Not so long ago, I was living in the proverbial millennial malcontent. Underpaid, underemployed, and feeling defeated. Whatever jobs I secured were usually on a part time or contract basis and missing things like benefits, vacation time, or sick days.
Even though I was young and healthy (I like to imagine I still am J), the reality was that I was always scared. Scared of the flu. Scared of slipping on ice and hurting myself. Scared of needing emergency dental surgery. I was acutely aware that any illness or injury could keep me unemployed and even more cash strapped.
My situation changed drastically a year out from my MBA. After working two contract positions, I was offered those magical words: “Full-Time, Permanent”. No more fear. No more avoiding prescription drugs due to cost. Finally, I had benefits.
Now, this post is not to rub into anyone’s faces this incredible good fortune. Rather, it’s to serve as both a reminder to fellow workers in permanent positions as well as advice for those who are on the precipice of moving into a more stable role. The reminder/advice? If you have benefits, USE THEM.
That’s right, USE THEM. I even caps-locked it, to highlight the importance of that statement. That’s because early in my full-time employment career, I didn’t pay enough attention to some of the incredible benefits that I didn’t fully use, which basically meant I threw money down the drain, free money which was rightfully mine to use. To make matters worse, neglecting my benefits also meant I got a late start on taking charge of my health. Like the following:
Overdue Dental Work
I’ve always been proud of my dental hygiene. Adding 2 minutes of flossing each night has really helped me in my dental health – but still, build-up happens, especially after 3 years of no dental checkups. What they found was troubling problems on my rear gums, which if left unchecked, would’ve resulted in some painful cavities.
Also, bad things had happened that I didn’t pay attention to, like when I got hit in the jaw by a hard orange ball playing ball hockey. In the moment, it hurt a bit, but I shrugged it off and kept playing (because that’s what hockey players do right?). A few months later, a tooth on my lower jaw started to change colour, slowly becoming darker and darker. It didn’t hurt, so I figured it was just what happens to your teeth when you get old.
Apparently, the impact of the ball severed a nerve in that tooth, meaning the tooth was no longer receiving any nutrients and was dead. Luckily, modern dentistry has invented the root canal to solve this particular problem, which if left untreated would’ve resulted in more painful cavities and potentially infections.
By being proactive, I caught a few problems early and used over $2,500 in dental benefits to get it done.
I love walking. I walk everywhere in Toronto and avoid public transit or driving if I can. However, more walking led to some growing pains, notably in my lower back, knees, and glutes. The naïve me always figured this was what getting old was about.
In my annual physical with my doctor, he referred me to a chiropodist, who quickly assessed I had flat feet and it was twisting both my knees in unhealthy ways. Doing nothing would be fine, but I’d be subject to a knee replacement much later in life. As someone who loves walking, that didn’t sound like an attractive option.
Instead, my chiropodist recommended custom orthotics, which I ordered through her office for $500, again, fully paid for by my benefits. Now my muscles and joints don’t ache and I can actually walk farther before my feet tire out!
Again, with 3 years since being my last checkup, I was afraid that my prescription was out of date and as predicted, it was. I quickly got myself an eye checkup for $100 and a new pair of glasses for $200, all covered.
I get the flu shot every year, but the regulatory environment has changed when it comes to vaccines. For instance, Human-Paploma Virus (HPV) is now being vaccinated for in schools in Ontario, something I did not receive when I was a child. The problem is that adults get charged a whopping $630 to get the shot since it’s considered optional for those over 18. As someone who wants to mitigate any longer term health concerns, I used my benefit plan to pay for the shot.
Probably the best benefit available to me, one that doesn’t require a referral either. As someone who sits at a desk 40 hours a week and plays a high impact sport like squash, my muscles are fairly stiff. By going to my massage therapist, they’ve not only kept my muscular-skeletal health in check, but also given me tips on how to stretch and ensure I’m keeping my body healthy. I get a massage every 6 weeks roughly and have charged back $750 to my benefits in that time.
In 2017 alone, I’ve charged back just under $4800 to my benefit plan, with 100% coverage. The chargebacks have produced some significant personal health benefits, not to mention that I’ve been able to place all those charges on my credit card at 1.5% cashback to claim rewards points while I wait for reimbursement! What better way to take charge of your health than getting paid to use free money that your entitled to?