Saving Money and Pain with Health Insurance



Itís often said that health is a personís greatest benefit.† I can attest to that.† As we age, we have to pay more than lip service to health care.


Throughout my 33 years at Boeing, I missed only one day of work for sick leave.† That in itself was a benefit because when I retired I got a deferred-tax lump sum equal to 50% of my unused sick leave hours times my highest working wage rate.


However, after I retired I ended up having numerous operations for various things including four hernias, gall bladder, knees, and my ear drum.† The ear drum was the most amazing to me.† I had a hole in it that wouldnít heal.† Dr. Felix Chu said he could fix it easily.† When he explained what he was going to do, I said, ďWHAT?!!!Ē† He then reiterated that he was going to cut out my ear drum, paste patches of cartilage from my ear lobe on both sides, and sew the ear drum back into place.† Worked great.† Probably the easiest of my operations.† No physical therapy requiredóexcept to listen carefully, something my wife says I donít do very well.


The uninsured costs for all of my operations were far exceeded by our dental bills.† The reason:† Dental costs arenít covered by either Medicare or our Medigap policies.† This is the only time in our lives when we exceeded the amount that the IRS allows for medical deductions.† The message should be loud and clear that we all need to take special care of our teeth.


Dental costs arenít the only medical costs that generally arenít covered by most retirement health insurance.† Sight and hearing problems arenít either.† Every time I hear the booming base from an adjacent car on the road I think to myself, ďThere goes another future poor retiree!Ē† Hearing aids are far from perfect devices and cost thousands of dollars to say nothing of the hearing tests required for a prescription.


I was relatively lucky with my eyesight.† I had a radial keratotomy on one of my eyes so I could see at a distance with that eye while still being able to read without glasses with the other eye.† This worked fine for about twenty years until my nearsighted eye gradually changed to improve its distance capability.† Now I can ski without glasses or contacts, but I have to use trifocals for reading and my computer work. †The glasses are not covered by either Medicare or my Medigap policies, nor are my annual eye exams.


Like many older people, I have to spend a lot of time exercising.† I work at this more than an hour each day.† If I consider that I might live another 15 years without exercise and that the exercise takes one of my sixteen hours of the time Iím awake, Iíd have to live one more year to have the same number of non-exercise time awake.† Well, I think that the exercise will extend my life by more than one year, but more important, is the fact that Iíll feel a lot better.† Things like back or knee pains can be really debilitating and make life a lot less pleasant.


This year I had my second knee operation, a lateral patella release along with a meniscus repair.† It was performed by Dr. Thomas Rosenberg, the doctor whom Tiger Woods chose for his knee operation.† I figured that Tiger would select the best.† On my first visit, the doctor said I should exercise more and eat better.† He said I should eat lots of dark green vegetables, bright colored fruits, calcium rich foods and fish.† I should avoid red meats, chocolate, and desserts.† When my wife accompanied me to a return visit after the surgery, he pointed to her and said that she was responsible to hold me to that diet.† My weight has gone from 170 pounds to 160 now.† Iím hoping for some additional improvement, but Iíve always considered chocolate a vitamin.


The physics associated with reduced weight are really obvious to a person who understands dynamics. †For example, the actual load on a knee increases by a factor of two or three when walking, going down steps or running.† So a person who loses ten pounds may reduce the weight on a knee by twenty or thirty pounds.† A person who can lose forty pounds reduces the knee loads by eighty or one hundred and twenty pounds.† Thatís a lot on an effective bearing surface thatís not much bigger than a quarter and cushioned by a piece of cartilage.† No wonder that so many people, including myself, have had a shredded meniscus.† Youíll be a real convert to weight reduction after you see a surgeonís photo of your beat-up knee meniscus or youíve had to crawl on the floor unable to get up due to back pains.


If you are elderly, thereís another thing to consider.† Thatís making sure that your home is a safe place to live.† There is some great information on† AARP also has some good information on its site.† Your insurance might cover the costs from an accident, but it will not save you the pain of rehabilitation.† We know too many people who have needed to recover from hip and shoulder surgery after an accident.† Worse, a close friend needed brain surgery after her fall down steps.† Not fun.


So the best insurance for health has to include eating right, lots of exercise and home safety precautions.† In retirement, you may well avoid some pretty horrible uninsured medical costs for eyes, ears and teeth and the pain and time required for rehabilitation from a home accident.


Henry K. (Bud) Hebeler