Monday, February 23, 2009

college days

Going back even further, before Zurich and New York, I spent five years in Cambridge.

Five things I miss about Cambridge:

(1) The lobster stand in Faneuil Hall, where twelve bucks got you a lobster, a soda, and corn on the cob.  
(2) Snowball fights.  
(3) Living within walking distance of all of my friends.  
(4) The Lomo de Buey a las Frutas at Dali in Somerville -- I have repeatedly tried to reverse engineer this dish, but have never managed it so far.  
(5) Hot chocolate at L. A. Burdick's.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


One of my favorite things about living in Switzerland was that my dog Fiver could go almost anywhere I was allowed to go. Fiver went to work, he went to bars, he went on trains and trams, he stayed in hotels. He went to restaurants, and in some restaurants, the waitstaff would bring him special treats or dog food, so that he wouldn't be left out of the dining experience. I loved it almost as much as he did.

The U.S. is not quite as dog-friendly as Switzerland is, but I was lucky enough to get a job with a company that allows dogs at work. Fiver stays home when I go to bars and restaurants, however, and I have to sneak him into most hotels and hope he stays quiet. Public transportation isn't an issue, since I live in the suburbs, and he just rides in my Prius wherever we go.

Today, however, I found one pocket of America that is more dog-friendly than Switzerland. I went to the dentist to get a filling repaired. My dentist usually keeps one of her dogs in the back of the office. She knows I have a dog, so she told me to bring him in, and Fiver sat in my lap the entire time I was in the dentist's chair, and he alternated between zoning out and watching the proceedings with great interest. My dentist said that her dog often naps on patients' laps while they are getting work done, and that it calms them down. 

So I may not be able to take my dog out to eat anymore, but he can come hang out at the dentist's any time.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

flex those dollars

During my very brief stint at a law firm in New York, we paid less than $100 a month for our insurance premiums, and the rest was covered by the firm. We had the option to put pre-tax dollars into a flex spending account, to be used on any non-covered medical or dental costs. Pretty standard stuff. I don't remember how much I put away, but I remember that it was pretty accurate -- I was able to basically predict how much I would need to pay out-of-pocket, and set it aside in my flex account.

Then I moved to Switzerland. We paid our insurance premiums totally out-of-pocket, and it was about $200 a month, but to be honest, the insurance was pretty irrelevant. It didn't cover dental work or vision costs at all, so if you went to the dentist and had a filling done or if you had to get new glasses, you paid for it yourself, and as much as people complain about how expensive dentists and eye doctors are in the States, they are far worse in Switzerland. And the annual deductible was high enough to make the stated co-pays pretty irrelevant. Unless you spent more than $3000 a year on doctor's bills and prescriptions, it was all out-of-pocket. (Of course, there was an option to pay a much higher premium to bring the deductible down, but it didn't seem worth it if you were fairly healthy).

I moved back to the States, and my employer now covers 100% of my insurance premiums, and my co-pays are pretty minimal. I have dental insurance and a vision plan (a company full of nerds needs a good vision plan), and I can once again set money aside in a flex account. I made my election for 2008 when I showed up in May, and then in November, I had to make my election for 2009. The 2008 money needs to be used up by the middle of March 2009. Yay for using pre-tax money on my expenses, right?

The problem is this: I made my elections before I started doing any relevant spending, and I forgot that I have no overall deductible, and my co-pays are so low that it's very hard to actually spend all of my flex money. I set money aside as if I were still living in Switzerland, paying for everything out-of-pocket, and now my pockets are too full.

I think I will have to get laser eye surgery to use it up.

Say what you want about American health care, but if you're lucky enough to have health insurance here, then your out-of-pocket medical expenses are much cheaper than what you get elsewhere.

And so far, unlike in Switzerland, I haven't had to pay $200 out-of-pocket for an ultrasound that determined that there was poop in my intestines. Thanks, that was the most expensive piece of useless information I've ever been forced to pay for.