Thursday, October 28, 2010

What does Obamacare mean to me?

I've been relatively quiet on Obamacare and the call by a lot of people to repeal it. A couple of days ago, I received an email that explained the impact to me personally. I have medical insurance through my employer. We are self-insured, that is, the employer ends up paying for all payouts. I pay into the program for family coverage (include medical, dental and vision care) and my employer pays also. All of the money is pooled together to pay out actual costs. The care is managed by one of the big insurance companies.

There are other plans available through my employer, but I've pretty much stuck with the same program over the years. My employer sent the following email (I've edited it to remove personal information):

This year, XYZ Corp had a team working for months to understand health care reform legislation.  Some of this work continues, which is one reason we are communicating with you a bit later than we usually do. We understand many of you align your decision-making with that of working spouses or domestic partners, which is why we have worked to keep the actual enrollment for employees on schedule.

You should be aware that health care cost increases for 2011 -- in addition to the normal inflationary trends -- also are affected by health care reform requirements, which affect both XYZ Corp and you.  For example, raising the age for dependent coverage from age 23 to 26 contributes somewhat to higher costs for businesses, as we must now all extend coverage to greater numbers of young adults.

There's more to the email, but that pretty much sums it up.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sort-of Facebook and blog policy

A little over a week ago, my blog-friend Neil posted his "sort-of Facebook policy" (see it here). I mostly agreed with it and then this morning I violated it. I felt bad afterwards, so as a reminder to myself, I thought I'd specify my facebook policy and my blog policy. Or my sort-of policies. I'll probably deviate from time to time. If you catch me, please point it out.

Like Neil, I keep the Facebook comments generally light and leave the politics and heavier stuff for my blog. A lot of my family eschews these heavy topics and Facebook just doesn't seem to lend itself to in depth discussions. I have found that many times, I can keep up with my family better on Facebook than with the phone. I've also re-established some relationships from when I lived in Charlotte and even a few relationships from school. I don't play games on Facebook and try to hide updates from the games because I really don't care how many jewels you have or need for your crown.

I have a friend who doesn't use Facebook. He worries about the evil that goes on there, the relationships that get started there (he's thinking the extra-marital relationships). He worries about the wasted time (can anyone say Farmville?). He's right to worry. Facebook can be abused just like anything. And if he doesn't want to post, I think it's best he doesn't do it. He's never told me I shouldn't. That's tolerance for both of us.

For my blog, just about anything is open. I will post on any topic, from politics, to cooking, from the books I read to the movies I see. I'll post about the kids and their kids or just something I see that sparks my interest. I'll put together posts on aspects of finances and once did a three-part analysis of payday lending.

In both my blog and Facebook, I'm careful what I post. My theory is that if I don't want my mother or my kids to read it, I shouldn't post it (my mom now uses Facebook and watches my blog). I haven't posted very many of my pictures - not that it's against my policy - it's just too time consuming.

I also take requests on my blog and try to honor those. (For Emily's sake, I often insert how I feel about a subject). If you have something you want me to post about, notify me here, on Facebook or any other way.

And if you catch me going off my policy, let me know. Throw something if you're close enough.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Service with a frown - resolved

My last post was about a problem with an exterminating company. Today, that problem has (apparently) come to a resolution. I had a conference call with the company and the Better Business Bureau. The BBB representative took my call, then called the business. She thanked each of us and explained the "ground rule" (her words) and that was no interrupting the other person.

I got to speak first and explained my situation (which had been previously done in the letter). The business then explained the issues. I corrected him on a couple of matters and then bluntly asked if he understood why I was upset. It took a minute, but he said he did.

We discussed a few aspects of the inspections they had done, specifically trying to separate the inspection cost from the "insurance" aspect of a termite bond. He said there was no way to separate them. (I would have asked for a refund of the inspection).

I asked him about the reluctance to write a check and he explained that they only wrote checks 1-2x/month and then only when a PO was created. He asked if I would give my credit card number to the BBB. I explained that I was reluctant to give him the number because I still didn't trust the company and if I gave it to the BBB, they would have to give it to him to process the refund. He then offered to send a certified check for the refund.

The total refund I'll be receiving is $100. This is the "discount" that was originally discussed. Had I gotten this refund in September, it would have saved a lot of hassle.

In addition, he explained a couple of ways this could have been prevented, I'm not sure any would have worked. I could have gotten a second estimate, but I felt like I didn't have time for that. He said in his business line, companies are on call 7x24 and make emergency calls within a day. He said my realtor could have called the day of closing and he would have faxed a new estimate (which would have had to go through the lawyer, forced a redo of all the paper-work, delayed closing, etc).

The end result is the discount I originally was promised and I don't have to give my credit card info. I'm not what I would call a satisfied customer and won't give them a good reference, but then they probably don't want a reference anyway. I won't go around bashing them and haven't posted their name here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Service with a frown

My last post was on good service. What prompted this in my mind was some incredibly bad service I got from a local exterminator (I'll provide the name to anyone that asks). In fairness, I'm still working with the exterminator to resolve the issues. But the service to date has been so incredibly bad I thought I'd make a post.

The service provided was an annual contract and a certificate for a home sale. It could have been any service. The first bad thing we encountered was when we called for the annual contract. The office treated us rudely and didn't even know what the contract covered. Since the contract was ongoing, we continued to work with the company. The people that came our were easy to work with and trustworthy.

When the time came for a certificate for home sale, we contacted the company again. They found some problems and recommended a remedy. Since we were days from closing, we didn't have time to shop for a better deal. I felt held hostage and called to tell them so.

Rather than try to understand my side of the story, the exterminator became defensive. They gave me several reasons for their findings, many of which were wrong. When I pointed out their errors, they said they were irrelevant. They did agree to discount the price, but the invoice was for the original amount. Again, I was being held hostage by a closing date.

After complaining about the price, I was told that invoices were sent by another person. For one month, I kept trying to get the right person. The lady I spoke with never gave her last name and wouldn't give me any one else to talk to. Finally, they wanted my credit card information to issue me a credit. Now let's see, I've found I can't trust the company and they want my credit card info? I don't think so.

Next step for me was to write a formal complaint letter. Which was ignored. Then a week later, I filed a complaint with the BBB. This got more defensive talk, misspellings of my wife's name and incorrect statements. No attempt to understand my points. After I rejected their settlement offer (again wanting my credit card info), I now have a scheduled call to try to resolve.

My suggestion on service - try to understand your customer. If you feel you truly don't have a mistake, educate the customer. If you want to make a concession, make it easy for the customer to accept.

I'll update this after my scheduled call to resolve.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Service with a smile

What makes "good service"? There's one company I recently dealt with that made me start thinking about this question. Unfortunately, the company didn't have "good service" and it made me thinking about what set them apart. I decided to initially focus on a company I deal with that does indeed have good service.

The "good service" company is a local dog groomer, I'll gladly share the name with anyone interested. (Since most of my readers aren't local, you probably don't care). We struggle with a couple of dog groomers including one that I'm convinced infected our dog with fleas. Since our older dog (since past away) was getting more and more difficult to transport, we decided to try a "mobile" groomer. These folks come to you with a van and all the equipment. When they leave, the dog's hair has been cut, cleaned and combed.

The first thing that I like about the mobile groomer was the price. They were actually a couple of dollars CHEAPER than the ones with a house. Cheaper is always better in my book! (well, maybe not always, but at least often) They did at least as good as any other place we took the dogs.

Second thing we noticed was that the couple doing the grooming were very polite. They listened to what we wanted, offered advice and did what we asked. Our dog has sensitive skin, so they manage that aspect well (I have no idea what they do, I just remind them to treat her like they did before).

The final aspect of their service that I wanted to mention is the trust. We've used these people several times. On one or two occasions, they've come and we've had to mail them a check. Most recently, we were away and had someone else there to dog sit for us. We forgot to leave the payment and rather than re-schedule, the groomer went ahead and did her work and we mailed a check.

This level of mutual trust is the basis for good, continued service. This business can rest assured that they have earned our business for a long time. Next post will focus on a company that doesn't give good service

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Free Book - Yes, free!

I've been reading a lot of personal finance blogs like Freeby50 and The Simple Dollar. I recommend both of these. Well, it turns out that The Simple Dollar has a book titled (amazingly) The Simple Dollar. And for a limited time, you can get the book for free.

You can download the book for your Amazon Kindle at this site: The Simple Dollar Book. But wait, you say you don't have a Kindle? (I don't). Not to worry, you can download the Kindle app for your iphones, ipads, android, PC or Mac. I did and it was very simple. You start at this site. It took under 5 minutes.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Jet Packs for LA Police

At dinner Friday night, one of my friends told me this story. Seems the LA Police has ordered jet packs for their police to a tune of about $1BILLION. Seems a little strange, but hey, this is talking about California, land of fruits and nuts. The left coast.

We thought of a lot of problems, those things don't last that long, what happens if you go up for 30 seconds and then run out of jet fuel, the criminals are all on the ground, what good does it do to be up in the air, they can't afford to pay teachers, yet they spend this kind of money (when you live with a teacher, every subject turns to education) etc.

I looked for information about the story this morning and found this item. Seems the story is FALSE. First reported by the Weekly World News (we all know that's a reliable source), then picked up by Fox News. The Fox anchors said they doubted the story, to which I have a question - WHY DID YOU REPORT IT? This doesn't help your credibility at all. Oh, sure, you said it was questionable, but a lot of the folks watching didn't hear that part.

Fox knows the audience and knows that conservatives love stories like this. It's a great chance to make fun of those from "the other side". But this just makes Fox look just as bad as the other networks. I thought Fox wanted to try for a higher standard? I guess I was mistaken.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Pay to Spray

In this small area in Tennesse, a man's house burned down because he didn't pay the (non-required) fee of $75 for fire coverage. (see story here).

Mr. Cranick lives outside the city limits and doesn't pay city taxes. The city offers fire protection to county residents and (presumably) uses the fees to help fund their fire fighting activities. Mr Cranick admits he didn't pay the fee last year, but has paid for several years in the past. It just slipped his mind last year. He offered to pay when the house was on fire, but fire fighters told him it was too late.

One troubling comment in the story is made by the city manager who said "We have to follow the rules and the ordinances set forth to us." Another part of the article says "When a household has not paid the fee, firefighters are required by law to not respond." (It's not clear what law is referenced here).

I have to confess, I have mixed emotions here. I have serious, unanswered questions, about what law, if any, specifies that the firefighters are required to "not respond". I also feel that, the fire fighters had an obligation to respond.

But I also feel that Mr. Cranick is trying to buy insurance after the fact. What would happen if people only paid when their house caught fire? Supposed you bought cancer insurance after a cancer diagnosis or life insurance after a loved one died?

While my emotions are mixed, it's pretty clear to me where the law should come down on this. My emotions can be satisfied by neighbors helping Mr. Cranick out. And if I lived in the area, I'd pay the $75.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Mood ring

Ok, I'm probably showing my age here, but when I was (VERY) young in the mid 1970's, they had these things called mood rings. The idea was the stone (or plastic) would change color depending on your mood. This was one of those fads that took off real big and then died just as quickly. You can read about them on Wikipedia here. My biggest memory of them is that they didn't really work, either they didn't change or they changed randomly.

Today, I see that there is now a cell phone app that can determine your mood. (see here). According to the article, "'EmotionSense' uses speech-recognition software and phone sensors in standard to assess how people's emotions are influenced by factors such as their surroundings, the time of day, or their relationships with others."

While I was never impressed with the original mood rings, I think this has some real potential. If you could set the ringer on your phone to play different ringtones based on the caller's mood, you would really have a marketable product. Wife calls in a good mood? - Answer right away. Wife calls in a bad mood? - Gee, I'm real busy right now. But I'll get back right away.

Somehow, this brings a new meaning to a "mood ring".