I met an Iraq and Afghanistan vet named Titus.
Caught up in a Baghdad mortar attack at the start of the Iraq war, Titus came home to Oklahoma with problems he did’t have when he left to serve in the Army.
His mental unraveling took a decade and ended with him living in his car and wishing he were dead. He had turned a corner, had an apartment and was attending college classes when I got to know him for a news article. Titus did not feel sorry for himself, nor did he want anyone’s pity. In the apartment, he organized his PTSD and brain injury medicines counter clockwise in a cabinet to regiment the way he took them. In a small office, he kept meticulously organized binders – something like three or four of them – containing proof of all of his problems and all kinds of related documentation and resources and contact information. On his computer, he showed me color-coded Excel spreadsheets that showed the money he had coming in and going out.
He had some issues, yeah. He pointed them out himself, always cracking up laughing at the absurdity of it all while he did.
“What you’re going to notice about me the more time we spend together,” the one time linebacker said while we circled the perimeter of the VA Medical Center three times before he parked, his standard practice, “Is that I’m not quite right.”
As in the Army, he learned in civilian life to embrace the suck.
While I learned a few medical organization lessons the hard way after being caught unprepared following Eli’s medical events, Titus drove home the point: A more complicated life can be tackled with good organization and a good attitude.
Here’s what I’ve come up with:
Does your company offer a Flexible Spending Account? Put money in it and then manage the hell out of it
When you enroll in your company’s benefits plans, you may see the option to fire up a flexible spending account, or FSA. You pick the amount and your hard-earned dollars are diverted, tax-free, into a pot of money you can use for out-of-pocket medical expenses with the swipe of a debit/credit connected to the account.
I hate to think about all the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars I’ve wasted by poorly managing my own FSA. But I finally got it together in the following ways:
- The question of how much to put in the account: I fully-load my FSA with the maximum amount of dollars allowed per year, which is $2,500 under my plan. Glad I did that, because I’ve already paid off more than $2,000 of out-of-pocket 2016 medical expenses after Eli had a cystic fibrosis flare up in January. How much to put in an account depends on you and your personal health situation – I insure myself and my two kids, so I know that with deductibles alone, we’re going to pay $1,500 out of pocket.
- Nuts and bolts of managing FSA dollars: I visited the FSA plan website and got in touch with a company representative to see how they managed the account. I have a MasterCard connected with mine and can log-in and see how much I spent/have left. Will they need receipts for every charge? I made sure to ask and *now* I keep them all in one place. I did all of that that *this* year because I didn’t the year prior and temporarily ruined my life spending hours and hours chasing down receipts toward the end of the year.
- How you spend leftovers: My plan is “use it or lose it” — I spend the money or it is lost forever. The good news is that the plan gives me an extra three months after the year is over to spend the FSA dollars. And little did I know in wasteful years past that there is an online FSA store where you can burn your tax-free dollars on various health items. It’s like Amazon but full of knee braces and emergency kits and diapers! When I figured that out I got some training pants for buddy boy.
Now that I’ve gotten more savvy with my FSA account, I’ve become a huge fan of this medical spending tool. It not only helps save for medical events and eases the pain of deductibles but encourages you to actually use the very expensive medical insurance that you pay for each pay period. Yeah, I’m going to go to the dentist, and the vision doctor, and see specialists now that the fear of the bill is lifted!
Keep a Google doc with all of your doctor contact info and health account logins
A Google doc I created has helped me manage Eli’s health — and it’s helped my husband manage Eli’s health.
Managing our son’s chronic disease is a partnership deal in this household.
It has to be. We both work full time. Eli’s medicines and vitamins come from two specialty pharmacies and a regular down-the-street pharmacy. He has medical equipment from two companies and sees a regular physician and a lung doctor, though we’ve also been to an allergist, ENT and a gastro doc. We have account logins in a good six to ten places pertaining to billing and doctor offices.
It’s a lot less overwhelming when all of that is organized in one place. I like the Google doc format because it’s easy to share and easy to update.
The medical binder: Get one together
This took me three years to finally get together, but I’m glad I did.
Eli has a binder that is a reflection of the Google doc in terms of organization.
We have his medical contacts (just printed out that Google doc!), medical receipts sectioned off by year, proof of his disease, and anything else we deemed worth hanging on to all organized physically in one place.
Thanks for reading.
What tips do you use to keep your medical life in order?