This month, I became eligible to start using my job’s health insurance benefits. Although I read through the benefits package and thought I was making an educated decision in choosing a good plan for myself, I’m still overwhelmed by how much I really don’t know.
What exactly is a PPO? How do I know how much of a deductible I should be paying? What the heck is the purpose of a co-pay?! These are just a few of the bajillion questions I have about healthcare, and like any responsible adult, I usually give up halfway through reading my benefits and start watching Netflix.
My ignorance of the American healthcare system mostly comes from the fact that I haven’t had to navigate it much as an adult. I was on my stepdad’s insurance plan as a kid, and I was fortunate not to have serious health issues during early adulthood, so I just winged it from ages 18-23.
Then I joined the military shortly before my 24th birthday, where of course I had all medical needs covered by Uncle Sam. I can firmly attest that military healthcare is sketchy at times. I still have (not-so) fond memories of waiting in the medical office for hours at a time, regardless of how minor or severe the reason for a visit.
It was also scary to receive healthcare services from my peers, who were often as disgruntled as any other enlisted servicemember. Imagine having that co-worker who is just at the company for a paycheck, administering your yearly flu shot. Not such a comforting thought, is it?
Still, I didn’t realize how spoiled I was by military healthcare benefits. Now that I’ve switched over to the civilian sector, I thought I would reflect on the nuances of healthcare I never knew while in the military’s safety net.
There is No One-Stop Shop
Depending on where you’re stationed in the military, it’s common to get all of your health matters squared away in one central location. I was stationed on an aircraft carrier, which was large enough to have a dental and medical facility onboard. For eye exams and other specific procedures, I went off base, but most basic needs could be met on the ship.
Essentially, I could get a dental cleaning, pick up a prescription, grab lunch on the mess decks, and go to my rack (military talk for bed) for a quick nap all in the same day. Those days are now long gone. At the moment, I’m way overdue for a professional teeth cleaning, annual eye exam, and checkup with a primary physician.
If I wanted to get all of these appointments knocked out, I’d likely have to take a whole day off to do so. However, the chances of available time slots all in the same day are slim, which brings me to my next point.
Finding a Provider is a Headache
As many people know, most of your choices in the military are made for you. While this is annoying in several aspects, it takes out most of the effort that comes with searching for a medical provider. Now that I’m a civilian, that responsibility is all on me. The task of looking up providers who accept my insurance, accept new patients, AND have availability that’s not more than 2-3 months out, is daunting to say the least.
I think this has been the most frustrating part of navigating my own healthcare needs so far. I’m very picky about the services and/or products I pay for, whether it’s personal care, credit unions, or car repairs. The fact that I have to play a blindfolded game of Russian Roulette to find a suitable medical provider is unsettling.
It becomes even more unsettling when I do a decent amount of research, decide on a doctor who I think will fit my needs, only to be told they are booked until January of next year. (Or that they don’t accept insurance and charge $600 for an initial appointment.) What’s a civilian girl to do?
There’s Fine Print Within the Fine Print
I like to think I’m a fairly intelligent human being…that is, until I attempt to make sense of what seems like intentionally complicated jargon in my health insurance coverage plan. I’m sure I annoy the hell out of my HR manager when I ask her to clarify something that I just don’t get, even after reading it 20 times.
My biggest fear is that I will accidentally take advantage of a health benefit not covered by my plan and be stuck with a disgustingly expensive hospital bill. I have yet to go through this personally, but I’ve heard quite a few horror stories from folks who found themselves in this exact predicament when their insurance company refused to pay. That’s the last thing I need in my life right now.
Are There Any Health Insurance Hacks?
Based on my brief experience in navigating healthcare, I can see why most people don’t seek medical attention until something serious occurs. Not many of us can afford to dedicate the hours and days it takes to get through all the red tape and receive proper care.
Being in personal finance, I read a lot about travel hacking which is great when you love traveling for the low like yours truly. Still, with health being so important for all of us, regardless of age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status, there should definitely be a healthcare cheat sheet somewhere, right?
I willingly admit my lack of knowledge and I’m open to learning from anyone who has a better understanding of the system. As I mentioned in a previous post, finance affects us in more ways than we think, and I’m certain that being well-educated on health coverage could save all of us a ton of money in the long run!
Does anyone else struggle with understanding their health insurance benefits? Is it really this complicated, or am I just clueless?