No health insurance? No (financial) worries, mate!

Although the rest of the world is catching up, I think it goes without saying that there’s still a clear majority of Americans writing blogs and podcasts in the FI/RE world. Hence, there’s a lot of angst in a lot of posts about the ongoing costs of healthcare. The rest of us shrug, feel thankful we’re not in the US and scroll on past. However, I had an experience a few days ago which made me think about how my experience might have differed if I was in the US, which then led me to think about a couple of my sons’ experiences with the Australian health system when we were uninsured. Our wallets would have been hit by these things, in at least one case catastrophically, which led me to think… why not write about how people in most first-world countries deal with unexpected health issues? After all, we’re in the majority!

Here’s my first son’s experience. A couple of years ago when he was 23 he rang me at around 8 or 9 in the morning, saying that he was feeling really odd. His stomach was hurting, more on the right side than the left and he was feeling woozy and a bit “off”. While I was talking to him I googled his symptoms and we went through them. He had some of the symptoms of appendicitis, though not all of them.

I remembered a service called “Nurse Online” or something like that, where you ring a nurse and have a chat with them. I got Tom23 to give them a ring and then call me back. When he rang, he said that she’d suggested that we go to Emergency, as it sounded as if it could possibly be his appendix and they could check him out. So off we went to Monash hospital, just down the road.

When we got there it was relatively calm, with few people waiting. Being the mother of boys, I’d been there a few times before when they’d managed to hurt themselves after hours when our regular doctor wasn’t at work and it was always busy. It seems that early on a Sunday is a good time to go.  Anyway, it wasn’t long before we were in front of a doctor. He poked and prodded Tom23, then said that it looked as if it was the early stages of appendicitis. He said we could go home and see if the symptoms quietened down, but personally, he recommended that Tom23 go straight in and have the operation that day.

One thing to know: we didn’t have Hospital Insurance. In Australia, you can elect to have Hospital and/or Extras insurance (or neither.) In my case as a single mother with 4 boys and usually pretty minimal child support, for years I’d gone for just the extras cover. I had 3 sets of braces and 2 sets of glasses to cover, as well as assorted chiro, physio and other bits and bobs that my ex-husband wouldn’t pay for, so I couldn’t afford to get extras cover AND hospital cover. It really wasn’t an issue, because  I knew we’d all be ok. If anything awful happened to us health-wise, such as an accident or cancer, we’d be looked after in the public system. Anything else that was a chronic condition that we’d need to go on a waiting list for, we didn’t have. The odds were that we wouldn’t develop anything while we were all young. We’ve always been as healthy as horses, so the probabilities were that we’d never need it. So I put my dollars towards the extras that the boys needed. It just made sense. (Nowadays, with the boys as adults, I’ve flipped that, so if Old Lady Frogdancer develops a condition that needs to go on a waiting list for hospital treatment, she’ll bypass that and go on through.)

So Tom23 had no hospital insurance. He went in as a public patient and had the operation that same day. The picture at the top of this post is him pre-surgery. A day or two later he was home, with a bill for antibiotics and painkillers that totalled $60. That was all he had to pay. As a uni student with very little money available after paying for books and rent, this was a godsend. Now, fast forward two years later, he’s an accountant paying taxes. Some of those taxes are now contributing to other people’s health costs.

Now to my experience.

Last Tuesday I rolled over in my sleep at 4AM and felt a lump in my breast. Trust me, even if you’re dead asleep, that’ll catch your attention! Sleep was instantly gone and so Dr Google and I were getting to know some facts.

I booked a doctor’s appointment for late that day. My Doctor bulk-bills, so there’s no charge for an appointment. By the time I made it in to see him the lump was huge and there was a big red rash on the breast. It didn’t look to me like cancer, or to the doctor, but you can’t be too careful with lumps like this, so he loaded me up with a dynamite-strength course of antibiotics and a referral for mammograms and an ultrasound.

I rang around and booked an appointment for the following Tuesday, to give the antibiotics a chance to work. When Tuesday rolled around and I faced the receptionist, she asked if I was on a Government health-care card or on any sort of Government benefit. If I had been, the cost of the tests would have been free. However, my days of living on the sole-parents’ pension, (as it was called then) have been over for 16 happy years, so I had to pay the gap between what they charge and what Medicare provides. I gave her my Medicare card, she popped my number in and $160 was reimbursed back into my account.

I’m ok with paying $90 for 6 separate mammograms and a half hour ultrasound. If there was any bad news, I know that I’d be whisked into hospital straight away for free to have an operation. They tend to move quickly when cancer is involved. Thankfully, it appears that all is well.

One of my other sons suffered terribly from depression when he was in his teens. It went on for a few years and at his lowest point, he was hospitalised in a teenage psych ward for a total of 6 weeks. All up, I paid maybe a couple of hundred dollars for his medication. After that, he had psychiatric and psychological counselling for a further two years or so until he got a handle on it and learned to cope. After his first stint in the ward, I didn’t have to pay a penny for the counselling, just for his “happy pills”. I can’t tell you how thankful I was for our health-care system in Australia while this was going on. I was almost at the point of finally paying my house off… if I had to sell or borrow against the house to ensure that my child got the health-care he so desperately needed I would’ve done it… but I’m so grateful that I didn’t have to. That house was the bedrock of our physical and financial security. And what if I didn’t have any assets to sell? If he wasn’t given the care that he received, I’m very sure that he wouldn’t still be with us. He was pretty sick.

YEARS ago, back when most of the kids were still too young for school, they were playing a ‘running around the house’ game and a door was slammed onto David4’s hand. His thumb tip was squashed flat and sideways. He had microsurgery the next day (for free) and now, 20 years later, David24 is a pianist and is studying music at Uni.

**

I don’t know all the ins and outs of how our system works. There have been only 3 times where our family has had to use the system in the last few years and the boys’ health needs were far more dramatic than my own, so I haven’t needed to examine the system in all its glory. I know that our taxes are higher than in the US and I’m positive that this helps pay for Medicare. And you know? I’m totally ok with that.

Everyone gets sick. Everyone has health problems at some stage. Our healthcare system means that everyone puts in while they’re able, then they withdraw from it when they need to. Everyone who is able contributes, while those who are in need get looked after. It also means that when ill-health does strike, we don’t feel financial fear and delay getting treatment, hoping that it’ll go away. People may still put off going to the doctor, but it’s not from fear of bankruptcy!

It’s not a perfect system by any means. But it’s hard enough being sick – I mentioned bankruptcy in the last paragraph for good reason. This link to an article details the top 10 reasons people go bankrupt in the US – a whopping 62% of bankruptcies are because of medical expenses.

The following is a table taken from an Australian Government page about the causes of personal insolvency in Australia.

If I was your typical FI blogger, I’d be wading knee-deep into the numbers right now. I’d be throwing stats and percentages and drawing up my own google doc or excel spreadsheet to show you something-or-other. I’d be googling how much health insurance costs in the US as opposed to Australia and Europe. But I’m not going to, mainly because I’m petrified of numerals. Besides, if you’re curious I’m sure Google comes to your computer too. But you can see the difference between the two systems. My experience a few days ago simply made me reflect upon how different my finances would be if I’d been born into another first-world country that runs healthcare differently.

And I’m very grateful that I won the lottery of birth and was born here. 🙂

 

 

 

Advertisements

North Korea trip.

Here’s a shot for those who believe that tourists in North Korea are kept in a little bubble and that everyone we interact with are actors. That’s an awful lot of actors to hire, just to fool 12 tourists!! There I am, dancing with the locals with my sunglasses on, looking cool. It was so much fun.

I’ve left this site pretty much to itself, but I’ve been blogging about the trip on the other blog. I really want to get this done, so this site has a few tumbleweeds in it at present. I’ll be back!

Day 2 – Beijing.

Day 3: Beijing, Dandong and Pyongyang, North Korea.

Day 4: The Pyongyang Marathon

Day 4, continued. Pyongyang

Day 5 – Pyongyang – The Subway

Day 5, Pyongyang continued. The Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

Day 5, continued. Monument of the Party Foundation and the Juche Tower.

Day 5, continued. Grand People’s Study House, parks and the Mansudae Grand Monument.

Edited to add: It’s now July 5. I’ve ‘only’ got 5 days to go on the trip. Sifting through those photos takes a lot of time. Once I’ve knocked North Kore on the head, I’ll be back here.

 

Lessons from Literature 6: The Mandibles: A Family 2029 – 2047.

The Mandibles: A Family 2029 – 2047 by Lionel Shriver is one of the novels I was reading when I was away in North Korea and China. Kind of ironic, really, because it deals with what happens when the US government runs out of money to service their trillions of dollars worth of loans and defaults. Guess which country rises up to take advantage of the situation?

This is a relatively slow moving but gripping read. We see through the eyes of one reasonably privileged family what happens as their society gradually unravels at the seams. Shriver has clearly done her homework on how financial markets work and the implications and consequences when things start to turn pear-shaped. Most of us in the FI/RE community have started to scrape together a working knowledge of how the financial world works – you’ll find this novel VERY interesting indeed.

I loved it. I found it scary as hell, though the little titbits she puts in about other countries are very clever, particularly what happens to Australia and Japan. I think I gave it a 5-star review on Goodreads – it’s well worth using the link I gave at the beginning of this post to pop across and buy it. (I don’t get anything from it – I just provided it as a resource for Aussie readers. US readers will find it at Amazon.com)

I’ve put out another blog post on my trip, for those who are interested.

Day 2: Beijing. 

I’m back!

I’ve decided to blog about my trip on my personal blog, so I’ll post a link at the bottom of any posts I do here so that people who want to read about China and North Korea can do so. The photo above was taken at the Massed Dancing in the centre of Pyongyang,  just before I put my phone in my pocket and joined in. So much fun!

So far I’ve done one post and it took me 3 hours, so I’m guessing they won’t be coming at breakneck speed, especially considering that I have to wade through 3,200 photos and videos to choose the best ones to share. Don’t believe the stories that you can’t take photos in North Korea!

Here is the first post. 

We did Beijing first and last, with the DPRK as the meat in the sandwich. It was an amazing trip and I hope you’ll join me to see the photos and read about what we experienced. Travelling in North Korea and participating in the Pyongyang marathon is incredibly interesting  – lots of fun with an occasional dollop of “OMG – crazy!” to remind you that you’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.

To all those who voted for my post in the Rockstar Finance competition – it won!!!! Thank you so much for your support – it was very exciting to see my little blogpost reach the top of the mountain.

 

I never thought I’d be flying into THIS country…

PLEASE vote for my blog post in the Rockstar Rumble Grand Final. YES!!! My blog post about showing my boys about compounding interest and superannuation has beaten 126 other bloggers to reach the final round. I’m so excited – it’s the first Grand Final I’ve ever been in. I won’t know the results of the competition for another 3 weeks, because I’m going to a place with absolutely no internet, but don’t let that stop you voting! Please leap across and vote for mine, the keyword is “Mistake’.  – I’d really love to take it out.   🙂

Rockstar Rumble Grand Final Voting.

 

It’s been a struggle to reach FI, I won’t lie and pretend otherwise. Actually, it’s only on paper that FI looks as if it’s just about been reached – emotionally I still don’t feel it, so I keep jumping on that early morning train and heading into work each weekday. But what I will concede is that I certainly have more ready cash floating around at the end of the month than I used to have – and that means that I can finally have the freedom to travel.

Three years ago I took a term of Long Service Leave and went on a 9 week trip to the UK and Europe. This was the trip I’d been waiting my whole life to take and I denied myself very little! I bought so many souvenirs that I had to send a large box back to Australia via post because there’s no way I would’ve been able to get all of that baggage into my suitcase. It was a dream holiday and I’ll probably never have its like again.

Fast forward three years and tomorrow I’m off again! The brilliant thing about financial freedom is that when an opportunity opens up, you’re able to take advantage of it.  A woman I work with has a son who takes tours into North Korea. She went on a tour with him last year and I thought she was mad. Who in their right mind would take a trip into a country like that?  Talk about risky as!!?? She must have been insane!

Then she arrived back safely. She had a group of us around after school and she showed us the 600 photos she had on her phone. Clearly, the things we hear about not being able to take photos isn’t true. She told us that it was just like going back to the 1960’s and that she’d never felt so safe anywhere in the world. This piqued my interest. It’s certainly nothing like the conventional things we hear about the country. When she said, “Frogdancer, if you ever want to go, I’d be happy to go back again”, I started to think about it. It’s an opportunity to see a country that very few people get to see. I have no doubt it’ll open up to the world, just as China has, but for now, it’s a bit of a mystery. I said yes.

My friend wanted to go back in April, to take part in the Pyongyang marathon. She and her husband are doing a 10km run. Anyone who knows me in real life knows that exercise isn’t my strong suit, so I’m WALKING the 3km section. I figure it’ll be a good way to see the city.

Here is the tour I’ll be going on.

Let’s be honest: it’s a slightly scary place to be going to. We have had to sign a declaration saying that we’ll stick with our guides and won’t go wandering off. The tour conditions are very much like the ones tourists in China had to adhere to 20 odd years ago. When we get back to our hotels after dinner, we’re not allowed to leave, though we can wander the grounds. This rule apparently leads to many nights in the hotel bar, with lots of drinking and banter. Shouldn’t be too hard for a group of Aussies to keep up! I’ll have to switch from Shiraz to rice wine for the duration.

The hardest thing so far, for me, was the fact that there’s no ATM access to cash in either country. This means that I had to estimate how much money I’ll be likely to spend, then buy it all before I leave to take with me. How on earth do I know how much I’ll need?!? This has resulted in a sensible trip to buy money, where I had a responsible allocation of Euros and Chinese Yuan. Since then I’ve had 2 panicked trips back, where I was sure I needed more. I’m probably taking far more cash than I need, but I figure that it’s better to have too much than not enough. I’d better not get mugged though!

This will definitely be different to any other holiday I’m likely to ever take. This is a tour where we’re basically put in front of various things and given the party line. To counter this, I’ve been reading up on Twentieth Century Nth Korean history, both military and political; personal accounts and interviews from people who’ve escaped, and I’ve been watching every documentary I can lay my hands on. Scared myself silly a few times, to be honest. But I wanted to know the other side of the story while I was listening to them. Seems the sensible thing to do. And I always like to do the sensible thing…

So please vote for my post in the Rockstar Rumble. It’s been a hard-fought battle all the way through and I really want to win. This competition’s been going for weeks! I’m proud of my post and the idea I had to educate my boys and I’d love to be able to see it through till the end.

And there’ll be no more posts until I arrive home on April 21.  It’ll be interesting to see the comparisons between our dreams of FI/RE and how people live in a vastly different society. I have a feeling I’ll be very glad to get back home.

 

 

Freedom beckons…

Oh thank goodness! Term 1 finishes today, (oh happy day!), and I marked the last essay from my year 9 class yesterday. I’ve cleared the decks of all the corrections and I can leave for my overseas holiday with nothing at work to mop up before I go. I’m taking an extra week so it’ll be 3 glorious weeks of freedom before I come back. Whoopee!

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in the school’s lecture theatre watching two year 12 kids trying to learn to waltz. It’s part of a dream sequence in the play we’re putting on – ‘Jasper Jones’. It’s the first rehearsal of this scene and they’re stressing about stepping and counting and turning. The boy playing Charlie looks a little like an adolescent giraffe, all arms, legs and elbows, while our ‘Eliza’ has a look of fierce determination on her face as another student counts, “Step 2, 3… turn 2, 3…  step 2, 3…”

Learning a new skill is always hard at the start, but I know that by the time May 2nd, 3rd and 4th come along, they’ll be floating, seemingly effortlessly, around the stage.

As I was watching them I was thinking about writing something for this blog and it occurred to me that learning how to get control of your finances is a bit like learning how to dance. At first it all seems really hard. You step on your partner’s toes, you misstep, then start to move smoothly, then stumble again…

Once you have control of your budget and you become debt-free, it’s all smooth sailing. Then you realise you have to learn about investing. You discover the world of FI/RE and all of a sudden it’s like learning the tango. It’s a whole new dance. All those scary numerals!  The new terms and acronyms! Argh! What’s an ETF? A CAGR? ROI, IPO and a REIT? Why are they important and why should I care?

I’m sure some people take to this like a duck to water, but personally, I found it hard. I’ve spent a lifetime actively avoiding anything to do with Mathematics and there are far too many numerals involved with investing for me to be comfortable with it. As it is, it’s taken me around 5 years to become what I’d call a moderately educated investor. Anything too spreadsheet-y and I still mentally run screaming for the hills, but I’ve reached the stage where I’m now gritting my teeth and slowly chipping away at it.

By the end of the rehearsal ‘Charlie’ and ‘Eliza’ were waltzing around the stage in each other’s arms, still stumbling occasionally but for most of the time, they were in step with each other and in time to Doris Day’s singing. I smiled as I looked at them and at the other student who was still counting time, “Step, two three; Step, two three!”

It’s a work in progress but I know we’ll all get there in the end.

 

Lessons from Literature 5: The World According to Garp.

This was the novel that brought John Irving into the limelight. I first became aware of this story when I saw the movie – my first movie with John Lithgow. One of my favourite actors.

The World According to Garp, written in 1978,  is a quirky novel, with characters and situations that are still memorable today. Jenny Fields is a single mother who gets pregnant with her son, TS Garp, under very unusual circumstances. The novel follows Garp through his life, from his childhood with his incredibly independent mother, through to his marriage with Helen and his life with her and their kids.

  • Helen was at school every day; she had agreed to have a child only if Garp would agree to take care of it. Garp loved the idea of never having to go out. He wrote and took care of Duncan; he cooked and wrote and took care of Duncan some more. When Helen came home, she came home to a reasonably happy homemaker; as long as Garp’s novel progressed, no routine, no matter how mindless, could upset him. in fact, the more mindless, the better.

Garp chooses to be a writer, a SAHD while his wife is proud to go to work and be the major breadwinner. They chose their partners in life well… always a good thing to do to succeed both financially and in life. She was an English professor who had no ambition to be a writer – she liked to read – whereas all Garp wanted to do was to be a writer. Choosing a partner in life whose ambitions dovetail in with your own is one of the best ways to get ahead.

  • “You know, everybody dies. My parents died. Your father died. Everybody dies. I’m going to die too. So will you. The thing is, to have a life before we die. It can be a real adventure having a life. ” (Jenny Fields)

In other words, enjoy the journey, not just the destination. So many people appear to discover FIRE, get excited and then put all their energies into investing, retirement funds and getting out of debt while forgetting to take some time to smell the roses along the way. Both Garp and Jenny Fields lived life according to their own terms, particularly Jenny.

  • Death, it seems,” Garp wrote, “does not like to wait until we are prepared for it. Death is indulgent and enjoys, when it can, a flair for the dramatic.

What a great way to say that you should make sure to live while you’re alive.

Here’s the quote that matches up with the clip from the film. See opportunity when it presents itself to you and act upon it!

  • “We’ll take the house. Honey, the chances of another plane hitting this house are astronomical. It’s been pre-disastered. We’re going to be safe here.” Garp.)