Sunday, November 09, 2008

Allstate Your Choice Auto

I have been a customer of Allstate Insurance for several years now. I have auto, life, renters and earthquake through an Agent. I like that I can make payments online, over the phone, through mail or even at the agent's office. In fact he has been to my home to handle the initial Life Insurance application for the policy and this past March came over to get my signature on my new auto policy for the vehicle purchase I made at the dealership that same day.

I received in the mail the other day an invitation to upgrade my auto policy to Your Choice Auto, which will forgive your next car accident. I have never had an accident, but I wanted to learn more about this option without having to call my Agent.

The website lists a platinum package, gold package, standard policy and value package. The Safe Driving Bonus takes up to 5% off your renewal bill every six month of accident-free driving. Accident Forgiveness limits the amount your rates go up just because of an accident, even if it is your fault.

The Deductible Rewards takes $100 off your deductible the day you sign up and earns another $100 for every year that you do not have an accident. This has a cap of $500 total. The Standard Policy offers Accident Forgiveness after five years for eligible customers. I might fit into that category, but I also read that Your Choice Auto just became available in the State of California in October 2008. It looks like I will have to contact my Allstate Agent to get quotes for the upgrade to Your Choice Auto.

I am looking for feedback from anyone who has upgraded to Your Choice Auto or switched to Allstate and now has this policy. They are at or call 1-800-allstate.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Annoying Phone Calls from Companies

I went through the steps in signing up my land line phone number for the do not call registry and did it online for my cell phone number as well. This past March I bought a Dodge Caravan Sport from an auto dealership. I also purchased the extended warranty. A few months later these automated phone calls started. It would say this is my last chance for my auto warranty. I pressed the button to speak to someone and they hung up on me.

The calls continued and I would hang up until I got so frustrated that I pressed the number to talk to someone and asked them how they got my information. Again they hung up on me. I did google searches and found information for other states, but not California. I did go to consumer affairs and submitted a message. The calls stopped for about two weeks and then it would occur almost three times a week or every other day. These automated messages would spring up on weekends and evenings.

I decided to call the auto dealership since they were the only ones I dealt with in regard to the purchase as I went through Capital One Auto Finance online and my Allstate Agent came to my house for my signature on the new insurance policy. The dealership was not helpful at all. The guy claimed to get many phone calls from customers but could not tell me where these were generated from.

I wish I had some form of warning before I made the purchase, because this is downright annoying to the core. I might have gone the ebay motors route again with this purchase. Now I am stuck with the calls that have not stopped and I bought the vehicle nine months ago. It needs to stop, but how?

On another note I have Time Warner Cable, who has been calling me almost as frequently and mailing the same flyers over and over. I am not interested in getting their internet service as I have that with AT&T and the phone service. Will they ever leave me alone? These phone calls are from real people on the other end and not a recording, but I still hang up on them after letting them again that I have AT&T and not switching.

I have an unlisted phone number, but that does not stop the Satellite Dish Companies from calling me several times a week in a recorded message asking me when I want them to set up. How did they get my number? What can I do to stop these calls? They are confusing to my 13 year old son who does not know if they are live or memorex.

I am almost tempted to go back to dial up since I never took phone calls due to having computer on all the time until someone booted us offline. We need high speed for the homeschooling and this computer is on loan from the Company. The good news is that I have tracfone and no one calls me there but wrong numbers and tracfone texts their special deals, but not a nuisance.

Sometimes I answer the phone in a loud irate voice and this is always the time it is someone from school. It never fails... This reminds me that the new Middle School my son is attending has a message system to let parents know of events, school closures, emergencies, meetings, you name it they call. I think this is nice to be notified of many things, but I liked getting notices on paper in my son's backpack. I guess this is their way of saving paper and money.

Feel free to share the calls that you get at home that drive you mad.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Helping Families

I planned a yard sale for today seeing as the weather was not as warm here in Los Angeles, making it easier to endure being outside on a Saturday morning and afternoon. Turns out it rained here and there, so who says it never rains in Southern California? My 13 yr old has had some growth spurts, which has resulted in some jeans never being worn and others very gently used.

Due to my taking prednisone some of my jeans no longer fit me and I have not been able to afford to continue with my gym membership the past year. My 12 yr old is now at a Middle School that has a uniform policy. Many of the clothes in his closet had not been worn and have no need to be there.

I bought many tops that I changed my mind on, never even worn them and both boys have these thick large jackets that seem to be for those outside in the snow. We got this from an organization that used to adopt them for the holidays. It was nice to have people in a group wanting to help us out. I would get a phone call in mid October asking for a list and I would mention clothing and sizes along with issues my sons have - like no button down shirts, sweaters or turtlenecks. We never really received the right clothing. I much prefer a gift card so that we can get the clothing that suits them best.

Instead of trying to post signs about a yard sale and get a listing up on craigslist I would just rather give the stuff away. For awhile now I have been placing clothing and shoes in the yellow bins marked Planet Aid. One day driving home I saw a truck picking up bags and bags of stuff from the container at the gas station down the street. In the past I have called for pickups from Salvation Army. But they too place all the items in the stores for people to buy. I realize that sorting these items are jobs for those with disabilities, but I really just want to find a shelter or group home and see if they could use clothing, etc.

Many years ago I did just that and cannot remember how I found them - this was before I had a computer too. I have lots of extra samples of health and beauty aides that would benefit single moms and their kids. I am in Los Angeles and do not want to drive to areas that I am not familiar with or are dangerous.

Last year at this time I had adopted many families through Wish Upon A Hero and CafeMom and had six boxes that I filled with items I bought online with my monthly Amazon certificate and from Avon and Walgreens. It took a lot of time, but was fun in the process. I do not have the time or money to mail packages and I got tired of people contacting me from these sites for more things.

This year I have added expenses of a car loan, higher auto insurance premium and a rental increase that equals almost $400. I think I will try calling 211 and 311. These are numbers for LA City and LA County. Last year we also received vouchers to Toys R Us from the LAPD. Someone in our neighborhood added our name to a list. The officers delivered them to us and we were able to go to the front of the line to get inside and pick out a DVD and videogame. At first we were told they were $50 for each kid, but ended up being $40 each. We had only a few days notice and had to be there very early, leaving the house at 6 AM.

Please do share some ideas on how I can get these jeans, pants, tops and jackets to families that can use them now. I will be posting to sell some of the other items on craigslist.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Top Ten Entrecard Droppers for Month of September

I started with Entrecard in August so this is the first full month that I can post the top ten droppers. I learned of Entrecard through autism blogs I was reading and through Twitter. I have done searches on twitter with Summize using Entrecard as my search term to find new blogs to visit and drop on.

I would like to thank those that have read this blog, advertised here, placed a comment and dropped their EC here. These are the top ten for September 2008:

Frugal Fergie

My Financial Recovery

Single Guy Money

Everyone's Child

Chasing The Bull

Earn Blogger

Three Channels

Greener Pastures

Green Stew

LOL Cats

Feel free to advertise on my blog, visit, drop and leave comments. Insurance Topics Profile Page Here is the blog profile, perhaps I could persuade you to leave a recommendation.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ten Pet Peeves based on reading blogs

Now that I am reading more blogs due to being a member of Entrecard I am having some issues. Here is a list I have compiled and may add to as more things appear to me.

1. Music on pages - this is irritating, loud, and with my computer in the kitchen and the bedroom on the other side it could easily wake up my child. Plus this slows down my computer and many times freezes it up so I have to reboot, losing time from what I was initially doing.

2. Spottt - I am not posting a link to this site as they do not need or warrant more free publicity from me. I signed up with them weeks ago and had the widget on both blogs. I noticed this same ad all over the web. Finally the other day I got emails stating my autism blog had been rejected as it was posted too far down my page. It was the fourth item on my page. This blog was approved, it was listed second. I noticed ads being shown on the widget, yet when I clicked them on I was still taken to Spottt website.

Last nite I noticed a site while doing some entrecard visiting, that had a Spottt advertisement (non Spottt related) and was located way down past the middle of the page. How was this possible, is it because it was a high traffic tech blog? I do not know, but did leave comments for a few blogs that had the same Spottt ad for Spottt, but way down on their blog page. I let them know they would probably be rejected.

Today I decided to view this blog and see what the advertisement was. It was a silver type flashing dating site with bikini clad women on the widget. I did not click to see if it took me to the dating site or to Spottt. I went to Spottt and sent an email complaining about the reject and seeing the other one not rejected and the dating site on my blog. I then deleted the code from both blogs.

Do not waste your time with them. If you are waiting to get approved check out sites that have ads and see what they are of and click on link to see where it takes you and then decide.

3. Strike Outs - I am not really sure what the point of these are, but I find it annoying and distracting to read a website or blog and then see a word lined out and another one replacing it. What is this I am reading, a draft? It makes no sense to me and seems sloppy and lazy. I want to read a polished article.

4. Paragraph or a few sentences - I come across these more from Twitter and at first I could not figure out where the blog/article was that I clicked on to read. I would click on a link that someone posted about a new blog and then be shocked to see not even a paragraph. I do not get it, call me clueless, maybe it has something to do with page views for their advertising. You will not see google adsense here at my blog. That is not an article, it is a sentence that is best as an email or tweet on twitter.

5. Book Reviews - I write book reviews on epinions, amazon and at the autism site I write at. I have seen some book or product reviews that seem to be for free products that people write they received and it is basically two paragraphs. Is that really considered a review? I am expecting more and left wondering what I just read. I prefer amazon reviews over these.

6. Lingo - I would expect not to see LOL or LMAO in an article, but they are there. I find that a turn off and will not read further.

7. Spam codes - I cannot read these little letters and post it into the box most times. I give up after two tries. There is a way to stop these in blogger, not sure about other blog sites. I wonder how many comments are gone because of these imaged text to copy and decipher.

8. Time Zones - I am in California on pacific time, which is three hours behind eastern time zone. Entrecard seems to go back and forth between 9 and 10 PM for when they change the date for drops. I would really like it to be midnight and follow each time zone the correct way. So give me from midnight to midnight. I have sitemeter listed as pacific time zone yet at night time it is showing me visiting from NY at 9 AM the following day.

9. Mommies - I find this so insulting to read articles at sites that are supposedly "Professional", and they use this child-like term to describe career women once they have children. The correct word to use should be Mother. We are now Parents and not all career woman went on to become parents, so lumping them together is wrong as well. You want to be taken seriously and then you use this word to describe someone who has children. I will not continue reading an article after coming across the word Mommies.

10. Paid Post - I see this at the bottom of a post and sometimes when I have tried to leave a comment it asks me if I want to be paid for my comment or something. I find these confusing. Is it really worth having this publicized on each post on a blog, what is the payout on these? Who pays for posts, is this for advertising or writing about products? I find it distracting me from reading the actual content, and I leave with more questions than when I arrived at the blog or site.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

An Entrecard Credit Giveaway

I recently joined Entrecard after seeing the ad boxes adorning many blogs I was visiting. This is free to join. You earn Entrecard Credit (EC) for posting a blog (25) and for drops there is one credit. Think of a drop as putting your business card into a bowl at a Restaurant for a free dinner or lunch. There are credits given for having an advert up on your page. There is a calculation based on visits and other data that gives Entrecard the credits needed to buy ad on your page for one day. This site has me listed at 32 credits while a member will need 512 credits to buy an ad on my autism site.

At EntreCard there is a page that shows the profile for all members. You pick a category for your site. This one I chose finance and my autism site is under Parenting. When you see the wait days for the card this means how many days before your ad would appear on their EntreCard section. I have eight ads up now for the autism site and 3 for this site. You can link your blogs under the same sign in email address and switch credits between them and also logging in to drop for each site.

You can place profiles you like as a favorite. I like doing this with the sites that I have advertised with so I can go back again and make sure I visit them daily. At the start of a new month many members display the top ten droppers at their site, giving them more exposure. There is a dashboard at the main page to see your ads, pending ads and transactions. There are graphs showing you stats and the listing of the droppers and how the ads are doing. This data shows the past few days and how today compares to them, plus how many visitors clicked on your link from an ad.

For entrecard members visiting my blogs, please make sure to scroll down to see the logo for my other blog and do a drop there as well, so you can get two visits from me back to your site. I see several other blogs that have more than one and I try to get to both of them through both my sites when time permits.

I am really enjoying Entrecard dropping and learning of new sites, observing ads and seeing what I want to emulate on my blogs. There are many International sites, animal sites to visit and specific blogs for Home and Garden, News and Health. Many members hold contests, which is what I am sharing with today.

The site Kabalyero is holding a giveaway of 2,000 Entrecard Credits. This contest ends on September 15, 2008. You need to blog about the contest linking to it and then post a comment there.

Good luck to all. I am entered now too, could use those points to place many ads for both my sites. You can do the same by joining. There is no referral program there. The forums are helpful for newbies too.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Organize and Protect Financial System

I watched Suze Orman explain and share about the Organize and Protect Financial System on QVC and thought this would suit my needs well. The first thing to do when watching QVC and considering a purchase is to read the reviews posted by previous customers. This helps on impulse shopping, especially after you have received your income tax return and have the shopping bug.

I had purchased a few years earlier the Suze Orman Fico Kit, which was really good, but the CD on my older computer died and by the time I had received the homeschooling computer that CD had expired, so I did not get my money's worth.

I admit this blue suitcase seems overwhelming to me and I need space to set it up and organize. Probably the first thing to do is play the CD and learn the steps to get this accomplished. My goal is by year-end to have this completed. One of the snaps on the side of the case is not secured properly, so I doubt this will stay closed once I gather all the necessary items.

I already have an earthquake type system in place as stated here in my article, Essential Items for the Family. I will have a review of this system and how efficient it is or not plus details on the contents once I have put mine together. What a daunting task.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Review Property Insurance Needs

For those who rent and have not considered renters insurance now is the time to obtain a quote and fit the premiums into your monthly budget.

Flood and Earthquake coverage are separate policies. If you are a resident of California you can purchase Earthquake Insurance through your insurance provider, as long as they are authorized to represent the California Earthquake Authority. The Federal Government sets the rates for Flood Insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program. The policy can also be administered through your insurance provider of choice.

Because renters insurance is not necessary to sign a lease and move into a residence, a good portion of renters never obtain renters insurance. I purchased my policy in May after a robbery in my home occurred while I was out doing errands. My annual premium is $294.00. I also purchased an Earthquake policy at an annual premium of $108. I opted for the lowest option at this point in time, and will most likely increase when an income tax refund arrives. For now I have a $750 deductible with a limit of $5,000 personal property on the Earthquake Policy. What sold me on the policy is the Additional Living Expense and Loss of Rent.

While they do pay for the shortest time reasonably needed to repair or replace parts of the rental unit; it is more than I had prior to the Earthquake Insurance policy. I am not covered for fire, explosion or water damage from flood, rain, tsunami, or water below the surface of the ground, whether it be natural or not. This includes leaks through a sidewalk, foundation or other structure.

My personal property protection for the Renters Insurance has a reimbursement provision of $25,000, a deductible of $250 with additional living expenses up to twelve months. The family liability protection is at $100,00 for each occurrence, $1,000 guest medical protection at $1,000 for each person.

Since the city of Los Angeles recently replaced the sidewalks on the street and I witnessed the shoddy job being done, I am now concerned that something could go amiss down the road. I see this type of incidence occurring frequently in areas of the State while watching local news. Workers in another area could cause damage that would result in my house being flooded.

I have my auto insurance through Allstate and made the telephone call to their offices directly for my insurance needs. I was asked several questions when I applied for both Renters and Earthquake Insurance. These included how close I reside to the Fire Department, nearest Hospital in miles, if I have any pets and anyone else besides my children reside in the house.

There is also a separate policy offered through Allstate, known as Schedules Personal Property Coverage. This would cover fine art, musical instruments, sports equipment, valuables stored at the safe deposit bank or in the home. If you work from home and utilize your computer or audio-visual equipment for business purposes these will be covered as well.

It is important to document all major purchases throughout the year and contact your agent or insurance provider to include these items in your property insurance policies. These would include a new computer, laptop, exercise equipment, new furniture, new appliances, etc.

I am a home health care worker for my son and get my health and dental insurance through the Union. If a home health care worker would be coming into my house on a daily basis I would need to make note of that on an insurance policy. In California there is the California Workers’ Compensation and Employers’ Liability Coverage for Residence Employees Coverage. This would be noted on the Policy Declaration of the Condominium and Renters or Standard, Deluxe or Deluxe Plus Homeowners policies.

We had a trampoline in our home for my kids to use. A few years ago a classmate came over with his Mother for the afternoon. When I noticed the boy jumping on the trampoline I mentioned to the parent that I did not have insurance and that he really could not use that for his protection and mine.

If you rent out a room in your home or have taken in displaced residents from Hurricane Katrina, you should contact your insurance agent or provider and get the additional persons added onto your policy.

You do not want to weigh down your car with all your emergency belongings since this will cause you to go through gas quicker driving around with a carload, but do keep a suitcase with important documents in a closet that is not at floor level.

Take inventory of your contents and videotape the rooms with the date noted for future reference. Make sure you list items received over the Holidays and at birthdays. Make a monthly note on your calendar to do an insurance checkup. Pack a directory of health care providers in case you have to evacuate and need to switch Primary care physicians or choose another provider through your PPO. I also keep a copy of the banking locations for my state in one of the emergency suitcases.

While gathering important documents don’t forget the schooling data if you have children. This would include the recent test results, report cards and progress reports. It will help in case you have to enroll your child in another school. Since Hurricane Katrina destroyed schools this would really help enable your child to continue with their studies without having to be re-tested.

I always kept our emergency suitcases at the back door and have changed that to a high storage cabinet that is easy to access when emergencies occur. I learned from seeing the flooding of homes on the news coverage. Think of the replacement cost of all your items if you are a renter and have no insurance as of this date.

I have now looked into purchasing Flood Insurance. The first step is to check your Flood Risk through the site. I found out that here in my Los Angeles area we are a low to moderate risk and according to Allstate 90% of all disasters are flood related with 25% occurring in low to moderate risk areas. The site states, “Buildings in these zones could be flooded by severe, concentrated rainfall coupled with inadequate local drainage systems. Flood insurance for these zones is available in communities participating in the NFIP.” Considering that last years season had one of the highest rain falls in Los Angeles, along with witnessing the water pouring down the street, I feel it is necessary to purchase Flood Insurance at this time.

I cannot imagine having to make the decision on what to bring if being informed to evacuate. I know we have three suitcases with our essentials and a bag or two in the car with water, food and health care supplies. After seeing the devastation and realizing that one might not get back into their homes for weeks on end, it makes me want to take pictures of every room so we would have something to reflect back on if we had to leave quickly. If anything it might help my children see items they had to leave behind.

Each time a disaster hits somewhere in the world I take it as a sign to update my emergency supplies, purchase more batteries and candles and go through the canned good stock and make sure we have a can opener that is not hard to grasp and easy to maneuver.

Many people discussed on the news that they prepared by filling their bathtubs with water. I heard this could be used for drinking and to flush the toilet. Each time I go to the store I pick up a jug of water. Now my kitchen has turned into a storage facility with ice chests and water jugs. Recently we had a power outage across Los Angeles that freaked out many and put others on preparation overdrive. I called the school to see if the power was out and was notified they had a generator.

At one of my children’s Elementary schools they hand out every other year a large plastic ziploc bag that has a printed label with the student’s name, address, room number, parent name and phone number. All families were requested to place a large plastic bag inside, a juice box or water container, cereal bars and other non-perishable items. We were asked to include a letter or card to our child and a family photo. I assumed the letter was to have the child read during the emergency so I wrote for my son to remain calm and eat something or read a book in the classroom and that I would be there to get him quickly.

Families also need to have a disaster plan in place. Children need to know their phone numbers and addresses. It was also noted during the coverage on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that many young children did not know their names or their parents. For children that are under 2 or 3 and cannot speak this information, families should consider a label on the sneakers or inside the clothing somewhere to help identify the child. There are emergency medical alert bracelets for those who have health issues and are on medication. I have yet to do this for my younger son who is nonverbal, but inside the car I have a sticker noting his information and one inside the house. This is just in case something happens to me so he could be identified.

Many families have adopted one night a week for game playing and having a sit down dinner. This would be the time to discuss a family disaster plan and tell them what types of insurance you have to help them learn about planning for emergencies. If there are relatives in other cities or States share their number with your children and discuss what each child would want to take along and make a list of these items. Have this list on the bulletin board or on refrigerator so the child can read through this when the time comes to evacuate.

I also have purchased additional warranties on my stationary bike, television and air conditioner. These documents are kept in my emergency suitcase along with my insurance policies.

The tips to remember are to review your insurance policies, update coverage and contents within the home and create a disaster plan for the family. Another step is to pack emergency supplies and important documents in a high storage section of the home and make an additional copy for relatives in another city or state. Consider purchasing a small portable television that takes batteries and make sure you have a portable radio with plenty of batteries. If you only have a cell phone you might want to purchase some calling cards to use payphones when cell phone is not fully charged. If you have a home phone line with the only phone being a cordless, head over to Radio Shack and get the old fashioned kind of phone.

In order to afford the insurance policies start packing a lunch a few times a week, wash your laundry in cold water once a week and avoid fast food for two weeks. Other ways to cut corners would be to read newspapers and magazines at the library on your lunch hour and take the kids to rent movies at the library on Saturday.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Create A Tickler File

Many years ago I worked as an Assistant to a CEO of a Third Party Administrator. He was old school, close to retirement and not into computer systems and learning about new technology.

He had a tickler system in place before I was employed at the Company and this was to stay the same. The Tickler file system consisted of an Accordion file with tabs pre-made from 1-31. This is for the days of the month. Any correspondence he received would get a number written at the top of the page. This was to be filed under that number.

The mail for each day would end up back in the Tickler File to be followed up on a certain date. Anything he handled got placed back into the Tickler File. This Accordion file was kept at my desk on top of a file cabinet so he had easy access to it at all times.

This is such an organized way to keep track of bills and mail into one compartmentalized unit. Accordion files expand and have a secure fastener to keep all items contained for easy storage.

At the start of each day you would gather all the documents from that date, work on them by paying the bill, making the phone call to gather data needed to take care of the business at hand. If you pay your bills online you will still need two days for processing. Therefore if a bill is due on the 15th of the month it would be best to place it under the number 12 to start the payment process.

For bills that are being sent through the post office you will need 5-7 days for mailing to make sure you do not get zapped with a late fee. Please take all these issues into consideration when placing items of importance into the Tickler File for handling at a later date.

This system can also be used for birthday cards to be mailed. Once a card has been purchased you can fill out the inside and address the card if it is being mailed. Next you would place it a few days earlier of the event to accommodate mailing. Otherwise the day of the birthday or day before is best.

If you have warranties that are up for expiration you could utilize this system for them and just keep them in there for the months leading up to the expiration date. Another tickler file could also be created for Months of the year, but that could turn out to be confusing. These are ideas to help with paper clutter and leave room on coffee tables, kitchen counters and wherever else mail piles can preside over in our homes.

A Tickler File can be used for teachers, homeschoolers, groups and clubs as well as office professionals. This way when a teacher or employee is sick anyone can pull out the related documents for that corresponding date. If you have an appointment in the morning before arriving at the office you can gather the next day items and place on the desks of those working on these documents so they are prepared first thing in the morning. This would be great for meeting agendas that need to be passed out and any photocopying.

The inbox will not be filled with documents that need to be perused. They will all be filed throughout the day in the Tickler File.

Here is a photo of an Accordion File. While searching for an accurate photo I came across a Tickler File System that includes an accordion file for 1-31, as well as for January through December, reminder forms and labels. This is a neat package that will organize your home and office in one day. This is also a perfect gift idea for the home office professional.

I like this system and plan to use it to stay on track with our homeschooling correspondence, test dates, meeting dates and conference calls.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Managing Your Credit with Equifax Products

I have experienced a tax lien and judgement on my credit reports in recent years. That all changed when I filed for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in the summer of 2004. With all that now behind me, I want to make sure that I never fall into that pattern of mishandling my credit. I was also under the false impression that if something did not show up on your credit report it was not an issue.

That is how a joint credit account with my first husband showed up fifteen years later threatening to take my bank account and access to my children's Social Security funds. They had a judgement against me, even though my legal name was not state, plus they did not try to contact me for years, I still felt the only recourse I had was to file for Bankruptcy.

The tax lien was a result of a dispute over unemployment funds through the State of New Jersey. After having a child I was called back to work at a temporary agency. This occurred during snow blizzards where I could not get there due to travel conditions and no childcare. The end result was they fought the unemployment and wanted it paid back. I was moving to California and could not stick around to fight this out.

These two issues that ultimately led to my filing a bankruptcy can happen to anyone, no matter what class you are. To help me prepare for my bankruptcy I utilized a book by Nolo Press. Now I keep track of my FICO score with software by Suze Orman. I regularly check my bank statement online plus my credit card statements and balances. But is that enough? Luckily I had the opportunity to try out the Credit Watch Gold 3-in-1 membership with Equifax.

This monitoring system through Equifax has several components to it. The three sections of this site are manage your credit, protect your identity and prepare for a purchase. When you purchase the Credit Watch Gold 3-in1 product you are given unlimited access to your Equifax credit report for the one-year membership.

There is a security feature when you first arrive at the site to make your selections. The four steps are registration, verify your identity, order summary and then member center. The verification process asks two questions only you would know. I was not expecting this to state made up information and was caught off guard and quite upset at the prospect of my credit report having a mortgage on it from February 2006. I am a renter and was anxious to read my report. Then I realized these two questions were bogus to prevent someone else from accessing my data. A bit unnerving – one question was to select which mortgage company with the second the amount of the monthly payments. I selected none both times.

Even though I used a promo code when making this purchase there is an option to include your credit card if you want to continue with the service once the free trial has expired. They will charge $1.00 for verification purposes on said card. I did not check that box. During the enrollment process there is a privacy opt-out notice for non-affiliated third parties.

You will also need to give your Social Security number, date of birth and phone number along with address and email address. There is a secret question to choose from when creating your user name and password.

The actual cost of this Equifax Credit Watch Gold with 3-in-1 monitoring is $12.95 per month.

Your recently ordered reports are available at an archive in the member center of their site, To get a revised report you need to order another one. With each order you receive a confirmation number. When you file a dispute you will need the actual confirmation number to start the process. It is advised after going through the steps online to contact them at a toll-free number. While waiting on hold I was hearing recordings on how to go to for more information.

Once you have registered at the site and made your purchase you sign in using your created username and password. The options are numerous at the site and at times overwhelming in making your choice or determining which step to take next. You can save your credit card for future purchases by checking a box.

There is a newsletter to sign up and read the archives, a family program, a rewards program and credit education program that is located at There are options like score power, credit rankings, wireless alerts, a toolbar and a rate tracker. I tested out the rate tracker. I had to insert my FICO score and choose what I was interested in. I checked an auto loan, which produced a few options for me with lending companies and the rates. This was very accurate as I had received an offer in the mail earlier in the week from Capitol One Auto Finance, and this was listed as the lowest rate. I will be attempting to download the toolbar and see how it can help me manage my finances.

The alert preferences can be set for card activity, balance changes and percentage increases. I have not explored this in much depth yet as I go online almost daily to view my credit card accounts.

I was not pleased with having to make a phone call after following the steps online to file a dispute. Once on the phone with the information center I gave my confirmation number and then had to verify with more information – date of birth, SSI#, complete name and address. When asked for your complete name I believe that means your middle, yet the service personnel stated that was not necessary, as it was not listed on the report. So what exactly is a complete name?

I was asked what my dispute was and at the end told it wold be 21-30 days for paperwork to arrive in the mail. I was given another confirmation number. These are always nine digits. I need to keep them all organized as I found it confusing to have so many of these.

The numbers are as follows:

Disputes – 1-866-471-1991
To get a copy of your report – 1800-685-1111
To get your score mailed or faxed to you – 1-800-437-4619

The price range for products consist of:

3-in-1 report for Equifax - $19.95, add credit rankings for another 8.95
Score power - $15.50, with credit rankings total is $26.85
Score watch – 7.95 per month (3 month min)
Credit watch silver - $4.95 per month – listed as best deal

There are gift options available with each purchase and product.
The customer care is available twenty-four hours a day. There are discounts on other products and add-ons. Then there is the $2,500 Identity Fraud Expense Coverage with $250 deductible (certain limitations and exclusions apply) at no additional charge to you

Pros – lots of choices and membership options

Cons – many phone numbers and confirmation numbers to keep track of, site is overwhelming

My experience was that I ordered the Equifax report, received the confirmation number and email. Went back to the member center after signing in to read this report. This section of the site is nicely organized where you can choose which portion of the report you want to read and then print.

Next I ordered the 3-in-1 report from all reporting agencies. This can be done once for the membership period. This is also in archive for your products ordered and is unlike the option where you can order daily the Equifax report. These do not update, you need to order them continually to get the revised editions.

Here is where I noticed the discrepancy with my Equifax report. The 3-in-1 has Equifax in pink, Experian is blue with TransUnion in green shade. This is a side by side chart showing pages of your data. I noticed that Gateway was listed as being open and just reported in September of 2006 for Equifax. This was part of my Bankruptcy and noted as such in the other two reports.

It looks like I have to wait for the information in the mail on this dispute, although the site does have information on tracking your disputes. After utilizing for a few weeks now I feel this site has a lot to offer consumer. It will help manage your finances, prepare you for major purchases by learning the FICO score, checking rates and being alerted to activity on their accounts through the monitoring system and the identity theft coverage. This helps to make sure your insurance payment was received on time and not reported to the credit bureaus. More insurance companies are now checking into your credit report before issuing you a policy.

I would probably start with the Silver watch and the score watch. The silver watch has weekly monitoring through wireless and email alerts with one report. Equifax Score Watch

Lower Your Auto Insurance Premium In One Easy Step

When you first shop around for automobile insurance you may obtain quotes from several companies before making your decision. One of the questions listed on the application is to estimate the mileage you drive annually.

My policies have been for six-month periods for several years now, but I am not sure if it is this way in other regions. In May 2004 is when I started with Allstate Insurance Company for my current vehicle I bought on eBay Motors that same month. Over the years I have started my policies for my automobiles with Allstate and sometimes change to another company if I find a better price.

Since I now have multiple policies with Allstate I am receiving more discounts and have not looked elsewhere to compare prices. Every year I go to Jiffy Lube and get the vehicle serviced.

This time I noticed the mileage listed for the previous two visits on my receipt and realized I have not yet driven ten thousand miles since purchasing the Minivan. It was under 95,000 when I made the purchase. The current mileage for a 1993 Ford Aerostar is under 104,000 miles.

While following up with the Life Insurance Policy during a telephone call with my Allstate Agent I inquired about mileage for the upcoming renewal on my auto policy. I informed the Agent of the mileage reported over this two-year period that was reflected on the receipt from Jiffy Lube. He told me to bring it into his office or mail a copy.

I mailed a copy on 4-21-06 and received today on 4-29-06 a new Renewal Policy Declarations that highlights the new premium for a six-month period at $298.87. The previous premium was $345. This is a savings of $46.31 by lowering my annual estimated mileage from 12,000 - 12,999 to 8,000 - 8,999.

My premium reflects a discount of $134.82 - the good driver discount, distinguished driver, renewal and multiple policy. Since more money is being spent on gas, almost at $3.50 here in Los Angeles, this is a nice reward for driving less.

I just went through the auto quote process at Allstate in hopes of finding the breakdown of the mileage for policies. It states that documentation is needed for annual mileage below 12,000 miles and you are not retired. The acceptable documents are smog checks, tax records, vehicle registration or auto repair receipts that indicate the mileage.

I highly suggest other auto policy holders check out their actual mileage by looking through their garage and service repair receipts, their current mileage and what is listed on their actual policy. Many are driving less, resorting to using mass transit or carpooling. Before your policy renews look through these documents and see if there can be an adjustment to your mileage estimates.

Auto Insurance Premiums are also calculated according to your zipcode.

Time for an Insurance Checkup

Consumers have a variety of insurance policies in effect. Some may be through the employer where the end of the year could be the time specified for making changes to existing plans, updating coverage and signing up for new plans. The group benefits would most likely be health, vision, dental, life, LTC, worker’s compensation, ADD and Disability. The payments for these are taken from your paycheck.

The other insurance policies would be through your insurance agent for the homeowners, condo owners or renters policy and automobile policies. You may also have additional coverage for stand-alone coverage such as earthquake or flood insurance.

Look for your most recent member handbook to your Insurance Company. Make note of any changes within the network, compare co-pays for each option for your health benefits. It might be time to change Doctors or the provider group is no longer in the network. Doctor fees rise as well and need to be taken into account when changing Physicians, as well as the location to your home and work. It might be beneficial to choose a Doctor that has Saturday hours or one that works within two Hospitals for more options.

Also look into how your network handles referrals for continuing health needs such as seeing a Specialist for Asthma or therapy needs for children and adults. Prescription plans can be the determining factor for choosing a particular HMO or PPO through your employer plans.

It is important to take the paperwork home and go over it as a family to make sure every member's needs are taken into account. Will your child need braces, anyone wear eyeglasses, have a speech delay or require specific medications that might not be covered without a Physician's visit for each refill.

Emergency services, plus ambulance costs and mileage to the nearest Hospital need to be taken into consideration. With some plans the consumer needs to pay a set rate after so many ambulance visits or emergency calls to the house for the same issues.

With family planning you need to check out the Hospitals and see the rooms and find out if Certified Nurse Midwives are the ones who deliver babies, especially if you want an OB/GYN Specialist.

Urgent care, hospice care, counseling services, mental health, newborn care and lab services are all areas to look into before deciding on a plan. Visit a few pharmacies near work on your lunch hour to see what the wait time is and take the time to get to know your chosen Pharmacist.

At this time you might also consider adding more coverage to existing vision and/or dental plans or change providers. At your annual insurance checkup you have the option of increasing your deductible on any of your plans. For your personal needs this might be worthwhile after perusing through the pay-out options within the basic, enhanced or premiere options.

It is also imperative that you take your age into account when making additions or revisions to current insurance plans. This might not be the time to lower health insurance coverage. Remember also that there could be a retirement plan, savings or 401K plan, tuition assistance plan, as well as an employee assistance plan, flexible spending accounts and legal service plans.

For me at age 46 I have almost $50 taken out of my paycheck to cover an Accident and Disability expense policy and a Cancer Protector Policy. Both are through Allstate-at-Work and my home health care workers union. I have decided to increase the benefits to the next tier as I am at the basic level for each of these.

Since I would not be able to handle the increased deduction from my paycheck I plan on waiting for my income tax return next year and then making the request for increased coverage and paying at the annual rate, which would increase my take home pay. Also each year around that time my rent goes up about fifty dollars, so I would be at the same current amount. Those who receive SSI will receive a 3.3 percent increase come January 2007.

Life Insurance Calculators

Supplemental Insurance Plans

Besides the basic health insurance coverage, life insurance policy, auto and home owner's insurance options there are supplemental plans to cover families and individuals. These policies cover the gap left by the basic plans already in place.

These would be for cancer and serious illnesses and may include transportation costs, living expenses and child care needs. They also reimburse for second opinions, hospital confinement, lump sum payments upon diagnosis, loss of limbs, out-of-pocket hospital expenses, anesthesiologist services, diagnostic testing, cash benefits, radiation, chemotherapy, air ambulance, emergency room, xrays, preventative screenings, blood, plasma, prosthesis, private duty nursing services, inpatient drugs and hospice care.

The policies are known as cancer, critical illness benefit, accidental death & dismemberment (AD&D), long term disability (LTD) and Long term care (LTC), income protection plans and supplemental life policies.

AD&D plans cover on and off the job and could include disability as a result of an accident. These plans have several options/riders that usually can be upgraded as your family life increases or your needs down shift. These plans cover individuals and families for injuries, burns, dislocations and accidents to the insured and dependents.

These plans may also include coverage while driving, flying or on a train. If there is a death as a result of an accident there is a different payout to the designated beneficiary. Most plans are portable, meaning you can take the coverage with you when you change jobs. These plans are guaranteed renewable with payout directly to the insured.

Your financial institution offers supplemental insurance coverage. Sometimes these are at no cost for low end coverage. An example would be for two years now I have been part of a Group Accidental Death policy through Union Bank of California. For account holders there is a no cost plan for $1,000 of coverage with the option to purchase more coverage through your checking account on a monthly basis. I get these options often through my Union, Bank and Credit Card Company. You can even purchase supplemental life insurance through your Bank.

My Union utilizes Allstate at Work for the AD&D and Cancer Insurance policies. I recently received mine in the mail and have the payments deducted from my paycheck once a month. I have heard on the news that Walmart will be marketing insurance to their customers. Soon we will be buying insurance at the super market and swiping debit cards to pay our premiums.

At least twice a year families and individuals should go over their insurance policies and determine whether they need more or less coverage. This depends on their age and dependents age and needs. Children that are graduating high school need to learn and plan for their future by obtaining quotes and finding out the age they can stay under the parent's plan or obtaining affordable insurance as a college student through the College. Riders might be added on to the automobile and life insurance policies.

Cafeteria Plans are also known as 125 plans and are through employers where employees can pay for their health insurance and other benefits on a pre-tax basis.

Cafeteria Plan Third Party Administrators

Colonial Lilfe Accident Insurance

Disability Insurance Companies

Questions for Life Insurance Applicants

These questions might be different depending on which Insurance Company you are requesting a Life Insurance Policy from.

Zipcode, date of birth, height, weight, gender, hazardous occupation in last two years.

This could be high risk professional sports, underground mining, high-rise construction work or explosive handling. If your job places you into dangerous situations the Insurance Companies will consider you a higher risk with your life expectancy lower.

Hazardous activities in last three years – mountain climbing, sky diving, racing, para-sailing, ultra light flying, scuba diving. Racing is auto, motorcycle or boats. These high risk recreational activities increase the risk of accidental death, with the premiums higher.

If you have flown an aircraft in the last three years – as either a pilot, co-pilot or crew member.

Are you an active member of the military or military reserve
? Is it as a commissioned officer or non-commissioned officer. If you are in the military you may get your insurance premiums deducted from your paycheck and qualify for a discount. If you are a test pilot your insurance premiums could be higher due to the risk of the job.

Moving violations in the last three years – if you have had three or more and convicted of Driving under the influence or had your license suspended for other reasons – chances are your premiums will be higher.

If you have been convicted of Driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated in the last ten years – here you have the option of yes within the last 5 years and yes in the last 6-10 years.

Yes or no to more than one conviction of DUI/DWI or reckless driving.

Have you lived outside of North America in the last three years? Medical records and underwriting information is easier to Obtain for those living in North America where the Insurance Companies are also located.

Yes or no on planning to travel extensively to developing countries or areas of political instability? Crime and disease are within developing countries and life threatening situations can arise in areas of political instability This will raise your insurance premiums.

Conditions you have been treated for

Kidney/liver disease
Ulcerative colitis
Kidney stones (last 2 yrs)
Gastric/Peptic Ulcers
Mental Illness
Neurogenic Bladder
Bowel Incontinence
Rheumatoid Arthritis
Diabetes Mellitus
Emphysema (chronic bronchitis)
Epilepsy (seizure disorder)
Coronary Artery Disease
Vascular Disease
Multiple Sclerosis
Alzheimer’s Disease
Alcohol /Drug Use

What is your blood pressure - Systolic (Top) level,
Diastolic (Bottom) level - you can check "I don’t know" and then you might get a higher premium when checked.

Have you ever taken blood pressure medication?

What is your cholesterol level – there is an "I don’t know" option with the mention that premium could be higher once checked.

Tobacco products in the last five years – pipe tobacco, nicotine substitutes, cigars, chewing tobacco, dip, snuff. In the last 12 months, 1-2 years, 3, 4, or 5 years

Has either your siblings or parents had cardiovascular disease before the age of 60?

Has cancer resulted in the death of either parent or siblings before the age of 60?

When I checked yes for asthma I was asked if I was under the care of a Physician and getting treatment.

When checked that I have sought treatment for either mental illness or depression the next screen asked if it had done so in the last two years.

The rate given for the quote when answering yes to a few questions turned out to be $489 per year with rate class of SNT. I also lowered my height and added 20 pounds and said that someone had died before 60.

When doing my regular data with asthma as the only yes for the same amount of 100,000 for 30 year term life the rate was $338 with the rate class P. When just stating that I had mental illness or depression the quote was still at $489.

When just checking that I had hypertension the quote was $338.00

When I checked that I had ulcers and alcohol use I was directed to call an agent. With just ulcers the rate class was at PE and the quote was at $308. I even checked off that I had two moving violations on these quotes.

So it looks like asthma and hypertension get treated the same with the quote amount, while ulcers will have a lower monthly premium. It turned out that if I had not checked off that I have asthma, my actual quote would be $308.

I have yet to figure out what the rate class codes mean.

Paying Insurance Premiums On Time

I have a few insurance policies through Allstate Insurance Company. The due dates are within a few days of each other. Unfortunately this is at a time of the month when my cash flow is limited, thus I have a hard time making these premium payments on time.

Last month I missed the payment for the Renters Insurance, which then led to a generated letter informing me my policy would be deleted if not paid by a certain date. By this time I had to make two payments and was notified that my Earthquake Insurance would be cancelled as well. This is because the Renters Insurance is needed to get the Earthquake Insurance.

With my latest Auto Insurance bill it states that it will be cancelled if not paid within one day of the due date. At the top of the insurance bill it lists the date you should mail payment to allow for mail and processing.

A few months ago I opted to call in my payments and use a check with their automated system. The other options are to use your credit or debit card, but I did not feel comfortable with that option. This is due to a radio program I listened to recently that stated the practice of companies blocking a large portion of your funds for several days, this happening to debit cards. The examples were paying for gas at certain stations. I know that some also charge 40 cents to use your own debit card - so I avoid those stations and try to pay cash for gas.

The steps with the automated system are cumbersome, but I am able to record the check number and amount with reference number on my bill and store it in my insurance file. I have not figured out a way to pay more than one bill through the same phone call, so I must hang up and place another telephone call for each bill that I am paying.

The tape recorded message does mention it could take 24-48 hours to post to your account. I check online at my bank the following day and it is already there. I am saving on postage and a trip to the post office. At this time of year any trip to the post office requires waiting in line inside or to obtain a parking spot. Recent news mentioned another hike of two cents for postage stamps, although I did not catch when this actually starts.

I did not get mail on a recent Saturday and had to call information to get the number to the post office. This led to a general toll-free number for the main postal annex. I had to explain the problem of not receiving mail and wanting confirmation it would arrive that Monday. The clerk gave me the local number where the person on the phone did not believe me when I mentioned we did not get mail on Saturday. He said the delivery people did not come back until 7:30 that night. He finally did confirm that my street did not get mail that Saturday and we would get two deliveries that day, which did occur.

Therefore, I really do not want my insurance payments sent through the mail system at this holiday time. When you choose to make monthly payments of your insurance premiums you also get the added installment fee. My Auto Insurance charges me $3.50 each month. If I had the spare cash to make an annual premium those fees would be waived, saving time and money on doing this once a year.

When I inquired for Life Insurance I was told you cannot make payments on an annual basis, but it could be quarterly. I do plan on paying off my policies when I get my Income Tax Refund. Luckily there is no fee to pay the premiums via the phone system. There is also the option to have payments taken directly out of a checking or savings account. With some companies and types of Insurance you can do this with a credit card as well.

Many years ago I had Life Insurance through John Hancock Life Insurance Company and was able to have the premiums deducted monthly from a credit card. Then the card had no credit left and I had to change the deduction to my checking account until I could no longer keep up with the payments and overdrafts so had to cancel the Insurance.

Sometimes a family has to choose between making an insurance payment and putting food on the table. It is really hard when you have no credit line for emergency purposes and have to make the choice on losing the Insurance coverage or not having enough gas in your vehicle.

I have heard that with some Insurance Companies they will waive the installment fee if you utilize their easy pay plans through automatic deduction. I do not feel comfortable with these though because they never take the money out the same day or you may forget about it one month.

There is also the option of making a payment at the agent's office for certain Insurance Companies or at their website. The information on the back of my bill for Auto Insurance mentions that the payment and schedule in Option 2 is based on payment history. If you have received two or more cancellation notices in the past twelve months and were enrolled in their Easy pay Plan, which is through savings or checking account, you will be removed from the plan and need to make payments at agent's office, over the phone or through the mail. It does not indicate whether you can utilize the website for payments. Luckily I never received a cancellation notice on my Auto Insurance policy, and only one on my Renters Insurance and then for the Earthquake policy.

It is now common practice among Insurance Companies to not renew policies of those clients who continually pay their premiums late. They check the credit and payment history before issuing the policy. For some, Insurance Companies even check your credit report and may not offer a policy. I recently learned that having overdue books at the library could hurt your credit history.

Whenever you have the means it would be wise to pay your Insurance premiums annually to avoid the installment fees. I am hoping to do an annual budget once an Income Tax Refund is received to avoid living on a monthly budget that leaves no room for emergencies.

Selecting an Individual Health Plan

Choosing an individual or family health care plan is a decision that needs to be discussed and researched thoroughly. It is not to be taken lightly and several key components need to be established beforehand.

What area do you reside in? There are various companies that cover only certain regions and some that are countrywide. First you need to check what companies cover your zipcode.

Are you interested in an HMO or PPO plan. An HMO is a health maintenance organization while a PPO is a preferred provider organization. With HMOs you see a primary care physician (PCP) that you choose from either a group, (PMG) known as a primary medical group or the IPA, which is the Independent Provider.

PPOs have set fees and are within a provider network where you can change your Doctor at any time. You would choose a Doctor for each Specialty you need a Physician for.

With an HMO you will need a referral to a Specialist. When searching providers it is important to note whether they send speedy referrals or if they go through a system that could take two weeks or longer. You will also need to determine what type of Doctor you want for your Primary Care Physician within an HMO network. It will be helpful to look into where these Doctors send their patients for lab work, x-rays and Mammograms. Is this all within the same medical building, a Hospital nearby or dispersed throughout the city.

The choices range from Internal Medicine, Family Practice, Pediatrics, Obstetrics/Gynecology or General Practice If someone in the household has a skin condition and/or asthma and allergies you need to look for the specialists they would refer you to and note where they are located and what age group they specialize in.

If you are in the child bearing years consider an Ob/Gyn or if the children are older a Family Practice might be more suitable. Check with the plan and see if you can enroll members of the family with different Doctors and still be affiliated with the same Hospital. In this instance one parent might need Internal Medicine, another Ob/Gyn with the children in Pediatrics where they are all with Independent Drs or associated with the same group.

Pre-existing conditions could mean less choices to make or larger monthly fees. Prescription plans are part of the Health Insurance plan, so look into whether they only cover generic drugs and what the co-payment may be and the limits for one year on medication. Try to obtain a preapproved drug list and a list of authorized pharmacies.

Do you have a child or adult that regularly sees a Therapist, like Physical, Occupational or Speech. With an HMO they will need to get a referral to see these professionals and only so many visits will be approved before another referral or renewal is allowed or authorized. Some Doctors or groups may need progress reports to make sure the therapy is benefitting the Insured.

As someone who suffers with eczema and asthma I really do not like having to make an appointment to see my primary care physician to then get a referral to see the Dermatologist. There have been times that the PCP has given me prescriptions for my skin related condition, eczema and they do the asthma products. I have complained in the past when they refused to give me another refill on my asthma spray making me go to their office during holiday breaks with two children on the Autism Spectrum. At these times I choose to buy over the counter remedies for speedier relief and less stress. This is definetly a consideration when choosing an HMO and then the specialty you choose for the Primary Care Physician.

For the plan you are considering you need to check the local Hospitals and what the incurred cost, if any, would be for emergency room care and ambulance service. What is the deductible for hospital stays and are any of the Hospitals considered a teaching Hospital. Check to make sure the plan under consideration does not only provide County Hospitals.

Contact the medical group for a provider directory, check their hours, what are the languages they serve and are they accepting new patients? How long is the process should your child need to see an Ear/Nose Specialist? What is their scheduling like, does the Doctor visit patients in the Hospital before seeing patients, do they overbook, is there a month waiting list for an appointment and how do they handle emergencies?

If you become pregnant will you have a midwife or an MD? Can you choose someone specifically from the group for the delivery? What is the dismissal procedure after having a baby, do you stay 12, 24 or 48 hours after delivery? Do they perform circumcisions as part of the well care or is that an additional charge done in Hospital or as outpatient care?

Take a tour of the Hospital affiliated with your intended Health Care Plan, check the nursery area, children's ward and cafeteria. Inquire into visiting hours and look at the emergency room. Ask if they have any staff that assist with breastfeeding for new Moms.

Another thought is if the parent can stay overnight should a child have to be Hospitalized. This was allowed at both Hospitals my children have been admitted in.

The cost should be something you can handle each month or quarter, depending on which plan you choose for yourself and your family. Call up agents and ask for paperwork to read over. Look through all the paperwork before someone comes into your house to try to sell you a plan. Will you need to have any physical tests taken before signing up for the health plan. How long is the underwriting and review process?

It is important to know the cost associated, what are the Physician options and which Hospitals are contracted. Do online research of the Doctors and Hospitals. Find out if they have been sued for malpractice, check their Credentials.

Insurance can be a Hassle at Times

I suffer with severe eczema - a skin condition that had my face inflammed for a few weeks with redness around my nose and under my eyes. One morning my right eye was swollen almost shut due to the spread of the rash.

It is not easy to go about in public taking care of errands with a face that one day looks like you were attacked, and another day skin peeling. Try putting makeup over the areas to tone down the redness and you have a pitiful looking face.

Depression was setting in with my face not getting any better over the days that turned into weeks. I had one clerk at Rite Aid ask if my autistic son who was having a fit at the moment was the one who had scratched my face. I then had to explain my skin condition and felt even worse than before arriving at the counter to pay for my ointments and lotions.

The problem was that I had changed insurance plans, and have yet to make my first appointment at the new primary care physician's office. I probably will not be doing that any time soon. I reside in Los Angeles and only go to areas I know are safe and that I have been to in the past.

Prior to the change I was on the State of California's Medi-Cal plan with Blue Cross as my chosen HMO. Once I became a home health care worker for my nonverbal autistic son my income took me to the transitional plan until I no longer qualified. I chose the Insurance Plan with the Home Care Worker's Union.

The problem with this Insurance Plan is that they make the initial choice for the Primary Care Physician and then you can change to one you would prefer. The Hospitals affiliated with the Plan are County run, an option I am not thrilled with having always utilized the Adventist Medical Center where my children are also affiliated with through their Pediatrician's office.

The Doctor chosen for me is located near USC, an area I have never driven to and do not feel comfortable doing so. This Insurance is basically used only for the Prescription Plan, although that benefit is not as good as the Medi-Cal program. I cannot even pronounce the name of the Physician and would have to get a referral to see a Dermatologist.

All of this takes time, and when you need relief from an ailment, condition, etc you do not have this luxury to wait for medication. I went to a walk-in urgent care clinic and paid $40 to see a Physician within ten minutes and received a prescription for a Cortisone cream and Prednisone. I even got the name and address of a Dermatologist to consult with.

I had been avoiding going the Prednisone route, a medication I have nicknamed the "nasty pill". Even the side effects state this has mood and personality changes, which I can attest to. The last time I used this medication was the summer of 2003 to prepare for a court battle with my ex. I wanted my face to look decent during that stressful time.

I am now comfortable in my own skin after having been on this medication for three days. My face looks better, a slight redness in a few areas on the face. I can get on with daily living instead of wanting to hide inside my house.

There are times when it is so much easier to bypass the Insurance steps needed to take to see a Physician and go get it done on your own and pay out-of-pocket.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

An Emergency Room Experience

I have suffered with eczema and asthma since childhood. As a child I would regularly get shots for my asthma either on an emergency basis at the Doctor's office or regular shots to keep my asthma under control. At one point in time my Mother learned to give me the shots, although not a pleasant experience for a child to go through.

Over the years I have had to make only a few emergency visits to a Doctor for my skin condition. One time when making meatloaf I rubbed my face without washing my hands, which left my face in an itchy rash. Ever since that disasterous experience I use a wooden fork to mix ingredients without physically touching the ground chuck.

Usually my hands are the worse in the winter months, but the past few months my face was suffering from flareups constantly. When shopping at Walgreen's last Saturday for some redness relief moisturizer lotion the cashier told me she had a similar experience that got better after she went to the Emergency Room for a shot of Cortisone.

I had not considered going to the Emergency Room for my facial swelling, even though most mornings my eyelids were swollen. I read through my Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) Handbook trying to decipher what constitutes an Emergency Room visit.

It is clearly spelled out in the Handbook not to use Emergency Room for routine health care services. The steps to use Urgent Care are also discussed, starting with a call to your Primary Care Physician (PCP), identify yourself as a plan member. Ask to speak to the Doctor on-call about what has happened. If you cannot get in contact with your PCP contact the Health Plan.

Urgent Care is what you need when a condition, illness or injury is not life-threatening, but needs medical care right away. Emergency Medical Condition is a medical condition manifested by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain), such that the absence of immediate medical attention could reasonably be expected to result in placing the patient's health or unborn child in serious jeopardy, serious impairment to bodily functions, or serious dysfunction of any body organ or part. This includes psychiatric disturbances and symptomos of substance abuse.

I still was not certain my visit to an Emergency Room would be covered by my Insurance plan, since I would be going to one near my residence that is not part of the network. I started by calling an Emergency Room at a Hospital not too far from my house. I inquired to the length of wait since my kids both are on the Autism Spectrum and not familiar with the place. I was told by the Emergency Room Personnel that we should probably try another location.

I wanted to go to the Hospital my youngest son has been a patient of three times, as well as a few trips to the Emergency Room. I figured this would be less stressful for my kids and I would feel better going someplace we all were familiar with. I started by calling the PCP, which had no answering service or machine. I let it ring for several minutes before realizing I would not get anyone on this line.

I used the phone number on the back of my Insurance Identification Card that says for 24-hour authorization. I figured this was the number the Hospital would call to get approval. I gave my ID# and explained my situation with my skin and my two kids. The person told me this would be covered to go to the Emergency Room at the Hospital of my choosing and they would call to get autorization once I got there. She also stated it was not unusual for the PCP to not have a message service.

I packed a backpack of reading material for us, diapers for my younger son and water and snacks. I brought along the medications I had been taking, as well as some cosmetics and lotions I had recently purchased. We got to the Emergency Room at 2 pm on Sunday afternoon. Within forty-five minutes I was assessed by a Nurse, had my blood pressure checked and temperature taken. I was given a wristband with identifying information and told to go to another waiting room at the end of another hall.

This was the waiting room for another section of the Emergency Room for minor conditions. I was not happy to learn that my inflamed face with swollen eyelids was considered a minor issue. There were families coming in with several children running around. Several people were ahead of us in this room, that seemed to take each one in the order they appeared. We were given paperwork on our situation and placed these documents in a box for a Nurse to remove.

I was called into the Emergency Room section by 5pm and quickly seen by an Intern. She mentioned some courses of treatment for me and needed to see her Attending Physician to determine which method would work best for me. She told me one shot would work quickly where another one would take longer to work. Luckily I did not have to make the decision since I wanted fast results.

The Attending Physician came awhile later to look at my swollen face and they went off to consult. The Doctor returned to tell me which method would be used and that the Nurse would give me an antibiotic and then get the shot from the Pharmacy. They would then have to keep me longer to make sure there was no allergic reaction to the shot and then I would get prescriptions.

This whole process took longer than the actual wait in the waiting room. It was more than an hour to get the shot and then like another one for them to check me out for reactions. Initially I was told the shot would be in the arm, but the Nurse learned from the Pharmacist that a shot would have to be in the muscle of my torso.

This freaked my kids out since he wanted to pull the curtain. My son did not want the door closed and once the gloves went on the Nurse he paced about thinking they were coming for him. There turned out to be some problem with the computer and my financial information, so I was not released until 8:30 pm. My face was burning and it seemed worse to me from what I could see in my little mirror.

The Nurse told me they were short staffed and very busy. Each person that came into the Emergency Room after us was seen by the same Doctor within five minutes. It looked like the Nurse was the busiest person in the Emergency Room with the Doctor handling the caseload in rapid succession.

My paperwork said to see a Dermatologist in 1-2 days for follow up care. The Nurse had told me the shot was slow released giving me twelve hours of medication. He said my face would look better the next morning. My face was worse with both eyelids swollen. The Doctor told me to stop taking the Prednisone I had been taking that did not seem to work for four days and to take the Antibiotics for ten days. They did not give me any creams or ointments to put on my face and said they were working from the inside.

Turns out the Hospital office building only has a Dermatologist on Tuesdays and the Nurse at their office would not give me an Emergency appointment. I called my PCP to get a referral and was told I had to go in to see the PCP to get one and this would take too long.

In the end I went through the yellow pages and found a Dermatologist that charged $135 and could see me at 3:30 that afternoon. Driving to Rite Aid for the Rx was hard to do with my swollen eyes tearing up, so we headed to the Dermatologist in a taxi during a rainstorm to get some care - this the day after being at the Emergency Room for over six hours.

This Dermatologist told me to start back on the Prednisone and stop the Antibiotics and to put ointment on my face twice a day. I am happy to report that by Thursday my face was clear and has continued to be that way. I did not have to pay $95 for a follow-up visit with the Dermatologist on Friday, but will be making an appointment soon to keep the eczema under control before an emergency arises.

On Tuesday morning we had a power outage at 4 AM from the overnight rainstorm. With my skin starting to mend I did not want to suffer without ventilation in my house. I have air conditioning in the bedroom plus a ceiling fan and fans throughout the house. We ended up staying at a Super 8 Motel overnight that had ample Air conditioning, as well as cable Television for the kids, microwave and refrigerator. I had such a pleasant sleeping experience in that cold room I am sure it helped in the healing process.

My Insurance plan does not have a nurse hotline. As a home health care worker for the State my plan includes only County Hospitals. I was tempted to call the Blue Cross Hotline from my previous Insurance plan, or to contact the hotline for my kids insurance. Instead I perused over the Insurance Handbook and went directly to the plan for assistance in determining whether my situation was an Emergency.

I encourage people to read over your plan and familiarize yourself with Urgent and Emergency Care steps so you will be able to obtain the proper care for when a situation mounts. I had not contemplated an Emergency Room visit until the cashier at Walgreen's mentioned she had done the same thing. It helps to get feedback from others and take advice where you least expect it.

Take Advantage of Open Enrollment

It is that time of year again where companies offer the choice to change your Employee Benefit Plans. An open enrollment period can be once or twice a year with the time frame being about one month to make the changes to your existing plan. If you have not turned in your signed applications within the allotted time frame you will have to stay with the previous plan you chose when first hired.

A Company will send out literature explaining the dates and perhaps a time to learn about all the offerings to choose from. It is well worth an Employee’s time to become informed on each benefit and research Hospitals in their area. Each Insurance Company prints an Explanation of Benefits that will outline each option available. Depending on the Broker the Human Resources Department works with a comparison of the plans will be given to help in decision making.

If your Employer allows flex time for doctor appointments you might want to consider a Hospital closer to your work than residence. During lunch hours you can observe the facilities for their hours of operation. For a single person this could be a better option with less time away from work.

For those who are in the child bearing years it is a good idea to contact various Hospitals in the Plan to see what options they offer before you choose. If it is a teaching Hospital the Doctor listed in the Directory will most likely not be the attending Physician. I chose a Primary Care Facility for my first pregnancy with the only option for each prenatal visit being either a mid wife or registered nurse. I inquired about the delivery and insisted on a Doctor, which was my right.

In some States it is now mandatory to have a two-day stay after delivering a baby while others you leave within a twenty-four hour period. You can pre-arrange a birthing plan with the options for medication early on. Another consideration prior to signing an application is the policy for visitors and where the baby sleeps. One other point is to call the local number for your emergency and ask what is the nearest Hospital you would be transported to.

The following is a brief description of the choices having to face when picking Health Insurance:

PPO – Preferred Provider Organization – These plans have the option of 80/20 coverage where you get to choose from a number of Physicians. The decision also on which deductible makes the price fluctuate. For the employees who maintain overall good health with the only visit being a yearly physical this is the best choice. You pay the out of pocket expenses on the few visits you make while choosing a high deductible. Check the rating for the Insurance Company to see if rated A+ by Best or Moody’s.

HMO – Health Maintenance Organization – This is where the plan you pick is the place you see the same group of doctors and the Hospital is affiliated within. There is a co-payment for each visit that can be from two dollars to ten and up. These are typically cheaper in monthly cost but can get expensive if you have monthly visits with children also. They will most likely want you on a regular basis to maintain your health. I get letters informing me I have to schedule an appointment.

EPO – Exclusive Provider Organization – If you are employed within the Medical Field this would be the option to pick the Hospital you are affiliated with. The Hospital might be one of a few within a system so there will be some options to choose which facility to become a member.

Prescription Plans – There are many options available depending on your local Pharmacy and whether they are located nation wide. The comparison will be in the Generic and Brand prices. Many plans offer the discounted generic prescriptions only while others have a mail order option. You might end up paying a few dollars for each prescription and worth comparing all companies. Many Medical offices now have pharmacies in their buildings, this would be part of a HMO plan.

AD&D – Accidental Death & Dismemberment – This costs a few dollars each deduction period and well worth signing up for. It will usually include air travel, car travel and inside the home. For example, a Los Angeles Newswoman had an accident while reporting a story suffering severe burns and loss of limbs.

LTD – Long Term Disability – This is another option that has a smaller cost that has options to decide. This is also a benefit on many credit cards and might be already one the employer pays but for an added cost you can ask for more coverage.

Cancer Services – Prevention and Early Treatment

Home Care – Hospice, Medical Equipment, Health Aides

Behavioral Medicine – Psychiatric, Alcohol and Drug Abuse – Mental Health

Alternative Therapies – many are now offering acupuncture and chiropractic services

Urgent Care – is there a separate facility and entrance – available 24 hours

– this is an option we have, they pick up senior citizens free of charge

Pre-existing Condition – Mention what all members of your family may suffer from, being an asthmatic I have never been turned down or charged more. Another example would be if you use a hearing aid.

Vision Care – There is a limit to how many visits, choose from directory

Smoking Cessation – this might be covered and worth considering in a plan

At this time you can make changes to your Charitable donations through United Way, change your plans for Profit sharing, join a credit union and switch to direct deposit. It is advised to read over the literature, make phone calls, discuss with family members and choose the best Benefit Plan for your future health needs.