Monday, November 20, 2023

A Spirit of Thanksgivings Past


It can be so disheartening to read the news.  Hate and division smother common decency and consideration for others.  War overtakes peace.  Am I imagining that it is worse than ever right now?

Being in that frame of mind, I thought I would re-post an essay I first put up on my blog November 24, 2018.  It’s one of my favorites, not for what I wrote but for what I quoted in the post.  I pray that it will touch you as well.  RY

  I am not sure I’ve ever had as many people tell me that Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday as I have this year.  I usually don’t ask them why they feel that way.  I guess I like to imagine the reasons.  Or maybe their expressed sentiments just launch me into thinking of my own Thanksgiving experiences and I become too mentally preoccupied to ask. 

As a child Thanksgiving granted me a short week at school.  It meant turkey (I really think that was the only time of the year I ate turkey in any form), cool days to play in the backyard with my brother (when we weren’t fighting), romping in the leaves we had raked, and swinging on the rope swing our dad had hung in the big tree. 

Such simple pleasures.  And they stand in stark contrast to what Christmas has become.  It’s almost trite now to say Christmas has become too commercialized; it’s so obvious.  It’s a mad rush, with so much pressure to finish the shopping, pick the right gift, not forget anyone, write Christmas cards (I don’t think I’m the last one that does that), and bake.  To businesses, Thanksgiving has just become the gateway to Black Friday, the annual Christmas shopping days countdown, and their push to make us spend money we don’t have.  They pretty much ignore Thanksgiving otherwise.

And I’m okay with that.  This holiday is golden to me, and I don’t want them to touch it because they’ll turn it into dross.  Let them go straight from Halloween to Christmas rush.  Leave Thanksgiving to the rest of us.

Joshua Rogers, a writer and attorney who lives in Washington, D.C., wrote a poignant essay about Thanksgiving this week.  He related his own experience growing up without a father and being embarrassed and ashamed by having to get free lunch at school each day because he was poor.  But he ended the essay powerfully as he recalled just what Thanksgiving meant to him and should mean to us:

I wonder who might be sitting around your Thanksgiving table this year being blessed with more than turkey and pecan pie. What kid — young or old — is finding solace in that moment where they finally belong? You never know what’s going on in people’s minds and hearts around the Thanksgiving table, but it can be a sacred space.

Thanksgiving is a holiday where the gift is the presence of people who welcome you, whether you’re related to them or not. There’s no price to be paid, no expectation that gifts must be given. No matter how out-of-place some of us may feel the rest of the year, if we get Thanksgiving right, it’s an invitation to enjoy free lunch, to feel loved without feeling any shame.

Whatever your financial situation, slow down right now.  Don’t let the Christmas rush sweep you up in its tide.  Let the Thanksgiving spirit continue, and savor the often overlooked most valuable things in your life.  Rich or poor, a spirit of thankfulness is a tonic, an antidote to materialism and the temptation to measure all things by money.

Happy Thanksgiving.


“When you become successful, don’t say ‘I’m rich and I’ve earned it myself’.  Instead, remember that the Lord your God gives you the strength to make a living.” Deuteronomy 8:17, 18 CEV

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

"High Deductible": An Example of Bad Branding?

When the Affordable Care Act went into effect over a dozen years ago, my role at a health management firm (okay, let’s be honest: it was basically an insurance company) at the time was to assist hospitals and provider offices in their interactions with the company, from credentialing to getting their claims paid.  I recall that many of the billing managers complained about the new health coverage policies (which my employer did not sell) that people were selecting from the new insurance exchange because they were choosing the cheapest policies, with high deductibles (the amount the patient must pay out of pocket before the insurance pays anything), and those patients were shocked when they had to foot the whole bill for an office visit or simple medical procedure, and of course the office manager or billing department got the brunt of the anger

I think most people now grasp the concept of “high deductible” and steer away from such policies.  But are they smart to do so?

MetLife estimates that 45% of employers in the U.S. offer a high deductible health policy that pairs with a Health Savings Account (HSA).  An HSA is an account into which money may be set aside by the employee (and his employer) tax-free to pay for health-related services, medications, or products.  If the money is withdrawn and used for that purpose it is not taxed—meaning the money going into an HSA is never taxed if used as intended.  The money in the account can even be invested and grow tax-free.  Sounds like a pretty good deal, yes?  Yet, MetLife says only 29% of employees own an HSA through their employer.

I suspect the low utilization rate owes to the fact that to contribute to an HSA one must be enrolled in the accompanying high deductible plan (minimum deductible of $1600 for an individual plan, $3200 for a family plan in 2024, per IRS regulations).  And as someone has said, “’high deductible plan’ is the worst branding.”  Who wants to be stuck with all that out-of-pocket expense?

But maybe we all need to do our math during open enrollment season.  An analysis by Voya Financial showed that 75% of individuals would have paid less with a typical high deductible plan paired with an HSA compared to a standard, lower deductible plan.  My own case is instructive.

When first given a high deductible plan option, I had the same initial reluctance to go that route, but the much lower monthly premium got my attention.  Plus the employer contributed a nice sum to the HSA (because they would save a bunch of money in their share of the premium cost, so they wanted to encourage participation).  These two factors alone nearly covered the higher deductible.  But with the other, low deductible option I always contributed to a medical Flexible Spending Account (FSA) to cover the deductibles and copays, and just a small portion of what I had been putting into the FSA, added to the premium savings and employer contribution would be enough to wipe out the financial risk of the higher deductible.  Plus, unlike an FSA, unused money in an HSA account rolls over year to year and even follows the employee if he leaves the company.

Out of the workplace now and covered under Medicare?  You can still take advantage of this concept.  There is a type of Medicare Advantage plan that offers a Medicare Savings Account that operates much like the private employer arrangement described above.  They are not offered everywhere.  I can’t find one available in my area.  But if you are covered by regular Medicare (as opposed to a Medicare Advantage plan) you can purchase a high deductible supplement plan to cover the 20% coinsurance Medicare doesn’t cover.  I pay one-third the premium for such a plan compared to a lower deductible plan, and with a handful of routine doctor visits and even a trip to the ER, I came out ahead this year (or at least as of this writing).

Math might not have been your favorite subject in school, but do some basic calculations this open enrollment season.  You might be surprised at how much money you’re leaving on the table by not considering a high deductible plan.

Until next time,


“For true wisdom has two sides.” Job 11:6 NIV*

*Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission.  All rights reserved worldwide