Thursday, November 4, 2010

Breaking the Cafeteria Line

My wife often says I could find something political to talk about when confronted with something as ordinary as a salt shaker. In my defense, though, I would probably talk more about economics in relationship to salt shakers, with a little politics mixed in.

Honestly, in my last post I had set up a segue way into my daily walk which I planned to discuss at as much length as I could muster. This would firmly extract me from doing three political posts in a row. How cool is the blog thing anyway? I can talk to myself without fear of many people hearing. But, as it happens, the day after the nightmare election, as you might expect, something happened. Although it did arrive from left field, or more accurately right field.

On this decidedly inauspicious day, I found myself sitting at a meeting where my cafeteria plan would be discussed. This particular cafeteria plan, for those who have not had the pleasure, doesn't concern salt shaker disbursement among the cafeteria tables. It is a type of employee benefit the IRS allows in which taxes from payroll checks can be avoided by deducting medical expenses before wages are taxed. Medical expenses are therefore not taxed and your paycheck rises. You have to estimate your medical expenses for the upcoming year and be right about your bet. While my father had a little bookie experience,* I did not gain enough knowledge to cavalierly miss this meeting.

While minding my own business and trying to ignore the election, the representative of the company that administers the cafeteria plan begins talking about the changes due to health care reform. It went something like this "You see, those silly politicians wanted to make you think they were paying for all the billions of dollars that health care reform is going to cost us by making cuts. And in the process of doing that, they made this ridiculous requirement that over-the-counter medications should have prescriptions. What you have to do is call your doctor and have him send in a prescription. So if you take aspirin for heart disease, then you must get a prescription. Isn't that the silliest thing you ever heard of?"

You see, the place I live is not very liberal and I took it all with a grain of salt as the usual popular local wisdom (but keep in mind my feelings about grains of salt.) Then later in the presentation he discloses that he puts his own gym membership fees on the cafeteria plan because of a prolapsed mitral defibrillating coronary artery thingie. So, he naturally had his doctor write a prescription for daily exercise which he could use to have his gym membership covered in his cafeteria plan (excercise being apparently unachievable anywhere but in the gym of his choosing.) Politics had now darkened my doorstep while my eyes rolled upwards accompanied by a little twist of my neck for emphasis. I guessed he had seen it, this being a rather small room. And I thought I should later chat with him, hopefully politely and not with my salty attitude. I told him of a few concerns I had with the political nature of the presentation and the rather obvious substitution of the phrase "silly politicians" for "Democrats." I guess not knowing if I might be someone important he agreed that was probably a point well taken. I was no one important, though. I said I understood the idea that he did not want his company to be blamed for the new rules, but he might do this in a slightly less incendiary fashion.

See if you find this as fascinating and revealing as I do. An employee must be lucky enough to have an employer, and beyond that, have one who wants to go to the trouble to sponsor the cafeteria program to participate in this "government handout program" [using the Tea Party edition of Funk and Wagnell's thesarus to find this phrase.] So employees who are in those minimum wage jobs or work for themselves or don't have a job or have crappy employers, etc., do not receive this extra government subsidization of their medical expenses. However, the representative was complaining about the idea that I, being a lucky subsidized person, might have to type numbers into my cell phone to call my doctor and tell him I needed a prescription for my Tylenol PM. Prescription drugs I understand, health insurance premiums I understand, but I balk somewhere between Epsom Salts and Exlax. This attitude would probably be similar to any conservative person unless..... they are getting the money themselves and it's not going to those poor people. Government money used to encourage the use of condoms for poor people. Henny Penny, the sky is falling! **  But subsidize our own condoms, yeah, that seems ok. How dare they try to save money  by taking away my discount on Oil of Olay.

After the presentation one guy with a distinctively conservative demeanor walks up to talk to the representative (this after I have spoken my piece quietly and as unobtrusively as I could muster) and says something like "Yeah, those politicians! I mean look here. Sunburn treatment is covered but suntan lotion isn't. I mean, go figure." My mind was thinking up a response but due to my wife's sage wisdom I was lucky enough not to say "Yeah, I bet you could find some really great 50 dollar suntan lotion in the tanning section of this guy's government subsidized gym. I can't see any reason why the government should want to save money and deny me my Surfer Joe's Gnarly Ultimate Browning and Muscle Defining Lotion. I mean, dude! Those politicians just don't 'get' us surfers! Gimme 5." My eyes said it all, though, as the representative snuck a few peeks at me standing in silence in deep thought pondering the irony.

1) A 1976 Democratic, I guess, program to help people with their medical expenses.
2) A company that makes money off of this rather liberal law or "bleeding heart law" to which this company probably owes its very existence.
3) A company representative that complains about health care reform when spending is reigned in a little, to the point that I have to pick up my telephone and ask for a prescription for my Oil of Olay moisturizing cream needed for my "dry skin" condition.
4) Poor people who don't get subsidized and might not even have health care insurance that this little savings might help pay for.
5) Gym memberships covered if you have the right doctor, or are lucky enough to find one who understands us middle class folk.
6) My discomfort at sitting through this political part of his presentation that in the representative's own words is important because "everybody wants to know about this."

I mean, honestly, salt has added iodine! It's necessary to my health because iodine isn't found in many foods. Why isn't my salt shaker subsidized?

*joke for Ike
** Rumsfeld edition of Funk and Wagnell's Dictionary of Political Phrases