>Health Coverage Examined

>So, many of you have heard me voice my concern over the years concerning health insurance costs, coverage, and exclusions. Some of you know that I am a licensed Life/Health agent and understand the inner workings of this industry. I got my license primarily to protect myself and my loved ones from living uninformed lives, to put it nicely. To “keep it real with you” I did it so we would not get caught up in this big money game where my life was being gambled with.   

Having employer-sponsored insurance is “golden”, and you get comfortable with this luxury. Trust me, having independent insurance as a self-employed individual gradually kicks my rear more dead-center each year as I get older. Once I hit 30 my premiums skyrocketed. The insurance companies figure that a woman’s reproductive needs increase and they start hitting deep in our pockets. My options, lower my coverage- excluding maternity needs and other services- taking into consideration I’m single and the freeway and road signs don’t show “marriage” coming up anytime soon.

This saves me about $100-$150 monthly. Can you imagine what my costs will be in years to come?

When you become unemployed, whether voluntarily or involuntarily there is a growing concern for your health care needs. So you’re out of work, in need of insurance and who comes to your rescue? COBRA Health Insurance. I’m trying to bite my tongue, cheek, anything to not go on a five minute blast-fest concerning COBRA.

Many people opt for COBRA out of fear. Fear of being rejected by another insurance carrier for pre-existing conditions, fear of the unknown, and fear of having to go through the process of interviewing insurance agencies until you find the one that meets your needs. The last thing you need is to go from employer-based insurance with a customary $5.00-$40.00 co-pay (not really feeling the associated cost of monthly premiums deducted from your paycheck) to then paying $400-2,000 monthly depending on family size and needs, and having to deal with mountains of paperwork- which you don’t understand, and being shuffled around like cattle.

Let me share something with you…even COBRA knows they are beyond expensive, so what have they done to help the American people find a way to afford insurance? Well it’s definitely not a case of reducing their passed on costs to you, but they are trying to help. COBRA Health Coverage has set up a website (cobrahealthcoverage.com) in order to help you find alternative insurance options for you and your family. After completing a questionnaire, you submit your information to request a quote. They have formed an alliance with several reputable insurance companies. I have excluded their information so not to appear to endorse any or all of them. You have to make an informed decision on your own, According to COBRA Health Coverage Alternatives these agencies can potentially provide insurance coverage to you for as low as $166.00 per month or less. You can choose from PPO, HDHPs, HSAs, as well as other services that fit your needs. 
Something else the COBRA Health Coverage Alternatives provide are options not only for the unemployed, but also for part-time workers, the uninsured, or for freelancers.

I share this out of concern for those of you who would rather give in to accepting COBRA and possibly bankrupting your family (or finding yourself without insurance after months of struggling to pay COBRA only to lose it) because you don’t want to take the time to find other suitable alternatives. You can only keep your coverage for an average of 18 months and then what will you and your family do? Understand something, you’re not given a 24-hour window to find new insurance once you become unemployed or underemployed. You usually have a minimum of 20-30 days to proceed with COBRA or seek new coverage.

Take some time to do some research…heck, no offense but you have plenty of time on your hands now…or will soon enough! Look online and go to websites that allow you to compare several insurance agencies and their services at one time. Take notes, write down any questions and concerns that you may have, and then if the agents have not already began ringing your phone off the hook, place a few calls and take one step towards educating yourself…it can save you thousands each year…and free up that money to go towards other expenses or investments!

Copyright © 2010 by Natasha L. Foreman. All rights reserved; excluding displayed images.

>Credit: The debt game

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The January 2010 issue of Essence Magazine (p. 85) has an eight-page Money and Career Guide that is rather interesting. As I flipped through the guide I took notice of The Credit Quiz that asks you five questions to help you assess whether you should seek assistance from a debt management company or handle your issues personally with your creditors. The five questions that you are to answer either yes or no to ask:
        Does your debt include credit and department store cards, credit lines or unsecured loans?
        Can you make consistent monthly payments?
        Is there a good possibility you won’t take on additional debt in the near future?
        Can you negotiate well and commit to following up with your creditors?
        Are you okay with having a significant ding on your credit report?
If you answered “yes” to three or more of the questions then they suggest you check with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to begin screen debt management companies to assist you. If however, you answered “no” to three or more questions then you should use the extra money you have left over after covering your recurring costs in order to pay off one debt at a time. For those who could not select yes or no to one or more questions, because you simply could not decide which answer was most fitting to your current situation, the article suggested going to http://ftc.gov/credit  to read more about the process and making an informed decision after that point.
What I believe this article failed to do was educate consumers on the risks and rewards of using debt management companies versus tackling creditors alone. The last question uses the word “significant” in relation to how impactful one’s credit report could be affected by either handling the situation one way or another. What do they consider “significant”? What does this “significant” ding mean to the person and their credit? How long does this “ding” stay on their credit?
I’m not a credit card person. I remember getting one at the age of 18, like so many other college students who were pounced on at college campuses. Mine was with a well-known bank seen all over the country. I did as many other financially illiterate people do and allowed my credit card to be used for frivolous purchases that weren’t being paid off in full each month. I looked out for loved ones who claimed to need this or that, when it was only a case of instant gratification gone wild. Of my $800 limit I at most spent $100 on myself. Sad but true. I was making payments on the card, paying what I could and hoping that the other people who were there when it was time to make purchases, would also step forward with money in hand to pay off the debt. It was like saying “hello” at the Grand Canyon…the only person you hear is yourself.
Eventually because no one helped me pay back the charges and associated fees that accrued, I found myself in a pickle after losing my job. I was then sent to an outside collection agency that made a deal with me…“Pay us $600 right now on the phone and we will wipe out the balance owed…” I ran and got my checkbook and rattled off my account number over the phone. Months later I moved and guess what I received in the mail? A demand letter from the bank requesting more than $900 to be paid immediately; they claimed to have no knowledge of my earlier payment and although I said the agency’s name they refused to accept that I had made an agreement to eliminate the amount initially in question for a reduced fee. They wanted me to pay the money in full and began their fear tactics on me in hopes that I would break down and be naïve enough to give them the money. I refused. I felt as though someone had taken advantage of me and until it became clear who the culprit was, and that what I said was factual, no one was getting a lint ball from my pocket.
For years I battled with this bank. There was no way I was going to pay a combined total of $1,300 for an $800 credit limit. I had learned my lesson…matter of fact I learned several of them. I quickly paid off my card from a clothing store in 1997 and closed the account (also not aware of how that would affect me until I saw my credit report several months to a year later). I was 20 years old and free of credit cards!
Although I had sworn off credit cards my mother several years later thought it was important to have a secured credit card for “emergencies” and decided to add my name without my knowledge to her account so in case something happened to her I could immediately have access to the funds. What my mother did not understand was that the minimum monthly payment MUST be paid on time each month even if you don’t use the card. This wasn’t how her American Express card used to work! Long story short…guess who pulled their credit report and noticed “dings” for late payments?
Yep…me! Talking about being livid; I almost dislocated my jaw I was whooping and hollering so much. I had gotten out of the credit card rat race and found myself right back in its claws without ever having received one perk from the card’s use.
I’m not saying credit cards are bad or evil. Not at all….what I am saying is this, educate yourself on the associated costs, fees (both plainly seen and hidden), and penalties for both using the card and for cancelling the card. Know why you are applying for a credit card and what purchases you think you should make using it instead of cash. I understand that a credit card comes in handy, especially when renting cars (and you don’t want them freezing the funds in your account until you return the car), or securing hotel rooms, etc. Here’s the thing you should always consider however…If you can’t afford to pay the bill in full each month then you should opt to use cash for the purchase or defer it altogether until you can afford one lump-sum payment, or layaway. Just think about it!
Copyright © 2010 by Natasha L. Foreman. All rights reserved

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>Good News Still Brings Sad News

>I attended a breakfast at church for small group’s leaders and their members. I looked around the room for my members, and after seeing only one, I then began placing phone calls. I really had hoped my member from Haiti answered her phone so I could be assured that all was well with her and her family in Haiti. She did not answer. I decided to send her another email. I prayed during and after sending the email. Less than 30 minutes later, upon walking back inside the church’s chapel I saw her seated a few rows in front of me. I smiled brightly as I tried to gauge the look upon her face as she listened to our pastor speak. She seemed to appear peaceful and content, but I was not sure if it was simply her “mask” she was wearing. A few minutes later I made my way to the seat next to her and we reached out and gave each other a huge hug, then whispered for a few moments about how she was doing.

After the breakfast meeting we spoke for a couple of hours about her sister and other family members still in Haiti. Her sister lives on the outskirts of Haiti, outside of Port-au-Prince, right in the middle of the madness…but spared of mass destruction, unlike the city neighboring her, the epicenter of the earthquake… Léogâne City, that was almost totally decimated (roughly 80-90% of buildings).

In 1770 Léogâne City was wiped out due to an earthquake; so this is not the first time the city has experienced destruction and the hope for renewal. The difference between now and 1770 is that rebuilding it will take more time and resources than were necessary 240 years ago; but that does not mean it’s not possible!

My friend’s sister has four young children, and it took one week for her to finally make contact with family members. Her home is unsafe to live inside, so they simply wait for assistance from the various charities, organizations, and governments who they pray will arrive soon.

After discussing the devastation in Haiti my friend gave me an unbelievable history lesson about this country that has been plagued with corruption for many years. What information I had known was only surface level compared to the inner-workings she shared. The irony is that once the dictatorship that ruled the land for some time left, all chaos broke loose as class systems became more defined and anarchy became as common as seeing a liquor store or pawn shop on every “inner-city” corner here in the United States. Haiti is truly an example of a have-versus-have-not society. The dictatorship actually maintained order…but circa 1986, using the word “order” to describe Haiti became an oxymoron.

As I listened to the stories, not just rumors, but what she knew to be true, I cried. Her pain was apparent; her sense of helplessness showed across her face and in her voice. She is joyful that her family is alive, while fearful for her sister’s wellbeing (and that of her nieces and nephews). For quite some time it has been a crabs-in-a-barrel mindset, coupled with a drastic decline in resources, and uncertainty of who will receive assistance- she hopes her sister and other family members do not get lost in the shuffle. At this very point my dear friend only wants the opportunity to help…help rebuild her home that she remembers many years ago as a beautiful location, and prime tourist attraction.

Although the coastline is still beautiful she explained to me why Haiti is not the tourist spot like its neighbor, the Dominican Republic. She told me how the cruise lines pulled out quickly and opted to visit the neighboring countries and islands because the poverty and temperament of Haiti was far too depressed to be an attractive commodity. She explained that there has not been sufficient money earmarked to build adequate ports, secure infrastructures for buildings and houses, and that it is important that through Haiti’s renewal there is a focus on decentralization so that Port-au-Prince is not the only location for employment, health care, adequate living, etc.

My friend heard of an organization that was taking those individuals interested in helping, there to begin the sorting and rebuilding stages. When she called they already had more than enough volunteers. She wants desperately to go there, to help in whatever way possible- because she knows that without immediate action of not just other nations but of Haitians themselves to rebuild their home, the urgency from others will slowly die off as the media pays less attention to her country…and do-gooders find another “cause” to support.

As the days, weeks, months, and years progress I will shed more light on Haiti’s history and where I believe it can be with the help of ethical organizations and governing bodies who seek earnest restoration of this country and its people. We will see who is serious about making the necessary positive changes in this land that fought for freedom, later to pay France to keep it, and now is fighting for a pulse!

Copyright © 2010 by Natasha L. Foreman. All rights reserved; excluding displayed images

(Haiti Map Image Source: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/maps/caribbean/haiti/map_of_haiti.jpg)
(First Haiti coastline Image Source: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2009/2398832210_23ca33e1cf.jpg)
(Haiti- Antrim Coastline Image Source: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2009/2398832210_23ca33e1cf.jpg)
(Haiti Shoreline Image Source: http://piphaiti.org/blogs/media/blogs/all/AAshoreC.jpg)
(Girl on rubble at Leogane City Image Source: http://images.mirror.co.uk/upl/m4/jan2010/8/0/leogane-haiti-pic-dm-ian-vogler-745564000.jpg)
(Léogâne City map Image Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%C3%A9og%C3%A2ne)
(Haitian Palace Image Source: This image, which was originally posted to Flickr, was uploaded to Commons using Flickr upload bot on 18:17, 14 January 2010 (UTC) by Apalsola (talk). On that date it was licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)

>Effects of Haiti Hits Home

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I have not heard back from one of my small group members from church. Born and raised in Haiti, she along with some of her family members relocated to New York when she was approximately 13 years old. Not too long ago she decided to pack her things and move by herself from New York to Atlanta. Although we have grown close, for several days now I have been completely consumed with the devastation in Haiti, and my own personal life, yet forgetting all about my dear friend.

As a small group leader I am responsible for facilitating the care and discipleship of my members, while helping to build an “authentic” community. I am supposed to check in with them regularly and make sure that all is well in their lives. It bothers me that I had not spoken with her in over a week. Another group member called me, also concerned and said that the last time she spoke with our friend was last week- and that at that time there was a sister still living in Haiti who hadn’t contacted family to say she was okay.

I felt as though I swallowed an apple whole. What is going through our friend’s mind? Had she heard news of her sister’s whereabouts? Is she okay? My mind began to race as I thought of the last email she responded to…wow that was two weeks ago when I sent that out…the only other email I have sent since then was earlier yesterday. I’m going to keep trying to reach her by phone and email. I have been praying non-stop for those affected by the earthquake and aftershocks in Haiti; now I’m saying an extra prayer for my friend and her family still in Haiti…hoping that soon she will call and say that all is well.

Copyright © 2010 by Natasha L. Foreman. All rights reserved.

>Restoring Haiti

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Land is destroyed then renewed…a cyclical phenomenon that has been occurring for thousands and thousands of years. Our brothers and sisters in Haiti have experienced devastation that most of us cannot comprehend simply because we were not there. Death, destruction, pain, suffering, injury, and feelings of hopelessness and defeat; imagine all of this occurring at one moment- not spread out over a lifetime as many people would expect. Think of one moment a mother holding her child and the next moment the child crying as he looks at his mother’s limp body trapped under rubble. Imagine the emptiness and uncertainty that comes from not knowing where your loved ones are, and not knowing what tomorrow will bring.
I’ve had my share of death. Of people here one day and gone the next (sometimes gone moments after speaking with me). One thing I can’t say is that I have ever experienced what our family in Haiti has undergone and still trying to cope with today. I don’t know how much resilience a person needs in order to not give up and just die from despair. The will to survive and persevere is amazing. Taking small, shallow breaths as you hold on, believing and praying that within your faith God hears and will send his flock to rescue you. I don’t know if my courage extends this far. I suppose until tested I never will.
One thing I do know is that with destruction comes rebirth and renewal; and my heart knows that with dedication and follow through even after the media has lost interest in this ‘story’, Haiti’s restoration will not simply be limited to removing the dead and tidying things up a bit…there is potential to return it to its condition once known and admired before many of us knew of a Haiti.
What part are you taking in helping those directly affected by the earthquake and subsequent aftershock in Haiti? Take the time to donate to reputable charities. Visit http://www.interaction.org/crisis-list/earthquake-haiti   for a list of organizations that are working to help bring much needed food and supplies to the people of Haiti.
Copyright © 2010 by Natasha L. Foreman. All rights reserved.
(Image Source: REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE60B5IZ20100121)

>When it’s done…Effortlessly

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Main Entry: ef•fort•less

Pronunciation: \-fərt-ləs\
Function: adjective
Date: 1801
: showing or requiring little or no effort
synonyms see easy
— ef•fort•less•ly adverb
— ef•fort•less•ness noun

Someone close to me asked if I knew what ‘effortless’ meant exactly. After presenting my interpretation and providing examples we sat there in silence…reflecting.
Think about how two people love, feel, blend, coexist, and live effortlessly. Is it like the stars in the sky?

 
Effortless means there is no strain, complication, friction, or agonizing moments searching for something to say or do….as I explained to my friend, “It just is”. For something to be effortless it is easy. 

What is amazing is one’s ability to care, give, and love this way. When was the last time you can recall a relationship in your life that lived and breathed effortlessly? Free from concern, pride, ego, and doubt. That is truly God’s gift to us- what you do afterwards is up to you!

Copyright © 2010 by Natasha L. Foreman. All rights reserved.

(Definition Source: Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/EFFORTLESS)

(Image Source: http://www.atlasoftheuniverse.com/orion.jpg)

>Time to Say Goodbye to Yesterday

>1/20/10

I know the first thing that comes to mind is that I just did a twist on some Boyz to Men song, but trust me I did not think of “It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday” until after I started this sentence. Everyone that knows me…truly…understands that I am a huge sappy romantic. There are things that I want in life that I’m so passionate about that it brings me to tears. I cry during certain types of movies (taking on the emotion of the characters); I long to be a wife and mother, and I often look back at old pictures and smile at the memories that come to mind instantly….Oh I could go on and on with that but I will spare you…today!

Today is about letting go. It is about saying goodbye to elements of our past…past loves, past hurts, and past regrets. We can’t change our yesterdays, but we can focus intently on how we can take an active, positive role in our tomorrow. I’m not saying forget your past. That would be counter-productive. I’m saying stop holding on to your past so that you can free your mind for future experiences and memories. I’m saying let go of what someone did to you one, ten, or even twenty years ago and look at how someone touched your heart today.
 
I used to be one of those people who could hold on to grudges for decades. I’d shut down and would not allow myself to ‘free’ myself from my own issues. That person has too many things going on in their life to be concerned with obsessing over what they did to you many moons ago. You would be surprised at how they have ‘moved on’ yet you can’t. Let go and release yourself from that bitterness, hurt, and anger. Forgive. If you can’t forgive someone how can you ask God to forgive you?

Yes, it truly is that simple. Believe me!

Saying goodbye also means cutting the ties to relationships that have been over…but your heart and pride won’t let them go. If it did not ‘work’ when you were together consider the probability of a 100% success rate this time around. How many “let’s try again” moments can you recall?

I’ve always…scratch that…I’ve had a high track record of ending relationships and never looking back. Some of you have raised eyebrows as you recall one or two relationships in particular that I kept ‘working on’ and I tell you now, “fix your face”! I already said I’m a sappy romantic…cut me some slack. We’re digressing here folks….please re-focus.

God’s plan for you is to learn your lessons and move on. Stop snatching the steering wheel in an attempt to drive yourself in His car…stop trying to relive your past, trying to get it right. My sistas and brothas it is time to say goodbye to yesterday and start living for today! BREATHE!

Copyright © 2010 by Natasha L. Foreman. All rights reserved.

(Image Source: http://hissweetheart.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/goodbye1.jpg)