Friday, December 10, 2010

Navigating our health insurance

No one likes to pay bills and particularly insurance bills. Insurance is paying for an unforeseen event at an unforeseen time and you hope the 'event' or 'disaster' never happens, but if that insured event or disaster never happens, then it feels like you've wasted so much money for something that never happened. It doesn't feel like you've gotten your money's worth if you never used it, but if something happens, you feel miserable that it happened (eg: burglary, car accident, health problems) but then relieved that you were insured. Insurance is such a lose/lose situation!

How does our health insurance compare with the U.S?
* Some American employers pay for their employees health insurance - we have to pay for our own in Oz
* American public health system is very expensive and is in shambles - our Private Hospitals are expensive, but our Public Hospitals can almost be free with government Medicare help, but in shambles just like America

Inflation on insurance claims and premiums- price revisions apply every April
It's the nasty inflation creep on prices. Every year, insurance bills go up. I didnt' anything on my car insurance (thank God) because I've been incident free for a few years now. As for my crappy health insurance...when you need the health insurance and make a claim, they will only cover a certain percentage, leaving you out of pocket unless you go to a public hospital.

Our health minister will approve any premium increases in February, with all price increases approved to apply on bills from April. You can actually save yourself a few dollars if you pay your premium in advance at the old prices. So if you get your health fund to issue your bill in February and March then you'll get the insurance at old rates for the year.

I've had a few issues with my health last year. From the snowboarding injury to the stomach problems. Turns out I'm lactose intolerant and I got the all clear about my health and that I should stay away from buffets haha ...buffets have too much variety of food and because of that, my allergy could be from anything!

Finances and my health
MBF insurance premiums: $1,200/year (and increasing every single year)
Spending on health and injuries: $3314 (!!!!! yeah, almost made me faint)
Refundable amount: $1,669 (Medicare and MBF partial reimbursements-useless!)
Net out of pocket expenses: $1645
Total out of pocket expenses for 2009/2010: $2845 (ouch, ouch, ouch)

Navigating our health claim system

I'm going to write about this because I discovered a lot of annoying things when it came to our health system. Our health system is behind the times, disorganised and inconsistent. Some places will allow you to claim on the spot, some will be connected to Medicare on the spot, some won't be any of the above so that you have to fill out form after forms, pay all your expenses out of pocket and then claim afterwards. Anyway, to help anyone who hasn't got a clue about navigating our claims system:

Ask your doctor, physio, xray, hospital or whatever medical place you're at:
1) If they can reduce your bill with the Medicare rebate on the spot so you won't have to chase Medicare afterwards to be reimbursed later.
2) If your have private health insurance, ask them if you can claim your health insurance rebate straight away so you won't have to chase your private health insurer to be reimbursed later on
3) If any of the steps above have failed, and they don't offer you a reduction on your bill straight away because they're luddites and not very connected with their technology, then you'll just have to complete paper claim forms
4) The best claim form to fill out is a Medicare two-way claim form. That means you print off the pdf, fill it out, attach all receipts/invoices and complete the health insurance information, and then Medicare does all the running around for you with your Private Health fund. If you include your EFT information, it's insanely easy because before you know it, in one to two weeks time, both Medicare and your Private Health Fund will have deposited the reimbursement amount into you account. No cheques to deposit at the bank.

I wish someone had told me all this before I went through last years tedious health system. I didn't know about asking them upfront for my bill to be reduced because of Medicare and my Private Health Insurance, I didn't know about the two-way claim form. I would photocopy my invoices/recipts and send off the original to Medicare with a single-way claim form and then complete a claim form with my Private Health Fund with the photocopies and ask them to ask Medicare for the originals. Hah! Stupido and convoluted! That's happen when I've never had any health problems and my genes are great as indicated by the lack of health issues from my own parents and relatives. Fortunately I finally figured it out a few months ago and it's been really simple.

Fortunately I haven't really had any more health issues in the past few months. Spending on health issues is the biggest waste but unfortunately it's something that's gotta be done. It may also prevent bigger medical issues in the future as a result of neglecting your health today. But if I stopped snowboarding then maybe I'd save up so much more (less trips and less injuries)...but giving that up...impossible...

Expired gift cards: Extend their life or get them exchanged

Gift cards are great when you don't know what to buy for your friend or family member who has everything already. If you have received any gift cards and they've expired, you should contact the retailer and ask them if they can honour or exchange the expired cards for you. If it's close to expiry, call up the retailer and ask for an extended grace period so that you've got an extended time to use your gift card.

Don't throw them out. Most retailers will usually extend your expiry period or offer you a new card in exchange. There's a new site available where unwanted gift cards can be sold or swapped with other people who don't want their gift card, usually at a discount to its face value though... afterall if there's no discount, there'd be no incentive for anyone to buy because they could just buy a new one at the shop.

I think it's a great idea that's targeting a niche market need. Exchange or sell your unwanted gift cards at

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Celtic Tigers losing their economic growl

It's become a worrying trend. Members of the EU are collapsing one by one. Ireland, also known as the Celtic Tigers because of their economic growth in the 90s, is another nation struggling for survival in today's global environment. The Irish were diving into property speculation, much like the British, Americans and us Australians. We've all been guilty of speculating in property and creating property bubbles.

As the Irish became more heavily leveraged in early 2000, housing and construction dominated the economy and almost 13% of the entire workforce was employed by the building and construction industry. Housing can be massive source of economic growth because there are so many associated industries that benefits. From real estate agents, banks, mortgage brokers, solicitors, government taxes and stamp duties to furniture, plumbing, electricians, housing whitegoods, department stores and associated retail stores as homeowners furnish their properties.

Proposed spending cuts by the Irish Government
* 10 billion euros worth of spending cuts
* 5 billion euros worth of taxes to be raised
* cutting minimum wage by 12%
* cut welfare payments by 3 billion euros
* cut 25,000 public servant jobs

Liz O'Hagan, an Australian working in Ireland was quoted saying,

Click on image to zoom in.

The vultures (ie: investors) sure are fast. With the crisis that Ireland has been mired in, buyers of bonds (investors financing the Irish government) have been quick to demand higher yields as compensation for the increased risk. According to Shawn Pogatchnik at,
the yield(interest rate) on 10-year Irish notes had increased to 8.18 percent. As it gets more expensive for the Irish government to finance their deficits, it also gets more expensive for private companies wishing to borrow to fund business because of the sovereign risk.

"I sit here every day, taking calls, reading emails and fielding inquiries from people from all walks of life who are getting ready to get out of Ireland...they've lost a job or a family member has lost a job or they're about to lose their position and simply can't afford to live off their income anymore."
The Irish Government are poor at budgeting and saving for hard times
Professor Ferriter has studied Ireland and its history. She is quote in the SMH saying,
"There is the sad recognition that so much was squandered, that when you take the scale of the success of the Celtic Tiger and the scale of commercial activity then...there is such a feeling of regret that excess was not controlled and regulated. There were such opportunities for long-lasting security, now lost."
Times are hard in Ireland, with unemployment rates at 13%.

Future of Ireland

* Their banks need to recapitalise- the government is trying to rescue them but needs borrowed money to do this
* The Irish Government needs to borrow approximately 100 billion euros, which will increase their sovereign debt
* The funding may be coming from the European financial stability mechanism (A fund guaranteed by EU members)
* Funding from the IMF (this usually has strings attached)
* Other loans

Foreign exposure to Ireland by bank nationality @ 31st March 2010Total foreign bank exposure(including derivatives and other credit) is 583 billion euros and this consists of the following nation's financial involvement:
* 155 billion euros - Britain
* 143 billion euros - Germany
* 79 billion euros- US
* 64 billion euros- misc Euro nations
* 60 billion euros- France
* 39 billion euros- Rest of the world
* 20 billion euros- Italy
* 16 billion euros- Japan
* 11 billion euros- Spain

Some shocking statistics

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I want to buy a few golden bullions

Reading about inflation, devaluation of fiat currencies and the instability around the world makes buying little golden nuggets more and more tempting. Now before anyone who read this blog thinks that it's time to burglarise my place and make off with my little golden nuggets - I haven't bought any yet and when I do, it will be left at the mint vault. I won't be stupid enough to be storing them in the cookie jars in the pantry.

A few years ago a few friends and I were having dinner and we were joking about buying a few chunks of gold. Too bad we were only joking around! Gold has gone up in price and gold is looking more tempting as Greece, Ireland, Spain, the UK and the US battle their deficit demons. With the US printing money like crazy, the central banks are getting twitchy holding USD (US Dollars) as a reserve currency. A lot of central banks hold gold bullions in their vault as well. Afterall, gold was previously traded prior to nations having their own fiat currencies.
Oh well. No regrets. It's not like we've gone and blown the lot on discretionary expenditures and consumer junk. Most of us either have shares or properties or both, or a mixture of everything. And earning dividend + rental income can beat holding gold which doesn't pay an income in any shape or form.
As always, Perth Mint is quick on the uptake and has opened up a site specifically for those wishing to indulge in buying golden coins or bullions. I'd prefer bullions but any investor who has a numismatic bent, may prefer to buy the gold coins instead. I've previously written about how you can value your gold jewelleries to sell them for cash but why go flogging off the family jewels when you can wear them and over time, they go up in value as well.
I've always wanted to buy a few golden bullions in my portfolio so when I do that, I'll be sure to outline my bullion buying adventure for anyone who's interested. 2011 is the year to bling up my portfolio with some yellow metal.