By In Around the Web, Money-Saving Tips

Take Note, FI Folks — Walmart Is Serious about Price Transparency at Their New Health Clinics

Last week, Walmart opened its first standalone health clinic in Georgia, but it probably won’t be its last. It’s an ambitious project for the company that is already one of the leading health care retailers in the world, and it builds upon their “care clinic” idea, which they’ve launched around Georgia, South Carolina (my state), and Texas.

The idea is to put a lot of different kinds of services under one roof — which, like duh, is what Walmart does with consumer goods. Here’s all that they want to offer in their standalone health clinics, according to a Forbes article:

The larger Walmart Health Center puts “key health services under one roof,” a first for the world’s largest retailer when it comes to offering primary care, dental, optometry, counseling, laboratory tests, X-rays, hearing, wellness education and behavioral health.

-Forbes

But wait, there’s more! In true Walmart fashion, they’ve already published a price list. That’s a no-brainer for retail but revolutionary for health services. Seriously, when was the last time you went to a doctor knowing what you would pay for anything but the visit itself?

(more…)

Read more

By In Featured, General Benefits Knowledge

FI Benefits 2020 Special, Part 2: Let’s Talk Strategy

In today’s installment of our 2020 OE special for the FI/FIRE community, we give you some tactical reminders that will help you understand what to think about as open enrollment (OE) approaches. The good news? Benefits are a great thing to have. Health benefits in particular are both great and essential to have.

The bad news? Well, read on for insights and strategies.

(more…)

Read more

By In Featured, Financial Independence, General Benefits Knowledge

FI Benefits 2020 Special, Part 1: The Pre-Game

Every year, the vast majority of Americans must “elect” their benefits for the year. In the benefits biz, this occasion is called “open enrollment season” and if refers, as the name implies, the time of year when employees get to select their benefits — primarily health/medical, dental, vision and life insurance options — through their employer for the coming year.  Something around 75 percent of employees who get benefits through their employer get them with a January 1 start date, which puts them making their selections some time between October and mid-December.

We at the Benefits of FI aren’t just here to show you how to make the most of open enrollment, we’re here to make the most of your FI goals during open enrollment!

With that in mind, we are running a series of posts over the coming weeks that will get you ready for OE, give you ideas for how to view the various criteria for making benefits elections, and ultimately to help you view OE through a FI/FIRE lens. We will also post some of our favorite posts about benefits across the FI blogging universe, to further give you a leg up in selecting benefits for the year.

First up, a little pre-game — knowing what to prioritize in your mind before OE starts.

Here goes…

(more…)

Read more

By In Do the Math, Financial Independence, Student Loan Debt

Could Your Paid Time Off (PTO) Help Fund Your Early Retirement?

There was a news item circulating around the benefits business this week about PTO Exchange, a company out of Seattle that raised $3 million in venture capital. The idea investors are buying into is that you can and should use your excess PTO (AKA “paid time off,” or vacation pay) for other things you might want or need, like paying down your student loan debt, or putting it toward gift cards, or all manner of other things.

If you’ve ever 1) not used your PTO and watched it either expire or roll over into a new year where you’ll just get more PTO you won’t use up, or 2) you’ve left a job and had all that unused PTO vanish into the ether, you may have gotten the same lightbulb I got when I first read about PTO Exchange. Here’s why…

(more…)

Read more

By In Budgeting, Individual Health Insurance

Bad Health Coverage Options for FIRE Folks, Freelancers, Gig Workers, Self-Employed and Perhaps Even Trustafarians

If you fall into the broad category of people who don’t qualify for employer-provided health insurance or a government-provided option like Medicare, Tricare or Medicaid, now is the time of year that you should start thinking about your options.

We at The Benefits of FI have preached the importance of having high-quality coverage (read: coverage that is required to pay for a lot of different kinds of health care services and potential needs) coverage for you and your family. But since this FI community is nothing if not fiercely independent, we want to give you a few more details about the options you’re reviewing, in case you don’t take our advice to go with the (probably) more expensive option that is (probably) also the smartest option…

(more…)

Read more

By In Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)

Abroad and Injured? Your HSA Works for That!

I’ve occasionally posted “death of a thousand cuts” updates about the quiet desperation of navigating our health care system. Well, as one of my more troll-y friends pointed out, one experience isn’t exactly science but a recent experience with big, bad socialized medicine was almost pleasant.

On our blowout summer vacation for the whole family, my mother-in-law injured her heel from too much exploring on ancient Roman roads of solid marble. Luckily, we had an Italian friend who got her to a doctor to ensure it wasn’t more than just swelling. The doctor, not accustomed to billing for visits, didn’t charge my mother-in-law for checking her foot and then gave her crutches to rent for €1.50 (~$1.75) per day. We ended up buying them outright for €$20. She also got prescription-strength ibuprofen for a steal. All in all, my MIL’s costs were less than $30. Zoinks!

But the cost itself isn’t the reason for this post. What came to mind was that, had it been me, my wife or one of our children, we could have used our tax-free HSA funds to pay any bills that were incurred. That’s right, you can use your HSA — or FSA — funds for medical expenses pretty much anywhere on the planet. The two important rules are whatever product or service you’re getting has to be

  1. On the approved list of HSA/FSA products/services. That’s the U.S. list. Duh.
  2. Legal both in the U.S. and in the country where you’re receiving the service.
(more…)

Read more

By In Do the Math, Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), Savings and Budgets

An HSA Really Can Be a ‘Dream-Vacation’ Reserve Account…If You’re Smart About It

We’ve written extensively about how much you might end up spending on your own health care in retirement and, as a result, why it’s important to build up your HSA funds so that you can have that reserve of tax-free dollars for such expenses.

But, as a former co-worker of mine used to say, here’s a “super-secret hack” about HSAs that may change the way you spend both in retirement and beforehand: there is no time limit on when you can reimburse yourself from your HSA for medical expenses.

What does this SSH (ahem, super-secret hack!) mean for your retirement savings? It’s simple. Keep reading…

(more…)

Read more

By In General Benefits Knowledge, Health Insurance, Voluntary Benefits

Advice for My Daughter on Selecting First Employee Benefits

Over on his personal blog, Platform for Good, our cofounder Shawn has written an excellent post on the advice he gave his daughter as she readied to select benefits through her employer for the first time. It’s chock-full of insights from an adult life spent contemplating how to make the best choices for your present and your future, organized into five helpful tips for making your benefits choices. Get on over there and give it a read!

Read more

By In Around the Web, Money-Saving Tips

What Trump’s Price Transparency EO Means for FIRE

Earlier this week, President Trump announced an Executive Order requiring health care companies, particularly hospitals and insurers, to make their negotiated prices for services publicly available. Trump said, with his trademark understatement:

“This is a truly historic day. I don’t know if it will be covered that way by the fake news, but this is truly a historic day this is a very big thing that is happening right now and it’s pretty much going to blow everything away.”

President Donald Trump, signing the Executive Order on Improving Price and Quality Transparency in American Healthcare to Put Patients First, June 24 2019

Since then, there’s been a slew of coverage about whether this order will have quite that impact. The hardcore health economists have been talking about Danish cement (seriously) in saying that forcing hospitals to publish what they’ve negotiated with health insurers to pay for services will simply encourage the ones charging the least to raise their prices. I personally asked an economist if the airline industry might be a better comparison, with its major players, barriers to entry and regional differences in supply and demand. Here’s what he sent me:

Here’s what this Executive Order on transparency could mean for the FI community: ultimately, smart and active consumers do better when they have more information, so this’ll be good for FI. Duh.

But health care has nuances—many, many nuances.

(more…)

Read more

By In Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), Retirement Investment Accounts

Investing Your HSA Funds

In spite of being the fabled “triple-tax advantage” and therefore an ideal account for investing for your retirement, only a fraction of those with HSA’s actually invest the money.

Having worked on the business side of HSAs for a good number of years, I can tell you that there are three main reasons for these low investment rates:

  1. People are actively spending their HSA funds. They have medical expenses, or think they might, and are using their HSA debit card as the name would imply — to pay those expenses if and when they arise.
  2. People think they’ll need to actively spend their HSA funds. They don’t have medical expenses but think there might be a need to have the funds close at hand, just in case.
  3. People have no idea how to invest their HSA funds, or if they even can.

No. 1 is understandable. If you’re sick and/or you’re living paycheck to paycheck, that tax-preferred account will stretch your health care dollar.

No. 2 also makes sense to a point. It’s good to have an “emergency HSA fund” available on demand, in case you need it quickly. But in most cases, you can access invested HSA funds before you have to pay your medical bill(s), so maybe keep a smaller emergency fund than you need in order to maximize your investing potential.

No. 3 is sad but true. In some cases, your HSA trustee or custodian (just fancy words for the company that manages your HSA) hasn’t made it easy for you to invest your funds, or they haven’t given you options at all.

In this case, here’s all you need to know: Your HSA funds follow almost identical investing rules to traditional IRAs. You can invest funds from your HSA into an investment account that handles “normal” investments, like stocks, bonds, annuities, etc. You can’t invest in real property, like real estate or cars and boats. If you have returns on your investments and simply reinvest them, like an IRA, then you don’t pay taxes. Plus, if you do need to withdraw the funds from your HSA to pay for qualifying medical expenses, you don’t pay taxes then, either.

That’s about it. We’ll give you more investing tips but just wanted to put that one, simple piece of knowledge in your brain: yes, you can invest your HSA funds even if your current HSA provider has made it less than easy…just think about how you do it with your IRA. In fact, if you want to invest it the same place you currently have your IRA, go for it!

TMYK.

Read more