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2019 April 17

Running hiatus

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:48
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I am going to stop running for a few weeks and reassess my goals.  What triggered this change was my annual physical, where I got some of my various aches diagnosed.  There were three main outcomes:

  • It is worth trying ezetimibe in addition to my current rosuvastatin to see if that controls my cholesterol better—it is probably less of a risk than increasing the statin dose.  Interestingly, my insurance requires prior authorization for ezetimibe (a $9/month generic), which makes no sense at all.  I’ll probably be paying for the prescription without insurance, since the full price will be less than the insurance co-pay would be.  (They don’t pay for the $6/month rosuvastatin either.)
  • My elbow injury is probably tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis), for which I’ve been prescribed stretching and strengthening exercises.  I’ll also start wearing one of the tennis-elbow braces that wraps around the forearm.  I’ve had elbow inflammation before (due mainly to bad keyboarding posture), so I know more or less what to do about it.
  • The ache in my hip that I’ve had since last August is osteoarthritis, as I suspected (confirmed by X-ray). This is bad luck, but not unusually bad luck—the incidence of hip arthritis among men my age is about 12%, if I’m reading the literature correctly.  Experts seem to disagree about whether running is safe for people with hip arthritis, but even those who recommend running agree that one needs to change to low-impact running styles and do other exercises to stretch and strengthen muscles to avoid further injury to the joint.  Almost all recommend working with a sports medicine specialist and physical therapist trained in running and arthritis to determine exactly what is reasonable.  I’ll probably be doing that when I have some spare time (this summer?).

I was just feeling good about having done a 5km run last weekend, albeit at a slow pace (8:35 mile pace), and now it looks like I won’t be increasing my distance to 15km this summer as I had planned.  I may never run a marathon—I should have tried 20 years ago, when my body was better able to tolerate abuse and recover from it.

2018 January 24

Good news in the mail today

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:32
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I got two pieces of mail that were pleasant to get:

  • From the IRS: “Thank you for your response to the notice we sent to you about your 2015 (Form 1040) taxes. We’re pleased to tell you that the information you provided resolved the tax issue in question and that out inquiry is now closed.”  Previously, they had wanted a few thousand more in taxes from me, because they missed where I had reported income and because they wanted to tax the withdrawals from the 529 account that is paying for my son’s education at UCSB.
  • From Anthem Blue Cross: “Amount charged by your provider $50, Anthem Blue Cross paid $50, You pay $0.”  This was for my wife’s flu shot.  My flu shot was on last year’s insurance plan, where no paperwork to us was generated, as the flu shot was obviously covered, and there was no deductible to worry about.  This year I went with a much cheaper insurance plan that has a high deductible and less coverage.  I think that the maximum out-of-pocket cost is still less than the premiums on the more expensive plan, as long as only one of us gets seriously ill.  The rather expensive plan is about the equivalent of the free plan I got when I was first hired at UCSC—benefits have steadily been eroding.

2015 January 7

Bait and switch health insurance

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:49
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I just started a new health insurance plan at UCSC this month, one that costs me $549.67 a month in premiums, that I selected specifically because it would let me continue with the family doctor we’ve had for years. Note that this plan is essentially the same as the one that was free 10 years ago—they keep raising the prices to the faculty without improving the product.

Today, I was very surprised and distressed to get the following message:

January 7, 2015

To:  UCSC Academic and Staff Employees
From:  Lori Castro, Interim Assistant Vice Chancellor, Staff Human Resources; Pamela Peterson, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Academic Personnel
Re:  Blue Shield of California and Sutter Health Provider Negotiations – Contract Termination and Transition Period

As you may have heard, Blue Shield of California and Sutter Health were unable to agree on a contract for 2015, which affects many UCSC employees using the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.  On January 5th, 2015, Blue Sheild of California sent letters to more than 140,000 members state-wide who are users of Sutter Health in Northern California, informing them that the Blue Shield/Sutter Health contract was terminated, effective Dec. 31, 2014.  However, there will be a six-month transition period for UC Blue Shield plan members.

University of California employees (and retirees) are affected by this development if they use Sutter providers, including Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF), and if they are enrolled in the following UC health plans:

  • Blue Shield Health Savings PPO
  • Core Medical PPO
  • UC Care PPO

Blue Shield has directly contacted members in the aforementioned plans, but we would like the campus community to be aware of the situation.

From January 1, 2015 thru June 30, 2015 there will be a six-month transition period to allow UC Blue Shield plan members time to find an alternative provider.  During the transition period UC plan members will continue to receive services at the UC Select level at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.  Blue Shield Health Saving Plan and Core Plan members will continue to have the preferred 80% coverage at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation but can anticipate a higher cost due to the fact the 80% coverage will now be on a non-contracted rate.

Contract negotiations are ongoing, and it is our hope that Sutter Health and Blue Shield will come to an agreement before the transition period ends. If the parties do not come to an agreement, we anticipate the University of California will announce a plan but for now there is no additional information. The UC is not authorizing a special opportunity for employees to change medical plans at this time.

Last year I used a different insurance plan (UC Core instead of UC Care—a confusingly similar pare of names) that cost me nothing, but that had high deductible and co-pays. Because I’m overdue for a colonoscopy, I decided to switch plans this year, though the premiums may still be higher than the expected medical expenses for the year.

Both the plan I was on last year and the plan I switched to this year are saying that I can’t keep my family doctor—when I selected those plans specifically because they would cover that doctor!  UC should be suing Blue Shield for bait-and-switch tactics and refunding the health insurance premiums collected under false pretenses from the faculty and staff.  But I don’t expect UCOP to do a damned thing about it—they’ve taken the attitude that as long as they have their Kaiser plan in Oakland, the rest of the University can pay through the nose for inadequate health insurance.  UCSB got screwed last year, so it is UCSC’s turn this year.

Perhaps the faculty union (the Santa Cruz Faculty Association) could protest the change? No—they have a memorandum of understanding that they will remain toothless about anything UC does to the faculty.  They might write a politely worded note expressing their dismay.

Of course, this game of chicken between Blue Shield and Sutter Health doesn’t affect just the UCSC employees. A Santa Cruz Sentinel article points out

In Santa Cruz County, an estimated 4,500 policyholders who signed up with Covered California last year and picked Blue Shield are affected along with many more who purchased an unsubsidized Blue Shield policy on the open market.

UPDATE January 30, 2015:

To: UCSC Academic and Staff EmployeesFrom: Lori Castro, Interim Assistant Vice Chancellor, Staff Human Resources; Pamela Peterson, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Academic Personnel

Re: Blue Shield of California and Sutter Health Provider Negotiations

The University is pleased to announce that as of late last night, Blue Shield and Sutter Health have settled on a two-year contract.

Blue Shield of California today, January 30, 2015, announced the signing of a new, two-year contract with Sutter Health. Blue Shield is pleased to offer members access to Sutter Health providers and facilities as participating providers through December 31, 2016. Blue Shield apologizes that the contract negotiation took longer than expected and that customers and members experienced uncertainty or disruption. We also regret the worry that this has caused the campus community.

Blue Shield will be notifying all of its members of the development.

Thanks for all of your patience on this matter.

 I’m very relieved.

2014 August 13

Explanations for first bill from UCSB

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:31
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In First bill from UCSB, I mentioned an e-mail I had sent to UCSB with queries about my first bill. I got a reply today, so I’ll post their answers (with the typos intact):

  1. Which meal plan did he sign up for?  The $5,202.94 price seems to be between the costs quoted on http://www.housing.ucsb.edu/rates for double room unlimited and double room 17 meals.  I assume that there is some variation from quarter to quarter on price, based on number of meal times, but the rates aren’t broken down by quarter and the bill doesn’t say which meal plan, so I’m not sure what we are paying for.To answer your question regarding the meal plan cost, I would recommend to look at his housing contract or he can contact the housing department at 805-893-5513 they will be able to answer this question in detail.

    My summary: “we have no idea what we’re charging you for—it’s not our department”.  I’d love to look at the housing contract, but I don’t believe they’ve sent it yet. Note that the bill comes before the statement of what the bill is for, and even direct inquiry doesn’t get the details.

  2. We requested a student health insurance waiver and appealed the rather arbitrary initial denial (which was an incomplete form e-mail that just complained about the Blue Shield phone number that we had provided).  When will we hear on the appeal of the waiver?  Do we need to pay now and get a credit when the appeal goes through?

    Once the health insurance appeal has been processed you or your student should receive an email of the decision within two weeks. If it has been more then you two weeks he my contact the student health insurance line directly at 805-893-2592.

    We’ll wait a couple of weeks, but that doesn’t tell me whether I need to pay and get reimbursed or simply not pay that portion.
  3. The link to  http://registrar.sa.ucsb.edu/feechart.htm  redirects to http://registrar.sa.ucsb.edu/feechart.aspx which just has a pointer to http://registrar.sa.ucsb.edu/downloads/2014-15final.pdf  Why not just point to the right document on the bill without double indirection?

    No response, but none expected.
  4. The fees at http://registrar.sa.ucsb.edu/downloads/2014-15final.pdf gives the campus total as  $4,620.05 but the bill is for $4,520.05  Where is the $100 discrepancy?He was require to send in $100.00 with his Intent to Registrar. The $100.00 payment is applied towards the first quarter tuition. That is why he is being charged $4520.05 instead of  $4620.05.

    OK, but standard business practice would be to record the deposit with the Statement of Intent to Register as a credit, rather than silently and mysteriously changing the fees.

  5. What is the unexplained “Contract Processing Fee – On” charge on the bill?  There is no mention of this on the document explaining the fees.The contract processing fee of $25.00 is for the housing contract.

    Hmm, there is no mention of the “contract processing fee” in the stated price of the dorm contracts. Secret, hidden fees should be illegal.  I expected the RHA student fees, but not an extra fee from the university for handling billing. Furthermore, the fee was on the bill for $50, not $25.  Does the billing office not even know the secret fees themselves?

  6. Is there an easy way to transfer money directly from the Scholarshare 529 plan to UCSB, or do I need to write a check and wait for Scholarshare to reimburse me?
    I will provide you a link with the 529 college saving plan instructions http://www.bfs.ucsb.edu/barc/general-information-students. If you wish to pay the balance out of pocket and then submit your request from the 529 college plan in order to get reimbursed, you may do so.The link says that the 529 plan needs to mail a paper check and gives the address.  The check must also include the student’s name and “PERM number”.  The Scholarshare web site does have instructions for sending checks directly to universities, so I could do that or pay the amount out of my current bank account and have Scholarshare reimburse me.  If I ask Scholarshare to send the check, I have no idea how long it will take them—we were warned at orientation that it could take weeks.  So it seems safest to send the check myself and get Scholarshare to reimburse me, as long as I don’t risk overdrawing my checking account.  I’ll wait a couple of weeks to see whether UCSB can process the waiver of the student health insurance correctly.
  7. We were told that the summer orientation charges would appear on the BARC bill, but I don’t see them.  Is there a revised bill coming?The orientation department has not charged the orientation fee yet. I would suggest to give it a bit more time and the charge should appear on the next billing statement.

    That seems reasonable, but why is orientation so far behind on their billing?  They should have known when the bills were going to be sent to freshmen and had their billing to the right department at least a week ahead of time.

    Note that there is no mention of when the “next billing statement” will be.

Overall, I remain unimpressed with the competence of the business side of the University of California.

2014 August 11

First bill from UCSB

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:43
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I got the first bill from BARC, the tuition billing system at UCSB.  I can see now why students give up on trying to understand what the university costs—the bill is rather confusing.

There were CA Res U/G Fees-New $4,520.05, Undergrad Health Ins-Fall $856.00, H&RS-Rm & Bd-Dorm $5,202.94, RHA Activ Fee $30.00, and Contract Processing Fee – On $50.00; for a total of $10,658.99 for Fall quarter.  Assuming no changes, that would come to just under $32k for the year.  With books and computer, the college expenses for the first year will be about $35k.

Only the “CA Res U/G Fees-New” had further details on what the charge consisted of, and that only through a doubly indirect web pointer.

After reading the bill, I had several questions that I asked via e-mail:

  1. Which meal plan did he sign up for?  The $5,202.94 price seems to be between the costs quoted on http://www.housing.ucsb.edu/rates for double room unlimited and double room 17 meals.  I assume that there is some variation from quarter to quarter on price, based on number of meal times, but the rates aren’t broken down by quarter and the bill doesn’t say which meal plan, so I’m not sure what we are paying for.
  2. We requested a student health insurance waiver and appealed the rather arbitrary initial denial (which was an incomplete form e-mail that just complained about the Blue Shield phone number that we had provided).  When will we hear on the appeal of the waiver?  Do we need to pay now and get a credit when the appeal goes through?
  3. The link to  http://registrar.sa.ucsb.edu/feechart.htm  redirects to http://registrar.sa.ucsb.edu/feechart.aspx which just has a pointer to http://registrar.sa.ucsb.edu/downloads/2014-15final.pdf  Why not just point to the right document on the bill without double indirection?
  4. The fees at http://registrar.sa.ucsb.edu/downloads/2014-15final.pdf gives the campus total as  $4,620.05 but the bill is for $4,520.05  Where is the $100 discrepancy?
  5. What is the unexplained “Contract Processing Fee – On” charge on the bill?  There is no mention of this on the document explaining the fees.
  6. Is there an easy way to transfer money directly from the Scholarshare 529 plan to UCSB, or do I need to write a check and wait for Scholarshare to reimburse me?
  7. We were told that the summer orientation charges would appear on the BARC bill, but I don’t see them.  Is there a revised bill coming?

The student health insurance is a particularly annoying charge, as we already have UC insurance for him through my employment at UCSC.  But they have cleverly handed over the processing of student health insurance waivers to Aetna, the company that sells the student health insurance, setting up a massive conflict of interest and ensuring that students seeking waivers will be maximally hassled.  Since the initial denial of the waiver came on a Sunday evening, I believe that Aetna processes them somewhere in Asia (where it would have been a Monday morning).  The sloppiness with which the form email was filled out (blanks not filled in and spelling errors) makes me dread ever having to deal with Aetna for the student health insurance—they’ve already established themselves in my mind as bureaucratically incompetent, and even competent health insurers are a nightmare to deal with.

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