Category Archives: Health

Withholding Benefits on New Hires

This’ll be a short post because I’m nearly speechless. It’s bad enough to be without a job. But it turns out people who are finally getting them are being told that there’s a waiting period before they can have benefits. Three, and in some cases, six months. Before they can have health insurance.

I’ve experienced this practice with 401(k)s, and that was obnoxious enough, with all the job hopping we’ve had to do in the past 10 years and the spottiness this has led to regarding our retirement savings. But health insurance? Um, what are people and their families supposed to do? It’s pretty hard as it is with companies not paying for dependent premiums, which can run  to outlays of $700-$900 per family per month (think of all the college savings that’s not happening because of this), which if you’re a teacher or work in public child welfare or something can eat close to half your salary.

Meanwhile, what are these families supposed to do if something happens in those first months on the job? And how are they covering prescription meds, especially if their savings have been exhausted by long periods of unemployment and COBRA expenditures? I was just wondering, because this new-hire situation just happened to someone I know and I’d never heard of it before.

I’ve got a feeling that #hcr is not going to address this issue.

Longer Life Spans and Social Security

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Again, they’re talking about increasing the age of social security payouts—to age 70, it’s been proposed, for those born in 1968 or later. Which means that any moment now the discussion will shift to those born in 1965. Then 1963. This is because we’re all living longer.

They say. This is based on the fact that baby boomers are living longer.

They say. Because the Greatest Generation lived pretty long.

It’ll all get better for each generation, because progress is a given in America.

Right. Here’s why I have my doubts that my generation (X-Boom cusp) will either live as long or be as healthy when we get there: 

  • We don’t have wives
  • We don’t have steady, secure jobs, so we’re spiking cortisol at the wrong time in our lives and building up lots of arterial and brain plaque
  • We work much harder, with longer hours and with shorter and fewer vacations (jeez, some of our parents took entire months at the lake or the Cape)
  • We don’t have time to work out or cook the way we used to, even 10 years ago, because of outsourcing and other demands at work—so even when we think of ourselves as fit and healthy, we’re probably not
  • We had children much later and no one knows the long-term effects of this on hormone balance, sleep patterns, and life span
  • We suffer from unprecedented levels of sleep deprivation, estimated to kill you about 10 years earlier
  • We take tons of prescription drugs for reasons no one in our parents’ generation ever even heard of, and again no one knows how this will affect us long-term
  • Obesity and diabetes are rampant, and while some of us may want to distance ourselves from those who make “lifestyle choices” associated with these conditions, this will nonetheless mess up our overall actuarials
  • Pollution, fertilizers, genetic modifications, pesticides, and general soil depletion will have unknown consequences

I see no reason to assume that the longer life spans currently enjoyed by today’s retirees can be projected for younger generations. And even if, by some streak of luck, we do live as long, there are a host of genetic issues that healthy lifestyle choices can’t change, including hearing impairment and vision degeneration (healthy choices, such as running, can even cause joint damage), and that insurance agencies and employers may not want to underwrite.

The Boomers and the Greatest Gen got to retire a few years before their quality of life was affected by these conditions, and they ran around on our tab. I hope we can enjoy a few years of retirement also, before we go blind, deaf, and lame.

By most accounts, we’ve worked harder than they did, and harder than GenY is likely to.

Workplace Health? It’ll Bring Out My Inner Teen

A recent employee satisfaction survey sent me back to 7th grade. To those awful memories of standing in the gym in PE, waiting to be the last one picked for a team.

I love my employers, and I think it’s great they take the time to ask us what we think of working for them. The section of the survey that upset me was a very small part about how to encourage employee participation in initiatives designed to improve health. Would we like to join teams? Internal teams or cross-company teams? Or just submit to regular blood pressure and weight monitoring?

The whole concept made me feel so deeply exhausted. Let me count the ways.

  1. Instead of using my free time to meditate or go for a nice walk by a stream, must I now feel obligated to push and strive during my down time, too?
  2. Isn’t this yet another way for older people, and older women in particular, to be discriminated against? What I mean is, my numbers are never going to be as good as a 25-year-old’s, so why would you pick me for your team? This goes whether you’ve already hired me or not.
  3. To build on that point, if you’re worried about the numbers, and you’ve got women closing on 50 on your team, be afraid. To maintain weight at my age, I need to exercise at least an hour per day—not counting driving to the gym, showering, changing, driving back, and fitting in lunch. To maintain vitamin D levels, I’m supposed to get 20-30 minutes of sunshine in a state of maximum undress, every day, preferably at a southern latitude. According to my chiropractor, apparently real sun is better than supplements, or fake sunlamps, and it should be on my whole body, not just my face. According a printout my doctor gave me from the local sleep clinic, I also should sleep 8-10 hours, and I should do this in line with my personal circadian rhythms, which happen to be from around 2 AM to noon. I should also minimize stress, do yoga, meditate, and eat organic meals prepared from scratch. Is my company going to give me all the extra time I need for this? Are the younger folks on my team going to be okay with it?

This all leads me to another point. Which is mounting workplace stress.  I hardly know anyone, young or old, who isn’t taking psychotropic meds—antidepressants, mood stabilizers, benzos, and whatnot—just to cope with what their jobs or schools are asking of them. How does that affect healthcare costs, I wonder? And how does workplace stress affect eating, blood pressure, sleep patterns, etc? Many of these questions have  recently been raised quite eloquently by Marc Ambinder in the The Atlantic.

It’s not realistic for companies to address all these factors. In the Secret Pulse of Time, Stefan Klein does discuss how some European companies are trying to accommodate circadian rhythms…ah, Europe! IBM has on-premises exercise facilities,  but friends who work there say they never have time to use them. Friends who used to work at StorageTek said the same.

The last time I remember having work-life balance was during the dot-com boom, when although we had crunch periods in which we put in 70-hour weeks, we mostly could get our work done in 40 hours. And as part of company policy, no meetings were scheduled from 11 AM to 1 PM, and everyone from the CEO on down was out on the Boulder Creek Path or at the local climbing gym (where had a corporate membership). That is to say, the company culture protected our health through and through, rather than just nagging us about it.

But the key, I think, was the 40-hour week. That’s hardly the norm anymore. (Incidentally, I love everything else about my job, and expanding pressures to work harder and longer are often outside the immediate control of our actual bosses and companies.)

It’s not that I’m not willing to take responsibility for my own health. I work from home on a treadmill desk (I built my own; it’s uglier but cheaper than the one depicted here; and it’s bullshit that you lose the weight this guy claims—or maybe you only do if you’re a guy). I go outside as much as my workday allows, which is less and less often. I’m a backcountry skier, which means that I climb my own mountains to ski them. But I’m also getting tired. I find that it takes a little longer to write an email, which means that when I have 20 to write before leaving for the gym, I might miss my weights class. I have less of that edge to ride myself that much harder. These days I’m just more attracted to that nice walk by the stream than I am to a sweaty spin class.

Asking me join a team and spend my dwindling free time huffing and puffing isn’t going to help me bring my numbers in line. It’s  just more likely to add to stress levels and turn me back into a sullen pre-teen.

You can make me join the team, but I see it as a sure-fire recipe for a lunch of 3 Musketeers bars.