3 Things I’ve Learned Since Switching to my Own Health Insurance Last Year

Just over 365 days ago, I made the switch from my parents’ health insurance plan to my own plan, provided by my employer.

In the last year, I’ve learned some important lessons about being responsible for my own healthcare coverage. Some lessons were easier to learn than others. I figured it might be helpful to others who just made the switch themselves (or who will be doing so in the near future) for me to sum up three big takeaways I’ve discovered along the way in the hopes that it makes the transition a little easier for those individuals, or at least saves them some time down the road.

AI Innovation Summit
Navigating the confusing world of health insurance has taught me quite a few lessons in the last year.
  1. Take advantage of a flexible spending account (FSA), if the option is available. I grew up knowing that FSAs exist – my parents would always bring their FSA account cards to all my doctor’s appointments and pay for all of my supplies using those cards – but I had no idea what the big deal was about them until I switched to my own health insurance plan. Basically, FSAs are a great employer-sponsored benefit because they allow account holders to pay for eligible medical expenses on a pre-tax basis. So those who have an FSA are able to pay for things they need tax-free, and the money is typically available to account holders on the first day of the health insurance plan year. My current health insurance plan allows a maximum contribution of $2,300, so I was able to put up to that amount on my account for 2020. It really comes in handy because my wallet doesn’t take as much of a beating from all of my necessary (and very expensive) diabetes supplies, and unlike the last half of 2019, I’m not paying as much out of pocket after my deductible is met.
  2. Keep records of everything. It might seem fussy to hold onto any and all receipts or transaction records, but there might come a day when one is needed. Case in point? At the end of 2019, my company announced during open enrollment that our FSA administrator was changing…which, at the time, I didn’t think was a big deal. I knew what the maximum contribution was, and I figured I’d only need to log into my FSA account sporadically to see how much money I had left for the year. Well…I was wrong about that. Back in February, I got a notification that I needed to submit verification of purchases of my regular OmniPod shipment, Dexcom sensors and transmitters, and my Humalog prescription. And you can bet your bottom dollar I didn’t have receipts for all three of those transactions because, well, my old FSA provider never once asked for receipts. As silly as it sounds now, I guess the thought never crossed my mind that my new FSA administrator would need purchase records. Long story short, I was able to submit an explanation of benefits in lieu of the receipts, but it would’ve been easier just to hold onto the original records (and I can assure you I’ve done that since this whole incident).
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when things don’t add up. I had my annual physical in January and I had quite the shock when I was billed over $300 for all of the lab work that my primary care physician had me do. The moment I got that charge, I knew something wasn’t right – never before in my life have I been charged that much for a standard battery of tests that I take for my physical. So I wrote in to my PCP’s billing department and asked about the charges. That’s when I learned that I was mistakenly charged this amount and that I needed to reach out to my health insurance provider to re-run the charges. Although it was a little annoying to have to go back and forth between my health insurance provider and my PCP’s office, it was worth it because I saved myself $300 that I never actually owed in the first place. This taught me the importance of asking questions and following up with people until I understand, well, anything that’s confusing to me when it comes to my health insurance.

 

27 Acts of Kindness: Days 25, 26, and 27!!!

The 27 acts of kindness challenge is…COMPLETE!

Wow…this was truly such a special way to celebrate the weeks leading up to my 27th birthday.

I’ve spent time this weekend reflecting on how my thoughts and feelings about this challenge have changed over the last four-ish weeks. Some days were easier than others. I grappled with doing my best to make a true difference while also staying safe and maintaining social distance guidelines.

That was probably the hardest part – not being able to interact with more people throughout this whole process. It was really hard to feel like anything I was doing had any sort of impact. But given the limitations of the circumstances, I can end this challenge knowing that I tried my hardest to do something unique each day…and like I said at the beginning, if a single act made someone feel good or inspired someone else to commit an act of kindness, then I feel as though my mission was accomplished.

With that said, here is what I was up to this weekend:

Friday, 5/1 – Act of Kindness #25: I wanted to make sure I made another effort to support small, local businesses as the week drew to a close, so I purchased a gift card for future use as well as ordered takeout from two separate places. Yes, I’ve done that a couple of times since my challenge began, but I feel strongly about supporting my community as much as possible these days.

Saturday, 5/2 – Act of Kindness #26 and Sunday, 5/3 – Act of Kindness #27: Lumping these together may seem like a copout, but I swear, that’s not what I tried to do with the last couple days of the challenge! Instead of focusing on very specific/deliberate acts, I decided to just…be. I wanted to be there for family and friends, whether it was in-person or virtually. I had conversations with loved ones. I helped out my parents as much as I could. I started to learn more about my new role advocating for T1International (more to come on that). I enjoyed the outdoors and tried to reduce my overall screen time. I soaked up the sun and appreciated a beautiful birthday celebration for what it was, not what I wished or thought it should have been.

I just…wanted the people and things that I care about to feel some of that in a more pronounced way. I admit that I wasn’t perfect the entire time – I said some things without thinking and could have done more – but I’m now reflecting on it and trying to learn from it so I can be the kind of person who doesn’t have to think long and hard about certain acts of kindness that I can do each day: I want it to come naturally.

So even though the formal “27 acts of kindness” thing is done, the meaning behind it is far from over for me. I want to continue to do things that make people smile or that have some sort of impact going forward.

The only difference between the start and the end of the challenge is that I now have greater insights on how I can do little things on “ordinary” occasions that mean something, to someone, somewhere.

And I think that realization is a great gift to receive for my 27th birthday.

27 Acts of Kindness_ Days 25, 26, and 27!!!
One last fun GIF-image hybrid to round off the challenge.

Thanks for following along with the challenge, Cactus Huggers. There’s a recap of the last 27 days below, and I’ll be publishing new blog posts again starting Wednesday this week.

The 27 Acts of Kindness Round-Up

  1. Sent some money to a loved one as a special treat
  2. Wrote and mailed a card to a hospitalized child
  3. Emailed a hardworking coworker to let her know she’s appreciated
  4. Donated to a fundraiser that was delivering pints of ice cream to essential workers
  5. Gave a large tip when ordering takeaway from a restaurant
  6. Sent a thank you message to my church’s priest
  7. Invited friends to join me for a virtual yoga session with an instructor
  8. Posted Instagram shout-outs to some of my favorite accounts
  9. Donated to my community’s food pantry and got a double match from my employer
  10. Reconnected with old friends virtually
  11. Made coworkers smile and laugh by dressing up as Dwight Schrute for meetings
  12. Gave half of my CWD FFL 2020 registration fee back to CWD after it was canceled
  13. Spent the day helping my parents
  14. Reached out to a friend who is struggling
  15. Visited fellow diabetes bloggers’ sites and left comments on posts
  16. Filmed a video to spread some cheer to those living in nursing homes
  17. Volunteered virtually and talked to high school students about my career
  18. Wrote a special thank you card to my father, who is an essential employee
  19. Made a sign for the yard thanking ALL essential employees
  20. Made digital greeting cards and expressed words of encouragement and appreciation to essential employees
  21. Virtually adopted a red panda
  22. Purchased and sent requested supplies to a local animal shelter
  23. Signed up to become a digital advocate for T1International
  24. Donated in my mother’s name to a cause that she supports
  25. Bought a gift card to use at a local business at a future date
  26. Tried to live in the moment and be more mindful…
  27. …and reflect on what this challenge taught me!

Drinking and Diabetes: Lessons Learned in College

This post initially appeared on Beyond Type 1 on May 19, 2016. I wanted to republish it here because I will be exploring this topic further in November, which is National Diabetes Awareness Month. Stay tuned!

In September 2011, I started college at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I’ll never forget the range of emotions I felt when my parents dropped me off: anxious, excited, anxious, scared, anxious, curious … and did I mention anxious?

A reason why I was so nervous was that going off to college represented my first true taste of independence. I would be a full 90 minutes away from my parents, who have acted as key teammates in my diabetes care and management over the years. It wasn’t like I was starting this academic and social pursuit freshly diagnosed; after all, I’ve had diabetes since I was 4 years old. Growing up with it made me accept it as my reality early in life, and I never really minded it. It started to become a worry, though, when I was hit with the realization that I had to immerse myself in an unfamiliar environment, away from my parents and healthcare team who knew me and my diabetes best. I wondered, “Can I do this?”

Fortunately, my schedule was so full, so quickly, that I barely had time to dwell on my concerns. I attended my classes, bonded with my roommate, established a diverse friend group, experienced the culinary offerings of the dining halls, stressed over homework assignments, and tried new group fitness classes at the gym, among other things. Best of all, my newfound friends didn’t seem to mind my diabetes at all — they asked me endless questions and thought nothing of it when I whipped my insulin pen out in the dining halls to bolus for meals. Establishing a routine helped with my diabetes management and before long, I started to feel more comfortable with this whole college thing … except for one aspect of it.

Alcohol: It’s a taboo concept in the diabetes world, but certainly not on college campuses. Before I left for college, my parents and I did talk about drinking and social pressures, but we didn’t have an in-depth discussion about diabetes and drinking. The main takeaway was a tacit understanding that safety should always be my number one priority.

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Diabetes won’t stop me from enjoying the occasional drink – I just need to imbibe carefully.

I’ll admit that among the various other activities I participated in freshman year, an occasional party at which alcohol was present was part of the gamut. One particular party stands out in my memory because it taught me, more than words from my parents or my endocrinologist could, just how important safety is when it comes to drinking and diabetes.

I ventured to an off-campus party with a group of friends one Saturday night. It was a stereotypical college party: loud music, lots of people, long lines to use the one bathroom in the house. For the first couple of hours that we were there, we were having a great time meeting new people and drinking a bit. As I was sipping on my beverage, I helped myself to some of the tortilla chips, the communal appetizer laid out for party-goers (clearly, no expenses were spared for this shindig!).

I was stupid and didn’t monitor how many chips I was eating or how much I was drinking. Instinct told me to test my blood sugar and I discovered that I was high—much higher than I anticipated. I started rifling through my purse for my Humalog pen when it hit me that I never packed it.

This story could have ended much differently, but I’m happy to say that I was just fine by the end of the night. I told my friends what was happening. Instead of expressing disappointment over leaving the party, they were super understanding and insisted on escorting me home to make sure I could get my medication. Before long, I was back in my dorm and administering insulin. Once I started to come down, I went to bed and woke up at a normal blood sugar the next morning.

What exactly did I learn about drinking and diabetes that night? A few important things:

  • Always have all of my supplies with me when I go out and indulge in a drink or two. This means I would triple-check, from that point onward, to make sure I had my meter, insulin, test strips, glucose tablets and everything else I might possibly need.
  • Check my blood sugar before, during and after drinking to maintain healthy levels.
  • Set an alarm or two before bed so I can wake up and check my blood sugar.
  • Go out with a supportive group of friends — even though I was panicking that night over my hyperglycemic blood sugar, I felt comforted by my friends’ presence and support.
  • Refuse drinks if I don’t want them. I’ve never felt pressured to drink, even when everyone else around me is. As long as I’m having fun, my choice to not drink doesn’t matter.
  • Research carbohydrate content of alcohol so I know how to account for different drinks. I also have done my homework, so I know that different alcohols affect my blood sugar at different rates, if at all.
  • Avoid sugary drinks. They’re often not worth it, and it’s easy for me to replace certain mixers with diet or sugar-free drinks.

I learned a major lesson that night. Since then, drinking has become an occasional social activity for me that I no longer fear due to my preparedness and openness on the subject. I understand that drinking and diabetes sounds scary and forbidden, but this is why it’s important to talk about. Discussing it with family, friends, and your healthcare team can help you feel reassured over how to handle it. Now, I can confidently raise a glass of dark beer or red wine (my personal favorites), knowing I can enjoy a drink safely despite my diabetes.

3 Things I Learned From Giving up Alcohol for Lent

Unless you’re familiar with the Catholic faith, that title probably doesn’t make much sense to you. “Lent” is a period of time – the 40 days before Easter Sunday – in which Catholics traditionally practice penance, prayer, and almsgiving. In addition to avoiding the consumption of meat on Fridays during Lent, it’s also common for observers to give up something in order to focus more energy on acts of kindness and charity.

This year, I decided to give up alcohol.

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All of this, and more, was off limits throughout Lent.

I was inspired by my mom, who has eschewed alcohol during Lent for the last few years. I was a bit hesitant to take on the challenge; after all, I’m a young adult who enjoys going out and drinking every now and then. I wondered how it might affect my social life, and whether I’d experience any heckling or peer pressure from friends. But I was also open to the idea that forgoing alcohol during Lent could benefit me in some ways, so I felt ready to go forward with my plan.

Here’s what I learned from abstaining from alcohol for 40 days:

  1. My blood sugars were a little more predictable/easier to manage. One of my biggest issues with alcohol is that it’s hard to know just how many carbs are in one drink. Beer tends to be higher carb, whereas wine typically contains less. Hard liquor boasts even fewer carbs, but things get tricky when sugary mixers get added to the equation. So when I drink alcohol, I try to prepare myself for any possible scenario that could result from miscalculated carb intakes. But by giving up alcohol during Lent, I didn’t have this problem when I was dining out. I simply had to bolus for the food on my plate and enjoyed worrying less about what my blood sugar would be like later in the evening.
  2. Nobody gave me a tough time over my decision. This was a pleasant surprise, albeit one that I should’ve seen coming. After all, I’m not in college anymore. Peer pressure is practically non-existent in my life these days, and I’m thankful for its absence. If anything, my alcohol avoidance triggered discussions among my friends and colleagues, who generally seemed interested in the concept of giving something up for a length of time.
  3. It reminded me there are other (healthier!) ways to unwind that don’t involve drinking. Obviously, I knew that on a sub-conscious level. But I was automatically encouraged to explore alternative ways to relax after a long day at work. I definitely amped up the amount I exercised, and I probably ate a smidge more dark chocolate (okay, more than that) to reward myself throughout the week. And I didn’t become a shut-in on Friday and Saturday nights like I feared; rather, I participated in all my usual weekend activities, just sans alcohol. A huge plus to this was not having to worry about whacky blood sugars or who would be a designated driver – the safety element made the whole alcohol-avoidance thing much more appealing.

Does this mean that I’m going to avoid drinking alcohol forever now? No, because I still enjoy having a pint of beer, glass of wine, or specialty cocktail at my fancy. But I do feel more empowered to say “no” when I just don’t feel like drinking socially. I also feel good about cutting back on my alcohol intake overall and making a commitment to consciously deciding whether or not I want to drink. I think that my mind, body, and blood sugars will be better off.

How I Learned the Importance of Carb Counting

One recent evening, I was rummaging through the kitchen pantry and noticed a bag of “veggie stix” stashed away, waiting to get opened. The sight of the bag instantly brought back memories of a time I was blatantly irresponsible with my carb counting and insulin dosing…

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…It was my junior year of college. I had plans to meet with a friend for dinner at seven o’clock. While that’s a standard suppertime for many people, it was kind of late for me. So that explains why I decided to treat myself to a snack a couple hours before it was time to go, just to hold me until I had my meal. My snack of choice? A bag of veggie stix just like these were sitting in the kitchen of my on-campus apartment. I thought I’d help myself to a few, believing (naively) that I had enough self control to know when to stop shoveling them down my gullet. That’s right, instead of doing the right thing and counting out a bunch before stowing the bag away, I was blindly consuming handful after handful without dosing for a single stick.

I can’t even use the defense that these veggie stix are strangely addicting – they really are, they taste a little like those potato sticks that used to come in cans – because I knew what I was doing wasn’t good for me. I just didn’t care. I had munched my way through half of the bag when it dawned on me that it would probably be smart to stop myself from eating more. I rolled up the bag, returned to my room, and did some homework until it was time to meet with my gal pal.

Little did I know that my blood sugar was rising to potentially dangerous levels.

I didn’t find out how high I was – over 400 mg/dL – until I reached the sandwich shop and had a plate full of chicken pesto carb-y goodness waiting to be consumed. My face must’ve shown my shock, because my friend asked me if I was alright. I quickly explained to her my mistake, and took an extra large bolus to cover my food and correct my blood sugar. Once that was done, I somehow managed to stop panicking long enough to enjoy the dinner with my friend, even though I couldn’t eat a bite of mine until an hour or so after injecting my insulin.

Although it sucked to go through this, I’m kind of glad that it happened because I learned a major lesson from it: ALWAYS count my carbs. It doesn’t matter if I WANT to be lazy or pretend that my diabetes doesn’t exist, I HAVE to hold myself accountable. It may be mentally draining and a bit of a nuisance, but it’s my own health here. It’s up to me, and me alone, to manage it.

And by the way, I did just help myself to the above bag of veggie stix. I had exactly 24 pieces, which equals exactly 5.4 grams of carbohydrates – a much smaller amount than what I ate that one night five years ago.