Thursday, November 18, 2010

Flex Spending Revelations

A few months ago, our Communications Director, J., said that she had something small to tell us. "About the size of a lime," she said. She revealed that she was pregnant, and my heart fell. It's not that I wasn't happy for her--I really was. It was just that I felt like every woman my age or just a little younger in the office was a mother. We recently had a spate of pregnancies in my office--one development person, two staff attorneys, our deputy director, and an administrative assistant. The joke was that the pregnancy was contagious in our office. I would always think in my own mind when I heard this: "Except I'm immune." So when J told us, I felt like I was the only one who was struggling with this.

Well, I'm not. And this is how I know.

Our office offers Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) that allow you to set aside a certain amount of money for health-related expenses pre-tax; meaning, you put money into an account through paycheck deductions that reduce the amount of taxable income you earn. It's a great tool if you manage it well. One year, I had about $1200 left in my account and I convinced my dermatologist to give me a prescribed chemical peel ($1000) and stocked up on band-aids and cough syrup. Last year, I missed the deadline so I didn't have one. You can use the money for co-pays, expenses not covered by insurance, eyeglasses and supplies, counseling, and over-the-counter medical supplies.

This year, I wanted to estimate correctly, so D and I counted up all of the chiropractor visits we expected to make, the crown he wanted to replace, the prescriptions that we thought we might need at $20 a pop, and . . . then I remembered that if I got pregnant, there would be a load of expenses. How to estimate THAT?

Well, we're planning to find a midwife and see if we can do a home birth, so I knew the expenses would not be easy to determine with a web search. I decided to confide in J, who has also chosen to deal with a midwife for prenatal care and to have a home birth, and ask her for an estimate of what she was paying. J and I aren't close, but I like her and I trust her. When I went to her office to talk to her, she immediately confided in me that it had taken years for her to conceive. She did the whole fertility treatment dealeo . . . innumerable visits, shots, medication, etc. She said it took quite a toll. She said this pregnancy was a long time in the making. She spoke of how hard it was to see all of her friends get pregnant one after another. She talked about the expectations that people had of her, assuming that she was waiting until her career was more established before choosing to have a baby. She told me that she didn't talk to anyone about this while she was trying.

I was grateful to hear all of this. I was grateful that I wasn't alone among the people I knew. I wonder how many other women I know are struggling and not talking. I think it would be helpful to talk about it. I have to admit that on some level, it feels like a giant female failure to not be able to get pregnant easily.

At any rate, we did get to discuss expenses, and while I'll write about this in another blog entry, I should say that the estimate for a home birth (including prenatal care from the midwife) is about $7,500. A lot less than I thought it would be, and it seems that Cigna might cover 80% of that. They better, cause I think that's probably a lot less than what it would cost in a hospital.

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