Taking Control of My Health (Care) in 2014

red cross hospital

So, on Monday I told you about all of my fun, ambitious savings goals for next year, right? Well, today I’m going to tell you about some of the new, not so fun categories you’ll be seeing in my budget starting next month. What could they be, you might be wondering… I’m talking about health benefits and insurance policies. Get excited, friends! Ok, don’t. But hear me out.

In September 2012, I quit my job in the BC Public Service, where I had a pension, benefits, short- and long-term disability, etc. to take a more rewarding career in a small company where I would have none of that. Has it been worth it? Yes. A million times, yes! But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t had an effect on my budget. The reason I’m putting so much into my RRSP right now, and even more in 2014, is because I don’t have a pension to fall back on. As for benefits: I’ve been living without those ever since, and I’ve had to hand out a couple wads of cash because of it.

To start the new year off right, I wanted to make a decision about whether or not I was happy living without health benefits and insurance policies. The answer: I wasn’t happy about it. And since I don’t have an Emergency Fund (yet) to support me through an expensive situation, I decided to invest in health care in 2014. It’ll cost me a small amount each month, but I took some time to shop around these past few weeks and am happy with the plans I’ve purchased. So, without further ado, here are my seriously boring new budget categories.

BC Medical Services Plan (MSP)
Cost: $69.25/month = $831/year

If anyone tells you health care is free in Canada, they’re lying. It’s cheap! But it’s not free. In British Columbia (where I live), all residents have to enrol in the Medical Services Plan (MSP) which “insures medically-required services provided by physicians and supplementary health care practitioners, laboratory services and diagnostic procedures”. Basically, it means I can walk into any clinic and be treated. And if a doctor says I need an ultrasound, x-ray, etc. then those are free. Sounds pretty good, right? I think so too.

One thing I discovered by moving to Toronto and back is that residents of Ontario don’t receive a bill in the mail for their Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) – it’s included in provincial income taxes and taken off their paycheques before they can even see the money. I’m a little sad/jealous that BC hasn’t adopted this! As of January 1st, my monthly premium is going up from $66.50/month to $69.25/month. I’m obviously happy to pay that, but would love if I didn’t have to add it as a category to my budget each month.

Note: This is a category that has been in my budget since May, but I don’t think I’ve ever explained what it pays for – now you know!

Health/Prescription/Dental Coverage
Cost: $41/month = $492/year

Onto the good stuff. Or, at least that’s what I keep telling myself. A few weeks ago, I decided to apply for benefits through Pacific Blue Cross. At first, I was mostly thinking about purchasing dental coverage. Having to fork out $600 for a dog-eaten retainer earlier this year was not exactly in the budget, and it opened my eyes to how costly life can be without a little coverage on your side. When I started thinking about some of the other benefits I could use in 2014, including vision care (I’m pretty sure I need glasses), prescriptions, etc. the quote was right so I went for the basics of it all.

I have yet to receive confirmation from PBC, but if all goes to plan I will be paying $41/month for health/prescription/dental coverage, as of January 1st. Immediately, I can start taking advantage of my prescription coverage (80%), which with one package of birth control will pay for itself each month (the prescription coverage costs only $10/month). I can also get my eyes checked finally! And in three months, I can visit my dentist for a much-needed cleaning (and probably an x-ray or two).

Note: I plan on keeping all of my receipts next year, and adding them up in December to see if purchasing benefits was actually worth it or not. I’ll keep you posted.

Disability Insurance
Cost: $17/month = $204/year

I don’t have much to say about why I purchased disability insurance, except that I did so at 11:34pm on a Thursday and it felt like the most grownup action of my entire life, lol. Again, it stemmed from a fear of living without any benefits or insurance policies to back me. I opted for a smaller insurance plan: my $17/month now means I could receive up to $1,500/month (47% of my monthly budget) if I was ever in a situation where I couldn’t work for an extended period of time. My (future) Emergency Fund would help fill the gap.

Note: Do I plan on cashing in on this insurance policy? Obviously not. But aren’t all insurance policies purchased for the “what ifs” in life?

Tenant Insurance
Cost: $38.95/month = $467.40/year

Finally, just like the donations category had nothing to do with savings in my last post, tenant insurance has nothing to do with my health… but it has everything to do with my peace of mind.

I’ve purchased tenant insurance for every apartment I’ve ever lived in, but I haven’t had any since my move-out-of-the-creepy-apartment-and-in-with-a-roommate-and-back-out-on-my-own-again situation in September. This month, I shopped around until I found an insurance policy that included everything I wanted (earthquake, fire, contents of car, etc.) at a decent price. But holy cow, do I ever miss the cheap insurance prices (both car and tenant) that came with living in Victoria!

The first three categories were formerly employer-paid benefits that will cost me a total of $1,527 next year. BC MSP is a mandatory cost, so that can’t be avoided. The rest, however, is totally optional. Will the health benefits be worth it? Who knows. I did a few calculations, and I think the prescription and dental coverage will be worth it, but I’ll have to keep my receipts and see. I’ll probably assess the value in keeping these benefits in June, and then again at the end of the year.

Have these last two posts been overwhelming!? I honestly can’t believe how serious I got about my life and finances this month. It was sort of like a shopping spree, but for really important (/totally boring) stuff.

The one thing I can say for now is that my January budget is done and it balances, which is all I can really ask for!

Do you have health benefits through work? If you didn’t, would you purchase some?

Flickr: afagen

48 Comments

  1. Do you buy your birth control every month, or do you bulk up on 3 at a time? It sounds so simple but I only started to do the latter this year. It means I just pay the $12 dispensing fee once for the 3 months, rather than $36 total ($12each month)

    • Cait Flanders

      December 19, 2013 at 8:00 am

      I usually buy a few, but it’s still never cheap! haha. Good tip though, for other readers.

  2. Yup, I do think these things are worth it!

    I’m the type that worries about the “what ifs”, so if it gives me peace of mind, so be it. It just bugs me that insurance companies make so much money out of our fears, and that things like being seriously sick can wipe you out if you don’t have coverage. Doesn’t seem quite right.

    In Ontario our health premiums are covered with our taxes, so I don’t have to pay out every month for premiums. I am lucky in that I am covered at work now, so I don’t have to worry about extended health. But when I was unemployed, or didn’t have benefits through work, I paid for an insurance plan to cover drugs, dental, eyes, and things like massage/chiro etc. because I’m dealing with injuries. I think over a year it was worth it, but I actually didn’t figure that out. I probably should the next time – it wasn’t cheap!

    I also have tenant insurance.

    I don’t have disability, and it is something I never really thought much about because I don’t a family to support. But, food for thought.

    • Cait Flanders

      December 19, 2013 at 8:04 am

      I only started thinking about disability insurance after a) my accident and b) a major surgery my sister needed this year, after a biking accident, that kept her from being able to work for a few months. I wouldn’t bother with life insurance yet, because no one is relying on my income (no spouse, kids, etc.). But a little disability insurance policy seemed like a good idea.

  3. Wow BC is much different than NS. We also don’t pay for provincial coverage directly nor do we get bills for anything…juat renew our provincial card every few years…it’s also not optional. We were not allowed to leave the hospital without daughter until MSI (provincial healthcare) was filled out and faxed in. We also pay 15% tax haha. I love our healthcare system and wouldnt change a thing. I have a new appreciation for it since having a child in a risky pregnancy and c/section received amazing medical care the whole time for no cost to me. Tenant insurance is super smart! We needed it when our apartment (brand new) flooded when a pipe broke. I need to get life insurance this year!!

    • Cait Flanders

      December 19, 2013 at 8:19 am

      Darn it, Catherine! Now you’re making me want to write letters to MPs here, haha. I seriously wish BC would just add MSP to our provincial income tax, so I wouldn’t have to think about another bill each month.

  4. After uni graduation and throughout my entire working life, even after retiring, I always have had sufficient insurance coverage – on all the types that you mention, Cait. Health coverage is a provincial responsibility here in Canada and so it varies, province to province. That is one reason why I would never move to the “excited states” where their insurance health coverage is (let’s just say) “a work in progress” for some, but not all, citizens. So, although the premiums that you mention for your various insurance coverages do tend to add up, consider it as another form of “paying yourself first” in the grand scheme of things – a necessary living expense.

  5. Great summary Cait! And I did enjoy reading it ;) As Catherine mentioned, NS is way different. We don’t have that first bill whatsoever.

    Currently, I am without health benefits since August, and it’s been a bit rough. Not so much for me, but for my fiancé (he was a spouse on my benefits). I was hoping to have been hired on by the new year (the countdown is on and it isn’t looking good), but I really want to get back to having the extra perks of prescription coverage, vision care (haven’t had it checked in three years), and dental (I think I need a new bite-plane). It stresses me out – I have no idea how you did it for over a year, while in debt, without lots of savings!

    I do have content insurance, but I need to look into a small disability insurance policy, probably fairly similar to yours. Enough to nearly keep me afloat with feeding just a bit of money in from savings. It’s on my To Do List. Also, I can see how that makes you feel like a truly adult grown-up. I think the only thing that will make me feel more grown up is writing a will – but I’m not quite there!

    • Cait Flanders

      December 19, 2013 at 8:23 am

      Isn’t it funny how we used to happily go about life when we were racking up debt, and now that we’re conscious of our money everything stresses us out? LOL

  6. I think you are doing the right thing. I’ve only been uninsured a couple times in my life and I always ended up needing it when I’d have it.

    In Newfoundland MCP is covered out of our taxes and we don’t may per month for it. My Health and dental benefits are paid biweekly directly out of my cheque. Although I don’t often take advantage of my insurance benefits I am glad they are there if I need it. Getting a new pair of glasses is on the to do list for next year. It’s been way too long since I had my eyes checked.

    I have tenant’s insurance as well. I lived in an apartment building about 5 years ago that required it and I’ve just kept transferring the policy each time I’ve moved since. I get a discount for having auto and tenant’s insurance with the same company so it actually costs me less than $5 a month to add tenant’s insurance after they add the discount. I have been debating calling the insurance company to raise my deductibles. I got my renewal in the mail the other day and was shocked how low they were. I’ve heard I can save on my policy if I raise them. Now that I’m much better off financially I should be able to cover a higher deductible if god forbid I’m in an accident.

    I have considered getting disability insurance. I know there’s a certain amount included in my policy at work but I’m not sure it’s adequate. I’ve seen people close to me having to give up work due to an unexpected disability so I definitely see the value in it.

    • Cait Flanders

      December 19, 2013 at 8:43 am

      Newfoundland’s medical coverage is paid through provincial taxes too!? BC is seriously lacking here.

  7. Wow, this is when I count my lucky stars I live in the UK! Medical costs are covered by a general taxation and National Insurance contributions which are deducted from your pay automatically. Even if you’re not working, as long as you are registered and have an NHS number you are entitled to use the services free of charge. As I live in Scotland, even prescriptions are free although these are charged for in England & Wales. All contraception is free on the NHS too throughout the UK, and this includes emergency contraception (equivalent of Plan B). We do have to pay for dental and optical treatment, but I don’t have insurance for this as so far I’ve been really fortunate & haven’t had any major issues *touching ALL the wood within eye shot of my desk!*

    I don’t have tenant’s or disability insurance though and since I live in rented accommodation maybe I should consider this. I think my problem is that I have nothing of real value, and my landlord owns the furniture! Will definitely purchase this when we buy our own place though. Actually, when I think about it – the only insurance we have (other than car insurance which is a legal obligation) is pet insurance! Oh well, vets bills can be expensive so best to be on the safe side.

    • Cait Flanders

      December 19, 2013 at 10:31 am

      Contraceptions are free!? Now this is what I’m talking about.

      And I also have a hard time thinking the things I own are worth a lot of money, because separately they are not. But if my condo went up in flames and I lost everything, it would cost me a pretty penny to replace it all (even think: your entire wardrobe).

  8. I don’t know that I’d call this a boring post….it’s very important.

    I’m thankful that I’m covered under my boyfriend’s coverage. Although vision isn’t covered on his my chiropractor treatments are! (Up to $350 a year) and he just told me I also get $350 towards massages WITHOUT needing a doctor’s note. HELLO I totally took advantage of that the other day.

  9. Those costs really add up. I’m lucky to live in the States and have our health insurance, dental, vision and disability insurance paid 100% by our employers.

    • Cait Flanders

      December 18, 2013 at 8:03 am

      I wouldn’t say it has anything to do w/ where you live – it’s because your employer pays for it. Mine used to! But my new(ish) employer doesn’t.

      • My sister lives in the US and just last night she mentioned to me that she pays somewhere around $600 a month for her insurance premiums.
        On top of that she still has to pay her deductibles and co-pays, plus my nephews need glasses and braces so there are extra costs there.
        Part of the money goes into a health savings account (held by the health insurance company not her). She does not have access to that money for health care purposes until after she has paid out of pocket $25,000.

        She is able to pay her premiums but has no money for extras, due to the high costs.

      • Cait’s right – I live in the States too and it’s entirely employer-dependent. My company pays 100% of dental, medical and vision insurance for me (nothing for dependents/spouse). My husband’s company pays about 80% of the premiums for him, so he has to kick in money too. And some employers don’t (and don’t have to) pay ANYTHING for insurance, even once the ACA kicks in next year.

  10. Wow your tenant insurance is expensive! Why so much? Mine was $250/yr (I paid it all up front because it was cheaper) and they even talked me in to some identity theft protection thing, like if someone breaks in your house and steals your mail… I don’t know.

    $470/yr makes me choke though.

    All the rest look pretty standard though =\ being an adult is so expensive.

    • Cait Flanders

      December 18, 2013 at 8:05 am

      Dude, I got quotes as high as $575! Metro Vancouver is ridic. The most I ever paid in Victoria was $330. Do you need earthquake insurance? Doubtful, but it adds at least $45 to the total. West coast = best coast!?

  11. This is on my list for 2014. Along with changing my last name. I want to seriously look into health insurance and disability insurance. I’m worried it’s going to be expensive though and will cause us to have to cut back on our already tight budget. Maybe I’ll look into it over Christmas.

  12. Gah, this has just reminded me of something that I’ve been putting off for way too long. I need to get some tenant insurance. Every time I think about the fact that I don’t have any it makes me feel sick…

  13. I think this post is super interesting and it’s really cool to hear who pays what and who has coverage through the government or their employer. Here’s what I have – a really quick breakdown from someone in the States:

    Medical/Dental/Vision Insurance – luckily premiums are covered 100% by my employer for the employee (otherwise it would be $775.36/month just for myself). Not always the case for a lot of folks to have their employer cover 100% of the premiums; my husband pays about 20% of his premiums and his employer picks up the rest. I still pay copays for certain visits and stuff, but I save a ton of money thanks to insurance. If I were to put my husband and/or imaginary kids on my insurance, I would pay their entire coverage out of pocket (my employer only covers employee premiums). If I had a family on my insurance, I would pay $1,410.86/month for their insurance. I don’t know how some folks afford it – and a lot of them can’t, so they don’t have any insurance. Medical bankruptcy is a huge and common deal in this country, unfortunately. They are the biggest cause of bankruptcy filings in the States.

    Disability – long-term is covered by my employer; short-term I pay for myself ($64.26/month).

    Renter’s insurance – soooo cheap compared to yours. I pay once a year, $196. I don’t think it covers earthquake though, that is really hard to get and super expensive.

    Life insurance – I have $500K in term life. I pay $229/year. My husband has the same amount and pays $256.20/year.

    One great thing about the ACA (aka “Obamacare”) is that my birth control Rx is now covered 100% each month. I used to pay about $60/month for it, but it’s free – would be $110/month if you had to pay out of pocket.

    • Cait Flanders

      December 19, 2013 at 5:32 pm

      VERY interesting, A. Thank you for sharing all of this! I still don’t see the point in life insurance for me personally yet, as I’m not married and don’t have kids, therefore no one is relying on my income. But I’m sure I’ll talk myself into buying some next year, haha.

  14. I have benefits and msp through work, and have my whole adult life. I honestly don’t know how I’d manage without them. Massage for a sore neck? Check. Dental cleaning…oops! a filling, and oops – you’re grinding so need a mouth guard? Check. Prescriptions (I have a couple monthly that alone add up to 100 bucks, let alone any unplanned emergency ones. Check.
    I’d definitely purchase them if I didn’t work for my employer, but after 24 years with this one, I’m not going anywhere soon!
    Good call.
    I think one of the things for you will be getting in the habit of using it! Sore back? Clinic. Prescription. Fill it without worries. Massage – Go! Dentist – get them cleaned/checked as much as your plan allows! Max it all out.

  15. yeah – what she said. ^ I’m in the middle of a fight with disability for one of my staff. They can be BRUTAL.

  16. Fascinating! I don’t really know how healthcare works in other (non US) countries. For us it’s all paid for out of taxes, we don’t pay for anything else. That basically covers free emergency care and subsidised prescriptions as far as I know, and then we pay for individual doctor’s visits and stuff (vision and dental are our own problem though). I haven’t really had to use the system much so don’t know a lot about how it works to be honest. In Australia it’s more complicated.

    I have considered buying health insurance – discounted – through work, for catastrophe, and for vision/dental but it just isn’t worth it, esp. dental.

    Our contents insurance costs about $400/500 a year for $20k of coverage.

    • Cait Flanders

      December 19, 2013 at 5:37 pm

      Interesting! Our tenant insurance costs the same, but mine is for $45K of coverage. And now I’m wishing even more that our health care would come out of our freaking taxes, haha.

      PS – My friends are getting married in NZ on Saturday! I’m heartbroken to not be there. :(

  17. I would loath to depart from the MSP/extended health/dental/pension/misc benefits I get through my work. I’m in a very similar boat you were in when you are with the government in terms of benefit coverage.

    I would leave it all for a great job somewhere else, but nothing less :)

    • Cait Flanders

      December 19, 2013 at 5:40 pm

      The thing I don’t miss about the coverage I had is that it actually wasn’t that great. I mean, having MSP paid for was great. And dental was ok. But I only got $8 back for every chiro, massage, physio, etc. visit I want to! It hardly felt worth claiming, at times.

  18. In Australia we have compulsory Superannuation, which means each employer is required by law to put 9 – 15.4% of your yearly wage into a retirement savings account we can’t touch until retirement age. I’m lucky to work for the government so I get 15.4% each year. Through my super I’m covered for income protection (75% of my wage) if I’m too sick to work, life insurance if I die or become totally disabled (350K yikes). They deduct about $10 a month in fees – how good is that! It’s such a good system as no one in Aus is like ‘oh I really should start my retirement savings’ it’s already happening, then we can choose if we want to make extra contributions or not. Mine’s up to $60,000 already woo :)

  19. It’s expensive to be a responsible adult isn’t it? That’s the conclusion I drew once we got out life insurance, disability insurance, wills etc figured out a few years back. I pay a fortune for my disability insurance, but as Gail says, it’s more likely that you’ll become disabled than die before age 65, and I work with people all the time who’s lives are shaken by injuries that don’t allow them to work, which means their finances quickly devolve into chaos. Even with an EF, you can’t live on it forever.

    Kudos to you for taking charge of your health and finances. I’m impressed with how cheap your health benefits are (the prescription, dental, etc.) I pay way more than that and my employer pays a portion too. Perhaps another provincial difference.

    • Cait Flanders

      December 19, 2013 at 5:47 pm

      It IS expensive to be a responsible adult! That’s a good way of putting it, as I’m sure many people don’t worry about these things.

      And yes, a friend told me on Twitter that Ontario Blue Cross was much more expensive than Pacific, and that Pacific’s coverage seems to be much better. I wonder why?

  20. When I was working a McJob right out of university, I paid for my own blue cross and thankfully (or not, as it meant I was broke) my MSP was subsidized down to $10 a month or so.
    These are all the costs that bite us when we’re not university students! So many of them we can get away without having, or they are subsidized/still covered by parents! I always wondered why adult life seemed to cost so much, until I realized it was stuff like this. For example, my parent’s insurance covered me and my possessions at university, so I didn’t have to pick up any additional insurance.
    I do wish some of the people commenting had actually read what you wrote though… mentions of health care often get heated pretty darn quickly :-/

    • Cait Flanders

      December 19, 2013 at 5:49 pm

      Ahhh yes, the good old days of being covered by your parents and/or university!

      And not to worry. It’s easy to tell who has read what. :)

  21. I also invested in health insurance coverage here in Alberta, but once I applied for an individual plan with Alberta Blue Cross, they signed back saying they wouldn’t cover my existing prescriptions. Luckily, my prescription is quite cheap ($24 for a three month supply), but it was still kind of a letdown.

    We’re looking at group plans now and I’m really looking forward to having it in place in the new year – one less thing to worry about/pay for separately. I got critical illness insurance and life insurance too, just in case.

    Mr. Dollars and I will have a vehicle this month and that means that we can combine our tenants’ insurance and his motorcycle insurance under the same policy and get a discount that way.

    My one last adulting thing I need to cross off my list is a will and personal directive. I keep telling myself I’ll get around to it but I always feel guilty when I see Gail tweeting that we should all have a will!

    • Cait Flanders

      December 19, 2013 at 5:52 pm

      Interesting! So we’ll see what info PBC sends me. (Waiting sucks!)

      And yea, I think about a will sometimes too, but I don’t totally see the point yet. My parents and I have talked about what I want: for Baby Bro and Baby Sis to split my savings 50/50. (There, it’s on the Internet, so that’s good enough… right? haha)

  22. Cait Flanders

    December 19, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Thanks to you both. I purposefully opted for a policy that only covers injury, not sickness, and read through the coverage plan before purchasing. I’ll likely opt in for more at a later date, but wanted to start with injury coverage.

  23. You are right in saying that having to pay for MSP “manually” is inconvenient.

    However, from what I know a lot of employers in B.C. pay the MSP premium for their employees. Something you can’t do with OHIP (we are stuck paying for it).

    So, while it might not matter to you, it is nice for other people.

    • Cait Flanders

      January 5, 2014 at 5:01 pm

      It’s not usually 100% paid for by B.C. employers – at least in my experience. I worked for the provincial government for 5 years and MSP came off my cheque each month, but then a portion was covered by my employer and given back to me.

  24. Just ran across your blog post. I have been paying for our own Health and Dental coverage through Pacific Blue Cross for three years. Ever since I lost my job and benefits. I was sucked into buying the Blue Choice plan which started at about $320 a month and is now at about $360 a month for two people. Now it is a financial burden as I am self-employed and my husband unable to work; he received his Canada pension and Old Age Security. In 2013, we had approx $4000 in claims for which we received back apprx $2500 after 20% co-pay, annual, monthly, weekly and daily limits and various other restrictions they dont list on caresnet. The premiums were approx $4000 so there has been no advantage to having the PBC plan. I am cancelling it and will put the premium amount into a health/dental funds and draw on it as needed. It will still be a burden just not as much and I wont feel like I have been ripped off a greedy insurance company.

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