It Takes Money to Make Money

A simple fact too many folks don’t seem to understand.

The other day, I was at a social gathering with a bunch of friends and neighbors. Conversation turned to a good friend of mine with a very large, underutilized garage. I mentioned that during the winter, he rents out storage space for the season to people with boats, RVs, and other vehicles not likely to be used in the winter. This brings in some extra cash for his winter travels to the south.

“What a great idea!” one of my neighbors said. She turned to another member of the group. “See? There are all kinds of ways people can make money. I don’t see why we should be paying for them.”

I could tell that she’d used my story to continue a conversation she’d had earlier with other people in the group. But she was missing an important point.

“It’s all about assets,” I said. I told the group about how I’m currently being paid to have my helicopter parked in a snug hangar in California in case it’s needed. Yes, I’m bringing in cash without seeming to do anything. But the asset that’s making that possible has cost me more than a half million dollars in the past 13 years to buy, maintain, overhaul, and insure. It’s not as if I’m getting money for nothing.

MoneyThe same goes for my friend. If he didn’t have that big garage, could he rent out space to boat owners? No. What did it cost him to build that garage? Maintain it? Insure it? All that costs money.

The sharing economy has given us all kinds of ways to bring in a little cash on the side. It’s no secret that before I sold my big fifth wheel, I parked on my driveway and rented it out on AirBnB for $89/night with a two-night minimum. I had people in it nearly every weekend that summer. But could I have done that if I didn’t have the fifth wheel? Or acreage with an amazing view and a full RV hookup? What did it cost me to buy the fifth wheel and land? And set up the power, sewer, and water hookups? All that costs money.

And then there’s Uber and Lyft, two ride-sharing companies. Yes, you can drive people around and get paid for it. But to do that, you need a car that meets certain requirements for age and style and that car has to be insured. All that costs money.

The conversation didn’t go this far. It moved on to other things before I could make this point. It didn’t matter. I like my neighbors, even though I think some of them are politically misguided, and didn’t want to ruin the evening with a possibly heated debate. We’re among the fortunate Americans. Neither rich nor poor, we are homeowners on the downhill slope of life, able to take care of all of our needs with a little left over for extras. Life’s not easy, but it certainly isn’t hard.

Yet some of us understand what it’s like for the people who struggle to get by. We empathize, possibly because we’ve been in their shoes in the past. We don’t expect them to produce money out of thin air with creative use of assets they couldn’t possibly afford when they’re having enough trouble putting a roof over their head and food on the table. We don’t mind paying a little extra in our taxes to help them with social services programs or, even more importantly, to fully fund our school systems to help their kids get a path out of poverty through education.

But it’s the mindset of my friend — the complete lack of understanding of how difficult it can be for certain people to earn a decent living — that bothers me. It’s an almost “let them eat cake” moment. And sadly, it’s shared by far too many Americans these days.

My Health Insurance Story

If the AHCA passes, something like this could happen to you.

I’ve been self-employed since 1990. When I left my last full-time job — which did include health care benefits — I bought my own health insurance coverage. I was 29 at the time, a non-smoker, and in good health. But health insurance was something I thought everyone needed to have, so I signed up with one program or another — I honestly can’t remember any details — and stayed insured for years.

Understand that I seldom needed insurance coverage. Again, I was in good health. If I caught a cold, I went to the doctor. If my insurance covered the visit and medicine, fine. If it didn’t, I paid and didn’t complain. When I had some problems with my knee and needed several tests, some physical therapy, and finally some arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus, I ponied up the $1,000 deductible before finally getting some benefits to cover most of the other costs. I’m not rich and I’m not poor but I was usually able to afford any kind of medical attention I needed.

Each year, my insurance rates went up and I paid the new premium. It wasn’t a big deal; I made more money every year and I saw the increased expense as part of my cost of living increase. Occasionally, I’d shop around for a new policy and get one that was a little less costly. That would creep up over the years and I’d change again.

The biggest mistake I ever made

I’m not exaggerating when I say that getting on my future wasband’s health insurance was the biggest mistake I ever made in my life. Why? Because when was I diagnosed not long afterwards with a tumor that needed removal and possible cancer treatments afterwards, he told me that I might not be covered if the insurance company found out we weren’t married. Terrified of bankruptcy from medical expenses for surgery and cancer treatments, I agreed to marry him. After all, we’d been together for 23 years and “engaged” for most of that time. We’d obviously stay together forever.

I turned out to be wrong about that. But the insurance was the root of my mistake; if I hadn’t gotten on his health insurance plan, I never would have married him. It would have been a hell of a lot easier to get him out of my life when he decided he wanted a mommy more than a wife and took up with a desperate old whore he met online only six years later. (Read a few of the early posts tagged divorce if you want the details of his betrayal.)

And no, there was no cancer.

In the early 2000s, my future wasband took a job in the Phoenix area with a company that offered very good health insurance plan. Around the same time, I got a sizable increase in my health insurance premium. He told me I could get on his insurance and it would be cheaper and better. Even though we weren’t married, I assumed he knew what he was talking about when he made the offer, so I dropped my insurance and got on his.

Sometime after we married, when I was still on his insurance, I started having digestive issues. I went to a gastroenterologist connected to Wickenburg Hospital — which I will never do again — and told her about my symptoms, including pain in my upper abdomen. She translated that as chest pains and decided that I needed to get an EKG. When that showed no problem, she sent me for a stress test. When that showed no problem, she sent me for another test. When that showed no problem, she finally gave up trying to diagnose me with heart problems. She was never able to resolve the digestive issues I had. Neither was another doctor I went to see. I wrote about this in a 2010 blog post titled “Getting Quality Health Care: Apparently Impossible.”

My wasband lost the job with the great insurance got another one with good insurance. I stuck with his new plan. Then he lost that job and was unemployed for a while. He got us on Cobra, which he paid for with our joint checking account. Except he didn’t pay on time. He missed a payment and they cancelled our coverage.

He got in touch with them right away and made the payment. It was only five days late. They reinstated him immediately. But they looked at my medical records, saw the heart tests, and refused to cover me because I had a “pre-existing condition.”

Except I didn’t have the condition they claimed I had. I had never had that condition. All tests had proved negative. My heart was fine.

It took six months of fighting with Blue Cross to get insurance coverage again. For the entire time, I was completely exposed to financial loss: if I was hit with a major health problem, the cost of medical attention could easily bankrupt me. Actually, I guess it could bankrupt us — I don’t think my idiot wasband realized how exposed he was, too.

I finally got coverage under my own name, separate from my wasband, by signing papers saying I’d never put in a claim for heart-related issues. I had no trouble with that because I had a healthy heart.

And, as you might imagine, I learned my lesson and kept my insurance separate from my wasband’s no matter how good his next employer’s plan was. I simply couldn’t trust him with something that important. (That probably helped confirm my financial independence from him in divorce court a few years later.)

I have been on one health insurance plan or another since that “pre-existing condition” scare all those years ago. The Affordable Care Act (ACA or ObamaCare) made it easy to find insurance that met my requirements. Again, I’m generally healthy and I make a decent living. I have insurance primarily to prevent bankruptcy in the event of a major illness. I have assets to protect, including my home, my business assets, and my retirement funds. I’ve worked too hard my whole life to put them at risk.

To keep my premiums as low as possible, I have a very high deductible: $5,000. I take advantage of a health savings account if I can. (My new plan does not allow additional savings but I can still use the balance from my old plan.) It’s nice to have annual check-ups and special tests like mammograms covered by insurance without having to worry about the deductible. Coverage under ACA helps people who can’t afford doctor’s visits at all to make at least make one visit a year which can, hopefully, find any problems before they become serious.

I’m not at all happy with the provisions of the Paul Ryan American Health Care Act (AHCA or TrumpCare) in part because it will allow insurers to deny coverage or greatly raise rates for people with pre-existing conditions.

Will it affect me? Will I be denied coverage? Or charged some outrageous rate for premiums? Just because I had a few heart tests ten years ago? Tests that proved I had a healthy heart?

And will some test or problem you’ve had in the past prevent you from getting coverage?

And what about well-care visits? Maternity coverage? Contraception? Mental health care? Any number of items on the list of required coverages from the ACA?

(Don’t worry boys, I’m sure you’ll still be able to get your little blue pills. Republicans wouldn’t dare threaten a man’s sex life.)

With only 17% approval rating from the people, Republicans could pass the bill later today anyway. They don’t care about the people who voted them in. They care about the lobbyists and rich donors who pay for their campaigns. The people most likely to benefit from this plan.

So I guess time will tell how it affects you.

My Facebook “Boycott”

I might actually mean it this time.

How many times have I threatened to leave Facebook? How many times have I caved in and gone back? This time might stick.

Facebook LogoFor the record, I have never liked Facebook. Search this blog and you’ll find more than a few posts where I’ve bashed Facebook in one way or another. (Here’s an example from January.) While I will admit that it is a great place to reconnect with people from your past and keep in touch with people you know and like who might not live nearby, it has recently become a tool for the spread of misinformation, helping to divide our country — as if it needed any help. Even after unfollowing or unfriending or even blocking the folks with crazy ideas, there seems to be more arguments on update comments than anything else. It’s also depressing when you realize just how crazy some of your friends or even family members can be.

But what became the last straw back in February was when Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and the guy who gets a healthy chunk of Facebook’s revenue, donated $120,000 to CPAC. CPAC, if you don’t know, is the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual event where right-wing blowhards bash progressives and liberals for being…well, progressive and liberal. Normally I wouldn’t care much about this event, but this year it had made the news by proudly inviting Milo Yiannopoulos, a person who makes his living by publicly trolling people he doesn’t like on Twitter (until he was banned, anyway), Breitbart News (where he was a staff member), and elsewhere. Apparently there’s a lot of money in the trolling and hate speech business because an imprint of Simon & Schuster had signed a book deal with him for an advance of $250,000. I guess the folks at CPAC like the crap Milo was selling because they were welcoming him as a speaker, despite the fact that he’s gay (which I always thought conservatives had a problem with). I have no patience for trolls of any sort and I think that giving credibility to someone like Milo will only further the divide that is destroying our country.

The way I saw it, my participation on Facebook was generating the content and activity that Facebook uses to sell ads. In a way, part of that $120,000 donation made by Zuckerberg to CPAC was coming out of my pocket. I didn’t like that. So I posted a link to the Media Matters article I linked to above on my Timeline, informing my friends and followers that I was out of there. Then I logged off from everywhere I was logged in — there’s actually a link buried in Facebook settings to do that — deleted all the cookies in my browser so Facebook couldn’t follow me around anymore, and deleted the Facebook app from my mobile devices.

I suffered from withdrawal for about two days. Then I pretty much forgot about it. I did step up my Twitter use a bit. I’m enjoying the political activism there. One of my recent tweets to [so-called] President Trump went viral and was mentioned in a magazine article. That was kind of fun.

I’m in California now, helping out a friend with a few spray jobs he has and doing some recreational flying now that my helicopter is out of overhaul. (I’m going to Lake Berryessa today, hopefully to see its “Glory Hole.”) I’m also trying to set up a lunch date with my friend Shirley, who lives in the Sacramento area. She and I usually get in touch on Facebook — frankly, she’s one of the people I miss from Facebook — and I wanted to see if I’d missed a message from her. (I never used Facebook Messenger on don’t plan on starting.) So I logged in today.

No message from Shirley, but two messages from friends. One was a link to a neat airport home in Bisbee, where I’d recently visited with friends. The other was spam from a new “friend” who I’m starting to think is an idiot who needs to be unfriended. There were also 57 notifications that I looked at. I started to follow up on them, but grew bored and discouraged after just a few. Same old shit. Seriously. This person liked this. That person commented on that. These people liked that page. I realized, with a start, that I really didn’t care about the notifications. And when I found myself reading an update written by one of my friends, I realized that I could easily get sucked back in anyway. So I logged out.

I’m not going to try to convince anyone to stop using Facebook. I know it’s a waste of my time but it’s apparently not a waste of other people’s time. Besides: who am I to tell people how to spend their time, which is the most valuable thing they have?

But I’m so glad to be off Facebook and I really hope I can stay that way.

Oh, and in case you missed the news, Milo lost that CPAC speaking gig, book deal, and Breibart job.

Karma, baby. It rocks.