food and clothes are all on a steep incline. A simple iced latte from Dunkin’ went from $3.70 to $3.99 (which doesn’t seem like much but 2-3 coffees a day with the extra flavors and shots add up to a lot), while sandwiches soared by 14% and salads by 11%.
This contributes to the pressure employees feel about heading into the office. Remote work may have begun as a safety measure, but it’s now a savings measure for employees around the world.
Bloomberg are offering its US staff a $75 daily commuting stipend that they can spend however they want. And other companies are doing the best they can. This still lends credence to ‘the great resignation.’ Initially starting with the retail, food service, and hospitality sectors which were hard hit during the pandemic, it has since spread to other industries. By September 2021, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 4.4 million resignations.
That’s where the most critical question lies…work from home, work from the office or stick to this new hybrid world culture?
Borris Johnson thinks, “We need to get back into the habit of getting into the office.” Because his experience of working from home “is you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee and then, you know, getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing.”
While New York City Mayor Eric Adams says you “can't stay home in your pajamas all day."
In the end, does it really matter where we work if efficiency and productivity are great? We’ve proven that companies can trust us to achieve the same results — or better! — and on time with this hybrid model. Employees can be more flexible, which boosts satisfaction, improves both productivity and retention, and improves diversity in the workplace because corporations can hire through the US and indeed all over the world.
We’ve seen companies make this work in many ways, through virtual lunches, breakout rooms, paint and prosecco parties, and — the most popular — trivia nights.
As much as we strive for normalcy, the last two years cannot simply be erased. So instead of wiping out this era, it's time to embrace the change and find the right world culture for you.
What would get you into the office? Free lunch? A gym membership? Permission to hang out with your dog? Some employers are trying just that.
The rising trend of pet-friendly offices is part of the effort to incentivize employees to come back to work in person. Many companies completely embraced the remote-friendly convenience of WFH. Digital nomad culture emerged and “second cities” arose when people exited New York, San Francisco, and LA, and headed to Denver, Austin, Charlotte, Nashville, and Raleigh.
But now, employees and employers have a choice to make. The question now is: to return or not to return to the office? This is no longer about forcing employees to commute. Post The Great Resignation, employees feel more empowered to leave in-person positions and seek out remote jobs. So if offices want people to return, they’ve got to do a ton to entice their employees.
Some huge companies with giant operating budgets are not worried. With major perks like shiny facilities and full-service food bars, they feel comfortable requiring in-office work days — even if it’s for a hybrid week. But the solution might be simpler: pet-friendly workplaces.
The Allure of Pet-Friendly Offices
According to the Washington Post, pet-friendly workplaces are becoming a common solution to improve employee morale and appease the rising number of pandemic pet owners. “As offices start reopening and thousands of workers are being called back for the first time in two years, some companies are allowing employees to bring their pets. About 23 million American households adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Many workers say they find pet-friendly environments an important perk for their new furry family members. A recent survey conducted by Banfield Pet Hospital, owned by Mars Inc., showed that 57 percent of the 1,500 pet owners polled said they would be happiest returning to a pet-friendly workplace. Half of the 500 top executives surveyed said they are planning to allow pets at the office. Tech companies including Google, Amazon, and Uber plan to continue to allow dogs at their offices, even with their flexible office policies.”
With so many people adopting and fostering since the pandemic, becoming a pet parent is a trend. And to welcome these new additions into people’s lives, it makes sense for some workplaces to welcome them into the office.
After spending unlimited amounts of time at home, many pets grew greatly attached to their “parents” — and pet-parents feel the same about their pets. Rather than keeping them locked in the house while their caretakers head off to work, this is a mutually beneficial solution to the current separation anxiety faced by pets.
Pets have also been shown to boost happiness in pet owners. According to heart.org, “Studies show that dogs reduce stress, anxiety, and depression; ease loneliness; encourage exercise and improve your overall health. For example, people with dogs tend to have lower blood pressure and are less likely to develop heart disease. Just playing with a dog has been shown to raise levels of the feel-good brain chemicals oxytocin and dopamine, creating positive feelings and bonding for both the person and their pet.” Most likely, this might have a similar effect on people who bond with animals at work that don’t even belong to them, lending an overall mood boost to the office.
The controversy behind pet-friendly workplaces
However, not everyone is as enthusiastic about the prospect. Some would rather keep the office separate from their personal lives. Some are allergic to pets. And some people simply don’t like animals.
Offices considering pet-friendly policies are weighing the pros and cons to keep everyone happy. According to the Washington Post, clear guidelines and communication can increase the chances of success.
“Before making the jump, pet experts say that leaders should first understand whether their employees have interest in, or strong feelings against, having a pet-friendly office. Doing an anonymous survey may allow employees to freely share thoughts on the matter.”
Overall, the key to a policy like this is flexibility. “Be ready to adjust: Above all, pet-friendly offices should be ready to listen and adjust their policies as they go. What works for one office may not work for another, but experts say proper planning can lessen much of the burden.”
Ensure your office is actually suited to the pets you want to welcome. “A well-developed pet-friendly office should be both safe and welcoming to pets. That means companies should consider blocking off areas that could be dangerous to pets as well as making sure pets have access to clean water, food, and places to rest.”
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