Open enrollment for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2018 begins in November. With the change in power in Washington DC, there’s a fair amount of confusion regarding the enrollment process, eligibility and pricing. Thankfully for the millions of Americans who don’t receive health insurance through their employer, the ACA was not repealed, despite the GOP’s best efforts.
Instead, Trump slashed the advertising budget for the open enrollment period by 90%! The administration also halved the budget for trained professionals who assist people in signed up for coverage. Finally, the GOP has been hard at work trying to convince Americans that plans will be too expensive. Despite these efforts to make accessing affordable health insurance more difficult, the truth is that affordable health insurance is more accessible than ever before. And it’s in such high demand that Congress is now working to fix ACA rather than repeal it. Let’s look at a few specific, scary myths.
Please note: even though open enrollment is only a few weeks away, things are constantly in flux. These myths and truths are current for the moment, but stay tuned as things continue to develop.
ACA Myth 1: There will be fewer insurers to choose from this year.
TRUTH: Yes, a number of insurers have pulled out of ACA marketplaces. However, other companies have stepped in to replace them. As of August 2017, every county in America will have access to at least one insurer in 2018. In addition, more than half of the ACA marketplaces will have access to at least two insurers. And whether you have access to one, two, or several, each insurer in the marketplace must offer at least Silver and Gold level plans. So there’s choices no matter where you are.
As far as Trump cutting the budget for professionals to help you sign up – there’s still help available at healthcare.gov you can search for a list of places locally to assist you. In New Hampshire, HealthNH.com connects you to a live person who can review all your options and help you make an informed decision.
ACA Myth 2: It’s too expensive
TRUTH: While it’s true that some insurers are seeking approval for double-digit rate hikes, don’t panic. Around 85% of people who buy insurance through the ACA exchanges get some form of subsidy. In addition, people who opt for a Silver plan frequently receive additional benefits to cover out of pocket costs like deductibles and co-pays.
ACA Myth 3: You won’t have to pay a penalty if you don’t buy in
TRUTH: There was some debate about this in the Trump administration, however, the IRS has reaffirmed that it will collect penalties from those who don’t sign up as is their right in the current mandate. The penalty is assessed as part of April tax filings and is $695/person or up to $2,085/household. Last year, the IRS collected nearly $3 billion in penalties from 4 million Americans.
Remember to sign up for my newsletter and stay tuned because the administration continues to seek ways to make changes to the existing legislation and likely will right up until open enrollment begins.
Looking for physical items amongst a cluttered desk or table is always frustrating. That same aggravation occurs when trying to find an important file or email on your computer, phone, or other device. Thankfully, with some organization tips, you can reign in the digital clutter and save yourself time and frustration while finding the data you need.
Start off by deciding on the categories of files and emails you’re dealing with. For example, you may have a photos category with sub categories of family, pets, business, etc. Or you may group them by client or supplier. Figure out the categories that make the most sense for your needs.
Make and Use Digital FoldersUsing these categories and subcategories, create matching folders in your email browser and the places you save your documents. If you have subcategories create those as folders within the larger category folders. Next, use them by sorting existing files and emails appropriately and then continue to use them going forward.
Librarians have long used naming conventions to organize all the material under their purview. They use the same concepts with digital collections – and so can you. Develop a naming structure that makes sense for your needs. For example, photos can be named by the place and date and documents can be given names that indicate their topic and/or client. Whatever makes the most sense for you.
Automate Email Organization
As you can imagine, trying to keep up with organizing your email can get laborious if you do it manually. The great news is that you can automate it! Most email services allow you to set up rules determining the location for emails as they come in based on who sent it or subject matter. So, emails from your boss or important clients get automatically filtered and you can see and address them more quickly.
Because digital items don’t take up physical space, it’s really easy to let them accumulate. Start small by deleting blurry photos, duplicates, poorly lit or poor quality photos and videos, any digital files that are no longer meaningful to you. You may be surprised how much storage space you free up, which can save you money.
Back Up Everything
Now that your digital life is under control, back up everything to the cloud. Google Drive is a great way to do this. And set up a schedule to ensure everything stays backed up. Hardware can fail without warning, but as long as your files are backed up, you won’t lose much time if that happens.
Digital clutter can feel overwhelming and may cause stress. In addition, spending time searching isn’t the best use of time. Using these tips, you can get your digital files under control and be more efficient.
As they say on Game of Thrones, “winter is coming.” In that fantasy world, it also brings new enemies and lasts for years. Thankfully, even the harshest New England winter isn’t quite that dramatic. The coming of cooler weather does mean it’s time to swap your closet from t-shirts and tank tops to long sleeves and sweaters. This is often a frustrating and back breaking process. One that also usually winds up leaving you with wrinkled clothes in a fairly disorganized mess. One small tweak can make storing off season clothes a lot easier.
If you’re like most people, you shove your off season clothes into several large plastic tubs or garbage bags and then toss them in the attic or basement. Not only does this wrinkle your clothes, they’re heavy to move and difficult to store. In addition, all your clothes are mixed together, which makes it tough to find something on that random warm day when you need just one t-shirt.
Solve this by switching to smaller storage containers. Smaller bins are easier to carry and store easily in the back of closets. Group like items together in the same small bin and label each one so you’ll be able to pull out just the t-shirts as the temperatures begin to warm up. This same idea works well if you have a lot of holiday themed clothes. Storing them neatly in small bins keeps them out of your way during the rest of the year and reduces clutter.
Other Clothes Storage Tips
If you have clothes that need repair such as pants that need a button reattached or a skirt that needs to be hemmed, don’t store them. They’ll still need to be fixed when you pull them out in the spring. Instead, put them in a separate pile and address the repairs or alterations.
Similarly, don’t store clothes that are stained or ripped. If you’re not going to wear them again, toss them. If you’re going to remove the stain or patch the tear, set the item aside and then actually do the repair. After all, there’s no point in taking up space with clothes you’ll fix “someday.” If you really want them to remain a part of your wardrobe, you’ll do what needs to be done to make them wearable again. Not sure? Here’s how you know it’s time to get rid of your clothes.
With one tweak and some planning, storing your off season clothes can be much less frustrating and set you up to be more organized this spring. For more great tips like this, subscribe to the newsletter.
How often do you find yourself saying “I’m overwhelmed” or “I just can’t keep up”? You know there are more than enough productivity tools available to help you get organized and reduce your stress – too many in fact. There’s only so much storage space on your devices, and in your brain, for organization and productivity tools. Which ones are best for you depend on your need and lifestyle, of course, but here are some of the most popular currently on the market.
How many different logins and passwords do you have to keep track of? It can be tempting to put them in a Word or Excel file for quick reference. Of course, then you need to password protect that file…and it’s only available when you have access to where that file is stored. Lastpass has solution. It securely stores your passwords and enables you to share access, without sharing your password, with a spouse or assistant. And you can easily revoke access any time you need.
How much time do you waste emailing back and forth to set up a meeting? In this hectic world, it can get painful, even frustrating, to find a time that works. Instead, Calendly syncs with your calendar and shows your available times to people looking to book time with you. And it goes one step further. Once they find a time that matches with their own availability, they can book the meeting time themselves!
Snag-it’s initial claim to fame was as a screen capture tool that allowed the user to capture clips of a window instead of the entire window the way a keyboard shortcut would. Since then, it’s become a valuable training tool where you can capture video of what you’re doing on your screen and record voice-over instructions.
With amazing tools like these, organizing your life and boosting productivity is easy and each of these tools is so simple. You won’t lose a lot of time learning a new tool or asking your teammates to learn and use them. For help getting organized and finding the right tools for your needs, please follow us on Facebook and sign up for the newsletter.
With two massive hurricanes hitting our coast line back to back, I’m struck by the unsung heroes in these situations. The people who, without fear or needing to be asked, step in to help their community with support and compassion. It truly is a group effort to bring an entire neighborhood through a disaster without any casualties. As #NatlPrep month continues, this is your opportunity to building helping others into your disaster plan.
Until Help Arrives
During a disaster, emergency services are stretched thin trying to reach everyone who needs them. As a caring neighbor, you can offer support until professional help arrives. FEMA offers some excellent training videos and suggestions on how to keep your community safe until first responders can get to you.
Check on Your Neighbors
Combining resources and relying on each other gets communities through a disaster faster and with less stress. FEMA places tremendous value on neighbors working together. So much so that they have a program for it! The Neighbor Helping Neighbor program offers tools and programs to assist your community in navigating the aftermath of a disaster. Of course, we encourage you to talk with your neighbors to #PlanAhead – don’t wait until the disaster happens to start forming a community plan.
Downed power lines, burst pipes and other utility concerns can all arise in the wake of an emergency situation. Knowing who to contact and how to shut off utilities to prevent further damage can save time and money during cleanup efforts. Learn more about utility safety and talk to your local providers to understand their expectations.
Hold an Event
If you’re really passionate about helping your community during a disaster, consider holding an event to educate your neighbors about what they can do. Use the time to put together a neighborhood action plan.
Just like keeping your family safe, a little prep work now can help keep your entire community safe during an emergency.
As I watch the sad images out of Texas, my heart goes out to all the families there and my head wonders how many of them were caught unprepared. It may be only a coincidence that September is National Preparedness Month, but that’s all the more reason to sit down with your family and put together an emergency plan. Consider that you may not all be together when a disaster strikes, but you’ll want to wind up back together sooner than later. Follow these four steps to create an emergency plan that works for your family.
Step 1: Discussion
There are four items you and your family must discuss prior to completing your family’s emergency plan. The answers help guide your plan and often reveal other areas where your family has concerns that can be addressed in the process.
1. How will alerts and warnings be received?
Texts, apps, radio, etc. There are numerous ways for you and your family to receive warnings and updates about impending disasters. You should choose the one or two that work best for your family and agree on who will receive them.
2. Where will you take shelter?
In the northeast, we don’t typically have tornado basements or fallout shelters, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t places to take shelter during an emergency. Will you go to a relative’s house? Or a public space like a school? It’s important the entire family knows where to take shelter so you can be reunited quickly. If you have pets, be sure your shelter plan takes them into account.
3. How will you get out?
Depending on the type of emergency, roads may be blocked. Have several evacuation routes in mind so you can get out regardless of the conditions around you. If your evacuation plan relies on public transportation, be sure you have the schedules handy and understand their emergency policies as well.
4. How will you communicate with each other?
Phone lines and cell towers can be impacted during a disaster. While they’re likely your family’s first choice for communication, you may want to consider having a backup form of communication.
Step 2: Consider Your Family’s Specific Needs
This includes things like pets, elderly family members you care for, prescriptions, dietary needs, etc. Each of these factors must be taken into account when creating your emergency plan to ensure they’re properly addressed in a crisis situation.
Step 3: Create Your Plan
Fill out this template or use it as a guide to write your communication plan.
Step 4: Practice Your Emergency Plan
Practice makes perfect applies to a lot more than tying shoes. School children participate in fire drills throughout the school year to ensure they’re ready just in case they need to be. Apply this same concept to your family emergency plan so if you need to use it, everyone is ready.
Stay safe and #PlanAhead. If I can do anything to help you organize your home as part of your planning, please contact me.
In school and at large office buildings, fire drills are required to help everyone be prepared in case there’s ever a problem. Emergency responders drill on different situations to ensure their readiness. Yet, often, we forget to apply the same situational preparedness to our homes. September is National Preparedness Month, so it’s the perfect time to change that! Planning ahead could save your life, the lives of loved ones and pets.
Knowledge is Power
The first step in being ready for anything is knowing what could happen and how to find out more. You want your whole family to be in the loop, too. So, start off by making an emergency plan. This includes things like evacuation routes, meeting locations and who’s responsible for what belongings and pets, etc.
Part of your plan should also include having access to emergency alerts. There are several ways to get them, including right on your cell phone. However, depending on how long the emergency lasts, you may want to consider an option that doesn’t require electricity.
The last thing you want to worry about in an emergency is money. Have a separate account set up with emergency funds and talk with your insurance agent to be sure you have all the coverage you need on your property and belongings. And although it may seem labor intensive, create an inventory of what you own. Use your smart phone to take pictures of rooms, open drawers and closets, and capture everything you can. Later, if you need to provide a list to your insurance company for reimbursement, you can have people help you look through the photos and write down what they see.
With all this in place, practice your emergency plan with your family. Make sure you include pets and packing belongings just like you would if the emergency was real. It’s just like a fire drill in school. Consider timing your practice sessions to have an idea of how long it takes to implement. This can help you plan ahead and also provide some friendly competition to complete the plan more quickly, meaning everyone gets to safety sooner.
No one wants a disaster to happen, but being prepared can help you get through it with less stress knowing your loved ones, pets, and most valuable possessions are safe and secure.
We all want to spend less and have more money for fun things like vacations, nights out, etc. If you look at your current budget, you may discover you’re paying for things you actually don’t need to. The companies taking your money are happy about this, but you’d probably be happier keeping your hard earn dollars. Which of these items can you cut from your budget?
Internet Modem and Router Rental
Many internet providers have you pay to rent a modem. This can cost $120/year or more! For less than $100, you can buy your own modem (often with a built in wireless router). A quick phone call to set it up and you’re on your way to saving money with every internet bill.
Unless you’re doing demo or other work that truly generates trash, there are many ways to get rid of your stuff for free. Many charities will even pick it up for free! Or check out sites like Freecycle to match up your “trash” with someone who will see it as treasure.
Even if you’re like many pet owners and would do anything to save your furry kids, over the life of your pet, the cost of pet insurance usually far exceeds the price you’d pay for any veterinary procedures. If you’ve got multiple pets, this is even more true.
Furniture and Carpet Protection Plans
These insurance plans are great for the stores selling you the carpets and furniture, but not for you. In the past, furniture and carpet suppliers would apply a stain-resistant coating after your purchase. Now, however, this coating is applied during the manufacturing process and the stores try to upsell you on a protection plan that, if you read it, actually doesn’t cover much of anything.
High Octane Gas
Unless your owner’s manual specifies that your car needs high octane fuel, filling it up is just like dumping dollars in your gas tank. Typically, only cars with high performance engines require high octant fuel. If you’re driving a commuter vehicle, stick to regular.
If you’re spending money on any of these items, consider changing your habits and keep more money in your wallet. And then come up with some more fun ways to spend the money you’re saving!
Talking with loved ones about their wishes, such as DNR or other end of life measures, is an emotional difficult conversation. Doctors and other health care providers often find themselves in the middle of parents and their children trying to negotiate a truce. Thanks to an agreement that started in 2016, healthcare providers who accept Medicare are allowed to bill for this type of service.
Docs Say This is a Good Thing
During the first year, nearly 575,000 Medicare beneficiaries took advantage of this service. The conversations made it easier for whole families to be clear about their loved ones wishes, to be in agreement with the doctors, and made it possible for these conversations to happen without unnecessary stress. Nearly 23,000 providers billed around $93 million for this service in 2016 and about $43 million of that was covered by federal programs.
Doctors who’ve made use of this program see the benefits. It helps everyone involved make informed, patient-centered decisions. They see their role in these conversations bringing families closer together and offering loved ones a support place to discuss their fears and concerns.
The Other Side of the Coin
With anything like this, there’s also some controversy. Opponents fear that patients who expect life-sustaining care in their later years may be counseled away from receiving it for financial reasons. Other caregivers point out that such a scenario is far more likely to happen if there’s not a medical professional helping guide the discussion.
It’s Still New
Since this program just began in 2016, many healthcare providers are still learning about it. They’re figuring out how to code for it and bill for it correctly. So, if you’re looking to have an end of life discussion with your family and doctor, be your own advocate and ask them about it directly. They may need that push to learn about the new program.
For help getting other end of life documents in order, please contact me. I’d be happy to help you.
The month of August in NH, MA, and the rest of New England is the transition between summer and fall. There are many deals to be had as retailers switch their inventory over. It’s also often a month when old models of technology are retired and new models introduced. Here too, there are often great deals as the inventory swap happens. Here are some of the best things to buy in August to give you the best deals.
End of Season Clothes
T-shirts, shorts, summer sporting gear, and beach apparel all go on sale this time of year. If you’re buying for kids, make sure to go big and leave room for growth spurts. And since there are still many warm days left before we have to pack away the summer clothes, you’ll still have a chance to show off your new clothes or swimsuit before you stow it until next year.
Research from Deal News indicates that laptop prices drop between 8% and 24% in August and early September. Dell, Lenovo, HP, and Asus all have great deals this month. If you’re looking for a new laptop for home or work of you’ve got a kid gong off to college, now is the time to buy and save big.
If you’re current patio furniture took a beating, now is the time to replace it. In the past, sales on patio furniture in August have ranged from 40% to 68% off. You’ll be able to use your new patio furniture into September, maybe even October and when the warm weather returns, you’ll be all set to go.
National Park Service Senior Passes
Recent legislation means you need to get on this bandwagon now. Beginning in 1994, US citizens and permanent residents have been able to buy America the Beautiful — National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Senior Passes for the low price of $10, compared to the $80 charged to the rest of the population. Sadly, this is coming to an end on August 28th, so get your Senior Passes today and enjoy all this country has to offer.
Stock up for the year because vineyards are trying to move out their previous inventory to make room for the grape harvest in September. Keep an eye out as there are bundle deals from many vineyards offering as many as 15 bottles for as little as $44! I’ll drink to that!
I know, it’s too cool to need it now, but you’ll be glad you bought it now when it gets hot again next year. Because they’re large and retailers want the space to store more seasonally appropriate items, you may be able to find air conditioners for as much as 50% off!
Back to school sales are great for families with kids, but your office/home office can benefit too! Reams of paper, paper towels, tissues, etc. all get massively discounted during this time of year because they know demand will be the highest of the year.
Both big ticket and smaller items offer great opportunities to save money in August. Knowing where to spend your money helps you stretch your budget and buy all the things on your list. For more great tips like this, sign up for my newsletter.