Too Good to Be True

Fox, his parents, Mom, and I spent the past 2 days at a potential wedding venue – a wonderful bed & breakfast on absolutely beautiful grounds. Fox’s mom had recommended it, believing it would be an affordable alternative to more traditional wedding venues.

The place was magnificent and we fell in love with it almost instantly. A cozy but open atmosphere, comfortable furniture, a wonderful heated pool, breakfast included, and the most breathtaking views from every room. The owner was extremely nice and friendly. She seemed to love our ideas and expressed a desire to work with us to make a wedding on her property affordable, as long as she’d still make the profit she needs. We all had a positively wonderful time. I’d recommend the place to anyone who needs (and can afford) to get away.

And therein lies the rub: money. I had been under the impression that renting the venue for the weekend (Fri-Sun) would cost $X (where X is a multiple of 1,000). When we sat down to talk with the owner, I asked about the rental, how much it would cost, and what was included. I was unpleasantly surprised to learn that the cost was 175% what I’d initially thought. It included the owner’s services as day-of coordinator – which I wasn’t expecting – but it still came as a bit of a shock. I’d already been worried about being able to afford anything else after we paid for catering (a separate expense) and the venue at $X – never mind $175%X!

I asked for the information in writing, which the owner provided this morning. As we were going over it, I learned something that inspired me to want to take my business elsewhere. I grew quite angry, though I don’t think it showed.

Not only is the actual cost to rent the venue $175%X + $500, but we also have to fill all of the rooms in the bed and breakfast at (a reduced) cost. We had thought this would be a great deal because (we thought) the cost of accommodations for members of the bridal party and other important family members was included in the cost to rent the venue for the weekend. Instead, we learned we’d have to ask those guests to pay more to stay at the bed & breakfast with us than other guests would pay for other accommodations in the local area. There’s no way we can afford to pay for all the rooms in the bed & breakfast for 2 nights at the rates the owner is charging, on top of the rental fee and everything else we need to make the wedding a success! The most we could do is maybe split the cost with some of the key people.

Talk about a slap in the face!

The owner has said she’s willing to work with us; this week she will determine how much she can reduce the price of the rooms. We’ve been brainstorming ways to make the entire affair more affordable. The venue is so beautiful we really don’t need to worry about decorations. We could only serve non-alcoholic beverages. We don’t really need a DJ. We could give ourselves an extra year to save up the money. Etc. etc. etc.

We can’t go cheap with the caterer – delicious food is essential – but we can try to be smart about who we go with, what we get, and knowing what we’re actually paying for. Decorations, alcohol, and a DJ are things I’m willing to drop, though with differing levels of enthusiasm: I’m set against hiring a florist, but I think it’s nice to have the option of alcoholic beverages at a wedding, and I’m on the fence about the DJ. With a little bit of extra effort, we already have the equipment and technical expertise we need to provide an awesome personalized auditory experience. All we need is to ask a member of the bridal party to announce things. Maybe I can let go of the DJ after all …

I’m also not that crazy about waiting another year to have the wedding. I like the energy I feel while planning, and I don’t want that to dissipate. At the same time, we’re going to need more money than our parents are able to provide; taking the time to save gives us a lot more options and financial stability. Just to clarify, we’d be pushing back the giant party, not acquisition of the marriage license. If there’s some way to still have the energy from planning while taking all the steps it will take to save the money, I might be able to make this compromise. But right now it’s a hard one.

I think what really appeals to Fox and me about this venue is the possibility of having our wedding / family reunion be a 3-day affair, with plenty of time to spend with our loved ones. We don’t want to feel rushed through the mill that is the wedding industry. But I think this particular venue is just too expensive; we can see if there’s someplace similar that’s closer to home and more affordable. Spending less on the actual venue will allow us to do more with our guests, whether it’s part of the “official” (catered) wedding or takes place in the time surrounding it. I love the idea of going back to the place we just visited for our honeymoon; if we’re smart about spending for the wedding, we can escape for at least half a week at that glorious place and enjoy some of the extra amenities. And just because we start looking at other possibilities doesn’t mean we can’t decide this venue is actually worth all the extra cost and effort and compromises we’ll need to afford having our wedding there.

Healthcare Headache

My health insurance finally paid their share of the bill for my first visit with Psychiatrist B, which occurred 7 months ago to the day.

When I learned of this, I decided to (finally) look into options so I’ll have health insurance after my current plan – which is dependent on my being a full-time student – expires. There is an option through my current company. When I called for a quote, the person I spoke to was very nice! She asked a few questions and suggested a plan that costs – wait for it … – $400 per month! This is marketed to students who are between leaving school and receiving health care coverage from their employer, mind.

I took a look at the information she sent me and became quite concerned. One of the criteria that prompted her to suggest this plan instead of a less-expensive option was my need for prescription coverage. When she told me the benefits, I thought they included prescription coverage. But when I looked at the explanation of what the plan covers, it explicitly excluded all prescription drugs – even generic! It also explicitly excludes mental/behavioral health care.

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I thought, there has got to be something better out there! I searched for “affordable health insurance” and found ehealthinsurance.com. Through that site I was able to find a plan with a different company that costs $320 per month. Their prescription coverage includes a $15 copay for generics and coverage of 50% of the cost of brand-name drugs up to a certain limit. They also cover 70% of mental/behavioral health care, up to a certain limit. Sounds pretty good.

Except that, according to their brochure, I might not be able to switch companies and I might have to wait to enroll within a specific range of dates and I might have to go several months without coverage. I have no idea whether I’ll be able to find a psychiatrist who is in-network for both companies. “Long-term care” is on the list of services they don’t cover – I have no idea whether that applies to me or not or even what it means in terms of practical considerations.

Worst, I read a customer review by someone who said coverage was denied for treatment of a “pre-existing condition,” and ze had to fight for what coverage ze did receive! WTF?! I wouldn’t care so much about health insurance if I didn’t have a “pre-existing condition” that (likely) requires inhumanely expensive medication to treat! And there’s the nagging voice in the back of my head asking, am I really saving any money if my health insurance costs over $300 per month? That’s before the copay for the doctor’s visit, the copay for (or half the cost of) the prescription medication, and 30% the cost of any additional (limited to a certain number of visits) mental/behavioral health care I receive.

But then, I’m reminded of the first time I used my school’s insurance to help pay for a prescription. Long story short, I literally saved $100 on that month’s supply of the generic drug. Add the doctor’s visit that finally got paid for ($250, minus the $25 copay) and I’ve already saved $5. Never mind if I do need to go to the hospital, etc. And preventative health care … I have yet to compare insurance coverage vs. going to a low-cost clinic (e.g. Planned Parenthood), but there’s a decent chance I’d be saving money there, too – especially since companies are increasingly required to cover preventative care at no cost to the patient.

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Oh, I just took a look on Planned Parenthood’s website, which has a link to HealthCare.gov. Starting October 1st, I’ll be able to search for low-cost insurance options there, with coverage to begin in January. Yay, Affordable Care Act!!! Why, oh why couldn’t you be fully implemented immediately?! (I’ll refrain from soapboxing about what healthcare should look like in the US – and still won’t, come 2014 – … at least for now.)

Anyways, I still haven’t decided what I’m going to do about health insurance from mid-August (when my current plan expires) to January (when coverage begins for any low-cost plan I manage to find on Healthcare.gov). But at least I have hope that paying through the nose for whatever plan I do find (or going without insurance, as millions of Americans do) will be a short-term solution.

What’s your experience with health insurance, particularly trying to find an affordable plan? Any suggestions? International readers, how does access to affordable health insurance in your country compare to what I’ve described here?