The Benefits Crystal Ball

by Beatrice Hogg

I should have consulted a clairvoyant before I went to the New Employee Orientation. The last time I started a government job, I was nine years younger than I am now, pre-menopausal, and assuming that my best years were still in the future. I never read the details of the benefit options; I signed up for the cheapest or whichever health plan had offices closest to my apartment.

Now, with only about a dozen working years left, I have to read the fine print and plan for my future decrepitude. What benefits do I really need? Am I going to live a long, healthy life with all of my faculties intact — or am I living on borrowed time? I regret that I have to give up my youthful retirement plans of winning the Super Lotto or marrying a rich rock star. Alas, no one is going to take care of me in my dotage.

First, I need to select a health plan. I would like to return to my former HMO, but of course, it’s not that easy. Do I want the traditional plan, with deductions taken out of each paycheck and a standard fee for visits and prescriptions, or do I want to pay as I go, with no payroll deductions, knowing that I have to pay $1,500 out of my pocket before the coverage starts?

If I were younger, I would go with the second plan, as I have never been an inpatient in a hospital, other than being born in one. But it is highly unlikely that I will ever have an extra $1,500 in my bank account. And who wants to pay $794 for a colonoscopy? I can get a health savings account, setting money aside for future medical costs. Or I can get a flexible spending account for general health care costs or only dental and vision costs. I sure would like to have straight teeth before I meet my Maker.

What about life insurance? My job will give my beneficiary $15,000 if I kick the bucket while employed. I can increase the amount by adding money, without a medical exam, so that my beneficiary can afford a down payment on a house, where they can keep my ashes on the mantel above the fireplace. But I can’t increase the coverage later if I develop a preexisting condition, so I would have to do it now.

I can also get lump sum critical illness life insurance, so if I have a heart attack, full benefit cancer, a major organ transplant, kidney failure or a stroke, I can get a minimum of $10,000 to pay my bills, establish a trust, or hire handsome young men to keep me company until my demise or the money runs out.

I better decide on that one soon too, as the cost of the coverage goes up by $2 in the next year, when I enter the oldest age bracket. But do I want to pay $100 a month for something that I might never use? My mother died of heart disease and my sister died of cancer — there’s that to consider.

There is also deferred compensation and the possibility of buying back previous government time so I only need to work for a few years to be vested in the retirement plan. But if I have all of these other benefits deducted, I won’t have any money left to purchase any previous service time. Whew! All of this is making my head spin! (Is that a pre-existing condition?) At least the Employee Assistance Program is free.

If I would opt to sign up for the maximum amount of every offered benefit, I would net less money than I received when I was on welfare; which is ironic because now I am working at the welfare office. I decided to sign up for the minimum benefits at this time — except for the insurance, as I would really like my beneficiary to have a nice house to remember me by. I have to save money to get my own place again while I’m still alive and get a car. For the other options, I’ll wait to see what shape I will be in next year at open enrollment time.

Where can I find a crystal ball?

Financial Graffiti is a column about middle age monetary misadventures — with a beat.

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