Does It Matter Where Your Son or Daughter Goes to College?

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By CK Wilde for 3GenFamily Blog

Our local newspaper added a ton of heat to the controversy that rages this time of year about which college a high school senior should attend. The headline read: Forget the Ivy League: Most Valley CEOs Went Public.

Right now, high school seniors everywhere are polishing essays to impress those soon-to-be bleary eyed college admissions staff, many of whom will read more essays than ever before. Our children born in 1989 (4 million babies born) and 1990 (4.2 million babies born) are part of a boomlet almost as large as the late baby-boom year of 1961 when 4.3 million babies were born.

Consequently, colleges are seeing more applications than previously and turning down top candidates they would have welcomed just a few years ago. Admissions directors expect this to continue until the end of the decade.

Ever resourceful and upbeat, many high school guidance counselors are countering with the mantra, ” It doesn’t matter where you go to college. A top student can succeed anywhere.”

The MercuryNews article by Mark Schwanhausser seems to support that, too. The statistics on Silicon Valley CEOs does show that the majority attended public universities. Most have two or three degrees, though, with an MBA and/or a Ph.D in engineering being the most common.

The CEOs who were interviewed for the newspaper article often remarked that they chose their schools for reasons other than getting to the top of the corporate ladder. But, then the author threw parents everywhere a curve ball.

He asked recruiters for Cisco and Intel where they look for college graduates when they recruit for jobs. Both recruiters readily admitted that they do their searching at 30 to 40 of the “absolutely best schools in the United States.” Companies know that the tough screening process at certain schools makes their job easier. This quote from one recruiter is highly revealing,”Finding great talent at other schools is possible, but it takes more work.”

So if you want to work for one of the best technology companies, you’ll have an easier time getting an interview if you go to one of the “top schools” because recruiters focus their efforts there.

You can find a ranking of the top schools from US News and World Report. But, you’ll need to pay $14.95 for the premium online edition to see all of the ratings for all of the colleges. Another resource is the CollegeBoard.com. In addition to overseeing the SATs, the CollegeBoard has expanded into college planning, college search and college financing (beware of the sales pitches here.)

But, you may be asking, what about Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison? They both dropped out of college and are doing just fine. Does anyone really need college at all? Why not just get started on building up job experience? How the heck do you advise your son or daughter when they ask for your ideas about this?

Here’s my take on it: Attending college is an incredible opportunity to study something that interests you and to sample topics you haven’t tried before. (Steve Jobs credits a calligraphy class with igniting his sense for design.) Most careers today require at least a college degree. If you don’t have one, at some point you get passed over for promotions. Your teen should plan on a graduate degree if he/she has aspirations to climb the ladder of success in technology.

I believe that it is important to find the best ranking school with the best fit for your student’s needs. Definitely look at public schools but don’t ignore private colleges and universities because of cost. See my post on financial aid.

By the way, Larry Ellison of Oracle and Steve Jobs of Apple are both wildly successful without college degrees because both started their own companies and led them to major success. No one asks to see their diplomas. They have proven they can produce results.

But, a new college graduate will be measured by the name of the school on the diploma. America’s top corporations will all vie to hire from the so called top 40 or 50 schools. So, the answer is yes. It does matter early in their careers if they dream of sitting at a desk at any of the Fortune 500.

Ultimately, anyone can succeed with a willingness to work. My favorite no BS book on the subject is:Automatic Wealth for Grads . . . and Anyone Else Starting Out

Michael Masterson may not be as well known as Bill Gates but offers solid tips from his real life experiences working for others and owning his own companies. This former Peace Corp volunteer and college professor has insights that are right on target. You may even want to check it out for yourself. I did and learned a lot!

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Thanksgiving With Dad — How Do You Convince Someone to Accept Help?

 The mood was relaxed and happy on the five hour flight from California to New Jersey. It was Thanksgiving Day. The sun was just beginning to set on what must have been an unseasonably warm day on the East Coast. I smiled to myself. The plane had arrived ahead of schedule. I would be at my father’s home in time for dinner with him.

The airport shuttle driver let me off outside the patio of my Dad’s place. I could see Dad was sitting motionless in his recliner in the corner of the room. Only the kitchen light was on, but I could easily peer into this tiny garden apartment in an independent senior living community. It had been my father’s comfortable home for the past year.

The TV was off. Dad must have fallen asleep, again.

I knocked on the glass patio door and eventually woke him from his nap. He was overjoyed to see me. But, his mood went from gleeful to glum in only a minute. “I’m sorry. I’m afraid I don’t have dinner for you,” he said.

In our phone conversations over the past few days, my father had chatted cheerfully about preparing his favorite dish, baked turkey legs, for us for Thanksgiving.  He had discovered a great recipe by accident and wanted to share it with me.

“I guess I fell asleep and didn’t hear the timer,” he continued. ” The turkey legs were totally burnt even though I had them in a low, 250 degree oven.”

“How long do you think you overslept?” I asked.

“Oh, it might have been six hours,” Dad said sheepishly.

“That’s ok. You have some hamburgers in the freezer that we can make, right?” I said trying to sound upbeat. (Did I hear that right, six hours?)

I walked into the kitchen to start preparing the hamburgers. The stove was dirty. Pots had boiled over and burnt remains littered the trays under the burners. I peered into the oven. It was just as dirty. The entire apartment smelled like burnt food. This was a major change since my last visit.

I tried to hide my uneasiness as the realization began dawning on me that Dad was not able to safely cook for himself anymore.

“Gee, Dad, it looks like you had a few pots spill over,” I said.

“Yeah, pots boil over from time to time. It’s no big deal,” he growled.

“Looks like you could use some help with the cleaning, Dad. ”

“I’m doing fine by myself! I don’t have extra money pay for cleaners. I have barely enough to live on! ” Dad’s growl had turned into a shout.

Lowering my voice, I turned to him with a big smile, “I know you have done a really great job managing your money. It is looking like you could use a little help here, that’s all.”

That was the beginning of a weekend-long argument.  I gave my father all sorts of suggestions for ways he could get help. He rejected every one.

We met with a non-medical in home care provider.  Dad turned pale when he heard the hourly rate.  I got out the rate sheet for the additional cleaning services that the senior apartment complex offered.

“That’s too much! Dad shouted.

Finally, I hit upon the idea of Dad purchasing the meal plan from the dining room. Together, we figured out how much he spent on food. It looked like buying dinner on the meal plan would not cost much more than he was already spending.

I reasoned and cajoled. Dad finally agreed that he would enjoy getting his evening meal from the dining room.  All that was left to do was for my father to sign up for the plan on Monday. He said he would do it.

I left for the airport on Sunday evening with a light heart.

On Monday, I phoned to remind him to sign up for the meal plan. He began to waffle. Maybe he would wait until December. Maybe he would wait until he finished the food in the freezer. Maybe he would wait until . . .

Of course, I knew these were just excuses. For each one, I countered with a reasonable argument. Dad thought up another.  He wasn’t going to do it and I was too far away to exert the same kind of influence I had when I was physically there.

A November 2007 study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and Evercare found that the long distance caregivers spend an average of $8728 per year out of their own pockets to help an elderly family member. Local caregivers spend somewhat less — approximately $5000 annually.

And, it is no surprise to me that the largest percentage of this expense is going to provide care attendants, followed closely by medical expenses and long distance travel. I had already been spending money for travel to see my Dad. Once your parent needs care, but cannot or will not pay for help, the family may need to provide it. Those of us who work are forced to rely on paid helpers to to assist with eldercare. Bu, this can have a negative financial impact on the family members paying for care.

Fate took a different turn with my father. Later that week, he developed a nose bleed that the nurses at the retirement community could not stop. His trip to the hospital ended up lasting over three months.

The nurses also reported to the managers that Dad was having trouble keeping up the apartment. The managers said they would refuse to allow him back into his apartment when he was released from the hospital for his own safety.

Now instead of convincing him to eat in the dining room, I had to convince him to move to the next level of care. To be continued . . .

Medicare Part D – Open Enrollment Ends Dec. 31- Don’t Miss It!

What’s all the fuss about the Medicare Prescription Drug Program?

Open enrollment started on November 15th and runs to December 31st. This is the time when anyone can change from one plan to another without paying a premium penalty. If your parent is already enrolled in a program, you may be wondering why you need to worry about this.

Medicare and health care advocates in every state are trying to get the word out that the rates are changing. There are major rate increases coming to the most subscribed plans, while some of the smaller plans are decreasing rates. Here in California rates in some plans are increasing by 31%.

All seniors should reevaluate their Medicare Drug plans to see if it still makes sense to stay where they are.  They can check Medicare’s website for help with choosing a plan that covers the specific prescriptions that they need at a cost they can afford. It is important to do it now before the enrollment period ends.

Can there really be that much of a difference?

Yes.

This year doing nothing could be very expensive for your parent. Monthly premiums could increase substantially. Or, you may discover that required medications are not covered by your plan. 

And, of course, there is the highly confusing problem of the “donut hole.” I don’t know who invented this “cute” name but it is a gap in coverage that can take a lot out of your pocketbook.  Here’s how it works:

You enroll in a plan and pay a monthly premium. You pay for your prescriptions until the deductible is reached. Once you have met the deductible of $265, the basic prescription drug plan will pay 75% of your drug costs and you will pay the remaining 25% until your total drug costs reach $2,400.

Then, you are responsible for 100% of your drug costs between $2,401 and $5,451.25. This gap in coverage, the “donut hole”, requires that you pay $3050.25 out of your own pocket before Medicare pays any more for you.

While this is happening, you are still paying your monthly premium. If you get to December 31st without going past $5451.25 prescription costs, there is no additional help. You start the new year meeting the deductible again.

Once your total drug costs reach $5,451.25, the basic prescription drug plan will pay 95% of your additional prescription costs and you will pay up to 5% (or a small co-payment) of your remaining drug costs for the rest of the calendar year.

Each insurance company that offers Medicare Drug coverage has the option to add benefits. Each company can also determine which drug they will or won’t cover. Some companies will pay for certain generic drugs during the coverage gap while others pay nothing.

There are so many plans, with different options,  that vary from state to state, that you need to evaluate before you sign up.  It’s just plain confusing!

Fortunately, every state has Health Insurance Counseling and Assistance Programs. You can find someone in your area to provide free counseling about the plans that would be right for you. You can attend workshops on choosing the best plan.

Before you contact the Health Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program in your area, it’s a good idea to figure out your total drug costs for the past year and make a list of your regular prescriptions so you can compare it with the list of approved drugs for each plan.

It’s work to do this, I know. It is so tempting to just stay with the plan your parent already has.

Don’t do it! Make time now for your parent (or yourself) to find the best plan that is available. You’ll be glad you did.

How To Help Your Aging Parents – Medical Billing

3GenFamily Blog has moved to a new location on the web.

Please come visit us at 3GenFamily.com

By CK Wilde for 3GenFamily Blog

It wasn’t until Dad mailed me the collection notice that I realized he was losing his ability to track and pay his medical bills. He had complained during our phone chats on several occasions that the hospital had messed up his billing. They kept phoning him to get him to pay his bill.

He insisted that he had paid the bill– $124.34. The hospital billing staff asked him to send a copy of the cancelled check. But, Dad adamantly refused to go through the work of getting the cancelled check. It was the hospital’s mistake for losing the payment.

I was dumbfounded by his vehement refusal to deal with a straightforward problem. Ironically, in his younger days, my father had been a stickler for financial details. As a young adult, I would have gotten a scalding rebuke for failing to take action on something like this.

His unusual behavior was a warning that his dementia was beginning to impair his judgement, while his anemia left him so fatigued that even a trip to the bank seemed like an overwhelming task. I didn’t recognize it for what it was. I thought he was just being obstinate.

Being 3000 miles away, I tried to get my father to read his checkbook to tell me the check number for that hospital bill. Then, I went online to see if that check had cleared. The check number he gave me had been cashed but it wasn’t anywhere near the correct amount for the bill. I looked for another check with the amount $124.34. I didn’t see any in that month that matched.

I told my father that the only thing to do was pay the bill. He refused. No amount of reasoning worked. So I made a deal with him — I would pay the bill and he would reimburse me.

Grudgingly, he agreed.

My father had already signed a power of attorney giving me the authority to handle his finances and one for health care, too. So, I began learning first hand about Medicare, supplemental heath coverage and prescription drug benefits.

Dad had to sign a form to allow me to access his online medical insurance claims and to speak for him to the insurance representatives. I left instructions for them to phone me first since Dad’s hearing was poor.

I paid the bill. Dad eventually reimbursed me. The collection notices and phone calls stopped.

It wasn’t until a couple of months after my father’s death that I found the entry in his checkbook. Dad was right all along. He had paid the hospital within days of receiving the bill. But, he was so certain he remembered the correct check number that he never looked it up. I was too far away at that time to double check it myself.

The story doesn’t end there.

Another billing mistake almost happened today. I started to pay a doctor’s bill for my father’s estate and discovered that it was more than it should have been.

The doctor is supposed to bill Medicare first. After Medicare determines what it will pay, the doctor sends the bill to the supplemental insurance.

Only after the supplemental insuror has completed the claim, should the doctor bill the patient for any balance due. But this latest bill didn’t show any payment from the supplemental insurance, so I checked the online claims information.

The supplemental insuror had rejected the claim because documentation was missing. Well, sometimes paperwork does get lost. You need to follow up to get another copy sent.

I called and spoke to the medical billing person in the doctor’s office. She pulled up the records on her computer. She stated that my father owed this amount of money. I asked if she sent it to the supplemental carrier.

She said, “Yes.” And promptly read my father’s account number for the insurance.

I asked her, “Why do the online records say your claim was rejected for lack of documentation? The amount you are billing doesn’t appear to include any payment from the supplemental insurance.”

People do make mistakes (including me). Where there is an honest mistake, you can hear the surprise in the person’s voice. “How did that happen?” Sometimes, they laugh self consciously.

There was no surprise in this woman’s voice. There was no admission of a mistake. “We understand your concern . . . we will make sure it gets handled.” She was billing my Dad for the entire amount rather than resubmit the bill to the insuror with the information that was needed. Efficient but totally lacking in ethics.

I wish I could say this was the only mistake I have found. Unfortunately, billing mistakes have happened so many times in the past 9 months of settling my father’s estate.

How many elderly patients pay too much because they don’t have the patience or focus to follow up?

If you have been wondering how you can help your aging parents, discuss helping them with tracking medical bills. Have your parents collect everything (bills, medicare statements, supplemental insurance statements) in a folder. Set up online access to insurance if its available. Make a regular date to go over the bills each month before anyone writes checks.

You may need to make phone calls for your parents. Be aware that privacy rules prevent the insurors from talking with you about your parents’ account unless your parents have given permission in writing.

You’ll be providing peace of mind and possibly saving money for your parents, too.