When Saving Money Is No Longer Worth Your Time But You Do It Anyway

Cash MoneyAfter drinking a couple beers with a buddy a couple months ago, I dragged myself across the street to get a flu shot at Walgreens. Supposedly this season was one of the worst, and I had no desire to get swine flu. I hate needles. The insertion isn't what bothers me. What irks me is the uncomfortable feeling of liquid getting pushed into my veins as the injector tries to hold the needle still. I don't know how heroine users do it!

I actually didn't feel a thing this time around because I was a little tipsy. Perhaps you too should give needle injecting a go after a couple drinks (see doctor for professional medical advice). When I went to pay the bill the pharmacist said, “That'll be $34.95.

Over the past 11 years I don't recall ever paying for a flu shot. The first nine years was because my old firm was awesome enough to bring a pharmacist in to our office and inject us all for free. And the last two years my insurance provider paid in full. But this pharmacist was adamant that Cigna, my insurance company, wouldn't pay for the particular strain I was about to get. Odd.

Normally I would have told the pharmacist to hold up so I could give my insurance company a call and ask them what's up. But this time, I just couldn't be bothered with this picayune amount. “OK, no problemo! Charge away.” I didn't want to have to spend 30 minutes on the phone for the chance of sending in my receipt to get reimbursed $35. Maybe if I was absolutely bored out of my mind with a lot of time to kill I'd go through the entire discovery process, but I just didn't have the patience.

Can't Be Bothered Until You Can

As you grow your wealth you begin to stop sweating the small stuff. The fake “freshly squeezed” orange juice at Noah's Bagel for $3.25 no longer bothers you. The 15 cents extra per gallon at a highly populated gas station is no big deal. The newly instated $5 an hour Sunday parking meters no longer piss you off. Your tennis partner never bringing a can of new balls isn't as annoying anymore. OK, that's a lie. I hate it when a tennis player never brings new balls and expects others to bear gifts.

About a month went by when a close friend told me she got a free flu shot at Walgreens paid for by Cigna, my same insurance provider. Now I was annoyed. Did I get lied to? The Cigna representative I spoke to on the phone said they absolutely do insure flu shots and Walgreens was dead wrong to charge me. Even though it was only $35, I went back to Walgreens to demand my money back. They still denied my request because they said I received a different vaccine that supposedly protects the same way, but isn't covered. WTF?!

Apparently Walgreens ran out of the most common vaccine covered by my insurance company, but had another vaccine that does the same job, but isn't covered. News to me. At no time did the pharmacist ever explain the situation. If he did, I'd have just come back the next day after they restocked, or walked over to another Walgreens six blocks away. All the pharmacist wanted was to get me vaccinated and move on to the next patient. The main purpose was done, but because Walgreen was to be paid either way, he didn't care about the insurance coverage process.

Saving Money Out Of Principle

Annoyed, I decided to write this post to encourage everyone to call your insurance company first to know your rights before going to a pharmacist. Make it a good habit to call your health insurance company at least once a year to review important things such as: co-pay, co-insurance, deductible, emergency care costs, and pharmacy costs. (See: Open Enrollment Insurance Checklist)

I called my credit card company to dispute the charge and they graciously credited my account $35. Then I faxed in my receipt with a form to Cigna to get them to reimburse me $35. If they are going to cover flu shots, then cover them all. It's been almost two months and I still haven't received a check in the mail.

Saving money is the one thing most of us can control. Good savings habits is the foundation of personal finance. Sometimes saving money is about principle. I hate feeling scammed or ripped off, no matter how little the cost. It's no wonder why the health insurance industry is so messed up and expensive in America.


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54 thoughts on “When Saving Money Is No Longer Worth Your Time But You Do It Anyway”

  1. I ran a small health department for 6 years. Old folks were thrilled to get flu shots for free!

    Problem is they are pretty close to ineffective. You can check the stats if you like but the way the process works is generally like this. 1 year before the flu season a bunch of flu scientists get together and guess which 3 of the numerous strains of Asian flu will make the trip to the US.

    This is maybe a 30% correct guess.

    Then they go to cooking up the vaccine which takes about 9 months.

    Of the flu shots given it is generally about 70% effective against the strain it was developed for.

    So basically your getting a 70% chance at a 30% guess. The math is around 20% give or take.

    But it gets worse. If you actually contract a flu virus you build up a pretty good super immunity that will protect you in 30 years when that strain comes along again. If you take the immunization shot it has very little long term effectiveness and wears off after a year or so.

    IMHO, if your not immune compromised or a small child or have some lung disease or history on pneumonia your better off skipping the shot.

    Now as for the pneumonia vaccine — that is probably worthwhile and your insurance will probably cover it. The Walgreens clerk probably didn’t mention any of this to you. At 35 dollars there was probably a 400% mark up on your shot. Probably

    Next year, skip the shot buy a round of beers for that lame tennis playing buddy and if you get the flu, run to Walgreens and buy some Tamiflu or a similar med that will help you over the symptoms quickly.

  2. It seems to me that making a decision that something isn’t worth your time and frustration is just being intentional and thoughtful with your spending. My wife works with some very wealthy people and I’ve noticed that one of the advantages the truly wealthy have is that they just don’t have to deal with all of the stuff that aggravates the rest of us on a daily basis– they have assistants for those things. I try to approximate this freedom in a different way, which is to just get rid of the crap that I would normally be troubled by. We have an old mini-van and we briefly though about buying a newer one, then I realized I’d have to go get it registered, pay the taxes, deal with the salespeople, etc., and said “why bother? What we have is fine.” Cell phone: gone. Cable: gone. Frustrating Windows computer: got a Mac. On and on. Get wealthy enough or simplify. It is the middle class person who is saddled with debt and stuff that is the most frustrated I’d think.

  3. Ah, the time value of money…sometimes it’s just about the principle of the injustice.

    I moved to SF nearly a year ago and in the process planned to transfer my DirecTV account from my former home in Denver to my new home in SF, after all they have such great transfer promotions!

    Upon signing the lease my landlord made it very clear that I was in no way allowed to mount a satellite dish to the exterior walls or roof of the building. I started to get worried, I didn’t want to start off in a bad way with my landlord and expected I’d have to pay several hundred dollars to break my contract with DTV.

    I called DTV, explained my situation and simply asked – “given my situation, no ability to mount a dish, is there anyway I can be relieved from my contract?” To my surprise the woman I spoke said that I was able to be released from the contract.

    I only had to have a DTV technician come to my home and confirm that I had no ability to mount a dish to an exterior wall, patio, roof, or space with line of site to the the sky. Technician came out, confirmed this challenge, all should be good, I just needed to call DTV back and finalize the separation of service.

    This is where the question of how much is my time worth came into play?

    DTV now told me that I was wrong and my landlord could not legally refuse me the ability to mount a dish. After much, 3 hours in total over 2 calls, haggling AND allowing the DTV service folks walk me through the law, which they post on their website as support for their claims. I actually found the “exceptions clause” that proved I was right! On the phone there was silence…then, “let me talk to my supervisor, but what he/she says is the final answer.”

    Ten minutes later I was informed that despite the clause in the law proving my point DTV would still require I pay the $300+ contract separation fee.

    I was livid. I said, “how can you do business like this? You praise the law when it works for you and ignore it when it doesn’t!?”

    I finally agreed to pay the fee but asked for the name and address of their General Counsel, because if they’re breaking the law for me they’re likely doing it to many others.

    And upon threatening legal action, and truthfully after I had already surrendered, did DirecTV take a complete 180 and decide to release me from my contract, no further fees or questions asked.

    It’s AWFUL that business do this sh*t to their loyal customers. They buyer NEEDS to beware. Even in this globalized economy, “voting” with our wallet does have an impact.

  4. Love this post, because I can’t help myself in these situations. Whether it stems from frugality, competitiveness, or pride, I always fight back when I feel like I’m getting ripped off, even when the amount is small

    Recently, I have struggled with Dentists and Vets. Multiple dentists I have tried recently slip in slight variations to standard procedures like x-rays or whatever. When insurance balks, I get the bill. Surprisingly the dentist demands I pay, knowing I will fight them and they will lose future business that is worth much more than the paltry fee they are trying to collect.

    Vets are just as bad. Usually they will recommend 5-10 procedures that ‘could’ help resolve the problem. I’m sorry, but I’m pretty sure I’m paying them to tell me the most likely problem and address that, not to ask me to pay for every possible option.

    If any type of medical service provider is clearly up-selling their unnecessary options with a payment plan… prepare to be destroyed on yelp.

    Maybe it isn’t worth my time, but the personal satisfaction I get from defending myself doesn’t have a monetary value.

  5. Hi Sam

    I have been reading your blog for a while. I am a pharmacist, have worked for Walgreens in the past and have administered thousands of flu shots. The way a pharmacy processes insurances in quite complicated. The only thing a pharmacist does is send a claim to the insurance company and see what price they send back. I completely agree with you that the pharmacist should have informed you that they were out of stock on a different vaccine brand which is essentially the same flu shot and provides the same coverage. As a pharmacist, I always mentioned the price to the patient before administering the shot. I think it is a patient’s right to know what the out of pocket expense is before the medication or service is delivered/administered. Pharmacists are extremely busy and barely have a minute but the patient should always be informed. I feel sorry you have had such an experience. As a pharmacist, I loved administering flu shots since I got to speak with patients which is really a learning experience. I also loved it when patients came back the next year(for a flu shot) and specifically asked for me.I would like to add that our insurance companies take undue advantage of patients and complicate situations. I hope you find a pharmacist that takes the extra minute to strike a chord with you.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Divya and sharing your perspective. Pharmacists are definitely always busy and I can see how they don’t have time to thoroughly check the insurance co. Mine was free last year at Walgreens with the same insurance co, so I just assumed there was some insurance change as there always is to make them more money at the expense of the consumer.

      This was the only pharmacist who didn’t seem to care. Everyone else has been very thorough and thoughtful.

  6. No Nonsense Landlord

    Sometimes I fight over just a couple of bucks on a charge. It’s irritating and bugs me. Bank fees are the worst.

    It’s something you have to do.

  7. I love saving money.Though it takes so much time and effort prioritizing your needs over your wants, in the end it will be all worth it. Despite that I’m already financially stable, I still look into small stuffs which can affect on how I save money.

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