We’ve been non-car owners again for a few weeks and members of GoGet car sharing for a month or so. These are my initial impressions.
This is against a background of our car being primarily used for occasional errands, and weekend excursions either locally (to the beach etc) or to regional cities. We also used to use our car for our son’s daily childcare run, but since we moved, his new childcare is in walking distance. I wouldn’t recommend GoGet to anyone who has a daily errand, this review is largely comparing it to having an occasional-use personal car.
Good things compared to car ownership:
- most areas where there is a car at all, there’s more than one. An out-of-action car does not mean “no car use at all until car repaired”
- they take care of on-road costs and insurance. Of course, this is bundled into subscriber fees, but it both flattens them over the year and works out cheaper for our usage. I think in theory they aim for a car for every 10 subscribers or so? We’re on the Frequent member plan, so I guess you could say our on-road costs are $360 a year.
- they take care of repairs. Again, bundled in, but flattened and so on.
- they take care of having a free parking spot by paying the council for guaranteed spots.
- (maybe arguably good) they turn the fleet over far more often than most people I know replace their cars.
Good things compared to car rental:
- the cars are just sitting there, in our case quite close by. You just get online, book, and walk up and take one. You only sign away your life in triplicate once. You don’t have to budget in a trip to the car rental place, a wait in a queue, a briefing on the terms and conditions and an inspection of the car.
- the insurance is reasonable rather than the typical car rental deal with a $3500+ excess unless you pay them 1/2 the rental cost again. With GoGet, if you can wear a $1500 excess it’s built in to the base pricing, or you can pay about $18 per day to bring it down to $300.
- you have to return the car with at least 1/4 of a tank of fuel, which is a lot easier to achieve than the full tank rental companies require.
- both the possibility of hourly bookings and the hour saving in pickup time make them way more useful for errands and so on.
- close to instantaneous bookings, subject to availability, whereas rental companies often struggle with sub-24-hours-notice requests
- Bookings start and finish on the hour. In pathological cases (say you need a car from 1245 to 1315) you pay for two or three hours of use in order to use the car for an hour or so.
- They’re for-profit, presumably this could be done cheaper not-for-profit. This is a bad thing-asterisk though: as I know very well, NFPs don’t magically appear out of thin air. Someone would still have to set up an entire car sharing company except with only a salary to motivate them.
- GoGet’s big thing is “we pay for fuel”. And they do pay in the sense of providing fuel cards, but they also have a 39c per kilometre usage charge for bookings that aren’t a day long booking. 40c per kilometre adds up fast!
In theory the day booking rate (24 hours and 150km free for $68) kicks in as soon as your per-hour spend exceeds the day rate, for most cross-metro trips you’re probably going to nearly hit that.
- (potentially) GoGet does not accept any member who has a major traffic offence in the last 10 years of driving, and all applications for membership are at the discretion of their insurer. This contributes to the cheaper insurance compared to car rental, but it obviously disadvantages people who do have a traffic record or a history of at-fault accidents.
- not an enormous amount of choice wrt make and model, less than many larger rental centres. Really your choice boils down to little-medium-big in whichever make and model are nearby. (For us little == Toyota Yaris, medium == Hyundai i30s and i30 wagons, and big == Hyundai iMax.)
- some contention for them. Our experience is that with weekends, we really need to plan our trip the day before to have a good chance of a single car in Glebe being free over the entire block of time we need, and it’s probably worse in suburbs with less cars (Glebe has at least 10, and Pyrmont and Ultimo another 15 or so). Long weekends are worse because people take them away, and the iMaxes get booked really early most weekends.
- lack of flexibility with end time. That is, if we want to go somewhere and book a car accordingly but then someone invites us to dinner or whatever, we may not be able to stay because the car needs to be back. We haven’t had to try for last-minute use extensions yet, so we don’t know how often we will find that the car has 3 hours free just after our booking.
- if something goes wrong with your booking, they give you a $25 credit on your account, which unless the error is very minor is really not enough. To be fair, they do shift the booking to another car if they can, but on weekends this would be hard, see 6.
- fitting children’s car seats is a pain in the neck.
- their setup has an annoying feature whereby if it is the very first time that you in particular have used a given car in the fleet, the booking needs to take place about 15 minutes before your slot, so that the car can download your access data. Less important once you’ve used the car nearest to you for the first time.
In the medium term, this is likely to be a sufficiently good replacement for our occasional-use car.03.27.12
Liam Hogan tweeted:
Further on rebates for nannies: if they’re a response to family-unfriendly working hours, flexible childcare is solving the wrong problem.
Here’s some systemic problems with childcare as it currently stands that one might hire a nanny as a possible solution to:
availability (strong form) For under 2s in Sydney, you simply might not get a childcare place accessible to you, by your scheduled return to work. Full-stop.
availability (weaker form) You have 2 or 3 children under 5, not uncommon. If you do get childcare places for them all, they (a) start to approach the price of a nanny and (b) are often not at the same daycare centre. So you can add 2 to 3 drop-offs to your commute run, 2 to 3 infection sources to your health problems, and when your children do all end up at the same daycare centre, you can enjoy four to six weeks of emotionally resettling them with the new centre. Or hire a nanny.
commuting in general Family unfriendly work hours are common. Family unfriendly commute hours are even more common: either a really tight schedule where you hope for no breakdowns/signals failures, or just total impossibility of getting to the centre in time. (Or you can have your kids in care near your work, and have them commute with you. Fun for the whole family. Plus you cannot use the centre when you are sick, which is one of the times when you really want to.)
illness I had four bouts of gastro and eight respiratory infections in the four months after my son began daycare. A nanny is an expensive way to avoid this, but that night I considered calling the police because we couldn’t lift him up to feed him? Maybe that’s worth $200 a day to people who can pay to avoid it.
throughout the day contact a privilege of (partial) telecommuters and (partially) at-home business people, and in theory daycare centres allow drop-ins if children are well-settled there and can handle two separations in a day (so, probably not in the first several months of care). For these people, a nanny may be one way of allowing the parent and child to have throughout-the-day contact without the parent needing to be first contact point for the child’s needs.
Now, I fully agree that funding nannies is less good ultimately than, say, free and freely available childcare, predictable work hours, widespread onsite/neighbourhood childcare with liberal allowance for parent drop-in, redesigning work and cities so that 1+ hour commutes aren’t the usual case, or… I don’t even know what you do about the illnesses, because I once saw my 9 month old licking another baby’s face and getting a good licking back. But there’s a raft of reasons why nannies are attractive. We may turn to one after our next child on cost alone. So that’s the context of nannies, for me.03.26.12
I’ve been using Shoeboxed now for long enough to review it, I think.
Problem: as with every adult household, we have lots of incoming documents like bills and super statements and similar, and the high initial overhead on deciding whether and where to store them, plus re-sorting them later and so on has never been something we’ve been on top of. Come tax time, in particular, we were usually opening piles of envelopes and hoping for the best.
In 2007 or 2008 we started scanning and shredding a lot of things, but that still left going through and labelling the scans as a problem, plus when I went on maternity leave in 2010 we didn’t have access to a sheet-feed scanner anymore and got behind and never caught up. Back to the “giant unsorted pile of paper” solution.
There are a few services that accept mail on behalf of people and send scans (Pass the Post, Keeping You Posted) but these tend to be quite expensive if you want them to handle all your mail, and also there’s still a time-critical decision step (scan it or send it to me). It tends to be aimed at travellers or businesses. It was annoying enough though that every few months I hit the search engines and eventually lit on Shoeboxed.
What Shoeboxed does:
- accepts documents either sent by mail (not one at a time, many in a big envelope) to a US or AU postal address, or uploaded
- scans the physical document if any
- does data entry for the major data within (for bills, say, the sender and the total)
- makes them available after logging in on their website
- makes them available over an API to other services like bookkeeping websites
What Shoeboxed doesn’t do:
- directly accept individual physical mail on your behalf (they do have a service where you can get online receipts sent to them, I haven’t used it)
- full OCR of the scanned documents
There’s a very very limited Free plan involving uploading (not mailing) up to 5 documents a month for OCR plus unlimited uploads if you do your own data entry. The next plan up in Australia, which we’re on, is $20 a month, and includes all the features I listed
- overall, it pretty much does what we want: gets paper out of our house and into an easily searchable online form with scans available
- because it isn’t fully OCRed I still have to go through non-bills in order to note what they are, eg, a mail from childcare could be a fee change or a newsletter or a note about illness and if I need to find it in a year I’d have to search on the name and look through them all
- the processing speed on the Lite plan (contents of envelopes appear on the website in 3–5 days) has been a bit annoying on occasion, I’ve found myself scanning really time-critical documents and uploading them
- the processing speed on uploaded scans is great, the data entry is usually done within the hour
- the usage reporting doesn’t incorporate the bonus scans one gets by doing things like signing up for an annual plan, or answering demographic surveys. Very annoying!
For our needs, it’s definitely an improvement over our home-rolled solution. We’re scrambling to get 250 documents to them before our annual purchase bonus expires.03.26.12
On Friday, I was announced as the keynote speaker for Wikimania in Washington DC in July.
We’re proud to announce that Ada Initiative co-founder Mary Gardiner has been chosen to give the opening keynote at Wikimania 2012! Wikimania is the world’s top conference for Wikipedia and related Wikimedia projects, held this year from July 12 – 15 in Washington, D.C. “Mary has been a strong advocate for open source and has worked extensively to elevate the role of women and increase their participation in open source and open culture,” says James Hare, Wikimania 2012 coordinator.
I basked in my glory for all of about two hours before coming down with some horrible illness my toddler picked up at daycare. Talk about crashing to earth.
Anyway, so, I am Wikimania’s keynote! My plan, loosely, is this:
- arrive DC on July 8 or 9
- AdaCamp DC on July 10 and 11
- Wikimania on July 12–14
- (possibly/probably) San Francsico on July 15 onwards, probably departing on the 18th or 19th (due to the dateline, add 2 days for my Sydney arrival)
Since I am unlikely to bring my son, I’m trying to limit my time away and am unlikely to add another city. If I do, it will probably be Montreal (where my sister-in-law lives).
If we know each other and you want to get in touch about meeting up in the States, email me at the usual places. If you’re a journalist wanting to talk to me, email me via the Ada Initiative firstname.lastname@example.org
Background the first: The practical reality of contraception: A guide for men, by Valerie Aurora, about contraception in the US
Background the second: A layperson’s intro to paying for healthcare in Australia which I wrote as specific background to this post.
Things that are the same in Australia
Contraception works the same way! The side-effect risks are the same:
Let’s start with estrogen-based hormonal birth control and health. I know women who get life-threatening blood clots on estrogen birth control (if the clot gets lodged in a blood vessel, effects range from loss of a limb to death). Others have mood swings so bad that their partners threaten to break up with them and their boss calls them into their office to ask why they’re so mean and bitchy all of a sudden. Don’t laugh – losing your partner or your job is serious shit, and many women decide to risk pregnancy and an abortion rather than the certainty of being abandoned and broke. Another side effect is feeling like you’re going to barf, which usually goes away after a few weeks, but not for everyone. More side effects and health problems abound, but those are the ones I know about offhand.
The mechanism is the same:
Now let’s talk failure rates. You have to take the birth control pill every single day, within a few hours of the same time, to get that 98% or 99% effective rate. Big whoop, you may think. I take my blood pressure medicine every day. Usually. Actually, it’s pretty hard, even with those little day-of-the-week labels on the pills.
Those are specific to the combined pill, but there is no special magical Australian version of contraception. Same risks, same side-effects, same administration, same failure rate.
Valerie’s description of providers withholding prescriptions to force a patient to have a pelvic exams is also true here, although they usually aren’t called pelvic exams: they’re called Pap smears, even though the bimanual exam is often performed too. However, they’re done slightly less often: every 2 years in Australia for low-risk women.
I believe doctors and pharmacists in Australia can refuse the prescription and the supply based on personal moral considerations, and that really sucks. However, it doesn’t seem as common except for the (sometimes publicly-funded!) Catholic hospitals, ew. (See Lauredhel’s “Pro-life” Archbishop Hart’s murderous misogyny and Catholic Church says “Thalidomide-analogue cancer trial? No contraceptive advice for you!”)
Things that are different
Very important! Many many many brands of the pill are PBS medications, and cost about $30 for 4 months’ supply, so, getting close to Valerie’s mythical $8 a month mark.
Moreover, other contraceptive mechanisms (except condoms, which probably cost about the same) are cheaper too. For example, in the US I understand that I would be out of pocket at least $500 to have a Mirena IUD. In Australia, I had the insertion performed in a public hospital (being elective, I had to wait about 10 weeks), and bought the device from a pharmacy for $35 as it is a PBS medication. Total cost: $35! Length of contraceptive effectiveness: 5 years! (Downside: needs to be shoved into uterus. However, this is easier to do if you’ve shoved a baby the other way.)
Trouble at the doctor
As in Valerie’s entry, scripts for regular hormonal contraception do need to be re-done once a year or so, and given the side-effect profile of the Pill, I can see why. (If your blood pressure is up, you probably won’t notice, but you should be off the Pill.) At least in major metro areas, getting a non-essential appointment to get a script re-issued seems less of a pain though: a few days notice and your clinic will get you in for the required 15 minutes. Also, most doctors will prescribe the Pill to a brand-new patient after a short verbal medical history (at least, if you mention a Pap smear within the last two years) and a blood pressure check, so you can pop into a bulk billing clinic if you have one handy.
In addition, very recent law changes apparently will allow pharmacists to directly supply a small amount of contraceptives (and blood pressure meds) to patients to tide them over to their next doctor’s appointment. (I heard this on the radio, so, sadly, no citation.)
Trouble at the pharmacy
Like other meds in Australia, this just isn’t as much of a pain. The PBS contribution, if any (Nuvaring isn’t covered, say), goes on before you ever go anywhere near the pharmacy, you pay the remainder yourself usually. So the fighting with one’s insurer step is gone. Moreover, while pharmacies do only fill scripts towards the end of the previous supply, the “towards the end” test is more generous: you have two to three weeks at least.
I think Australia really wins here, especially on cost.03.8.12
I wanted to write a comparison post to Valerie’s The practical reality of contraception: A guide for men about the Australian equivalents. However, I realised a background in the Australian healthcare system might be needed. Hence this post.
Caution: I am not a medical professional or health administrator. There are plenty of details of healthcare payment in Australia I am blissfully unaware of. This is a guide to what it is like to pay for healthcare in Australia as a relatively healthy younger woman.
In Australia, many people in cities can see doctors mostly for free, and get free hospital treatment and pretty cheap pharmaceuticals. Yay. It isn’t the magical land of totally free though. Boo.
Australia has government funded healthcare, called Medicare. Medicare is available to all Australian citizens and permanent residents living in the country. It is funded through the Medicare levy, a federal tax applied to people on moderate incomes and up.
To prove your eligibility for Medicare you have a Medicare card listing your name (often families are combined onto one card of which each adult gets a copy). In the absense of this card Medicare can verify coverage directly to health care services, I believe, but that’s more hassle. Most people carry their Medicare card in their wallet.
Medicare pays for medical services: that is, (a fixed amount of) doctors’ fees and, for public hospitals, other costs associated with hospitalisation. That is, in Australia, you can for most conditions go to a public hospital, be admitted, and be operated on, x-rayed, diagnosed, etc, for free. Hooray!
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
The PBS provides government subsidised pharmaceuticals to Medicare card holders. Basically, almost all common drugs are bought in huge numbers by the government at agreed prices and then sold in pharmacies to patients. No matter what the government paid, the patient will pay something in the order of $20 to $50 for PBS medication. Low income people can obtain a health care card entitling them to medication prices on the order of $5 or so.
Private health insurers (see below) may provide partial reimbursements for some non-PBS drugs.
People who have unusual drug needs (for example, some types of chemotherapy and painkillers, or a drug for which there are several PBS alternatives that for some reason you personally can’t take) can still end up paying huge amounts for medications.
Bulk billing, private billing, and gaps
Doctors’ fees are an important thing to understand here. A doctor in a public hosptial will bill the government for their fixed fee only (or rather, the hospital will bill the government, and pay the doctor a salary). A doctor working outside a public hospital has a choice, they can bulk bill, which is the jargon for billing the government directly, and which from the point of view of the patient is a free consultation. Or they can privately bill, and they can bill any fee they like. The patient can claim the fixed government contribution from Medicare. The difference between the doctor’s bill and the government scheduled fee is called a gap (not a “co-pay”, that’s American jargon) and it is often paid by the patient themselves, especially if the doctor was seen in their own clinic rather than in a private hospital.
The same can be true of other medical services like X-Rays and scans, or blood tests. There are some practitioners or clinics that bulk bill and some that don’t.
There are also some procedures that Medicare flat-out doesn’t cover. I mostly encounter this with unusual blood tests.
Availability of bulk billing
As above, public hospitals do it, and there are a lot of public hospitals. For non-emergency treatment or care for which there is contention, such as childbirth, the hospital usually has a defined catchment area, and will only treat in-area patients. So you have an assigned hospital, essentially, that will admit you and treat you under Medicare.
Outside hospitals, in major metropolitan areas it is often possible to find bulk-billing general practitioners, and, in some specialties, even bulk-billing specialists with their own practice. (This can have downsides such as shorter appointments or high practitioner turnover, but some private billing clinics have these problems too!) In smaller cities and regional and rural areas on the other hand, there is usually a shortage of medical practitioners and private billing can be near-universal. And underserved specialties often have near-universal enormous gap fees for out-of-hospital consultations.
There is some protection against enormous gaps. Some private insurers (below) have some coverage, and the Medicare Safety Net starts paying part of many gaps after you spend about $500 in a year on gaps.
Now, there is private health insurance, which you take out in addition to (not instead of) Medicare. What this gets you is:
- coverage of many expenses associated with choosing a private hospital (accommodation, operating theatre fees) and so on, and on some policies partial coverage of the gap amount on the doctors who treated you at the hospital
- coverage of some non- or partly-Medicare covered expenses, like dental, optical and physiotherapy fees (for example, Medicare covers eye exams to prescribe glasses, but not the actual glasses themselves), the jargon for that here is extras cover
- coverage of ambulance expenses in states where the state government doesn’t pay for them (NSW is one of the states where you pay for your own ambulance)
- coverage of a (usually pretty limited) range of non-PBS drugs
You can usually buy pieces of this too: eg, just hospital, or just ambulance.
As an indication as regards cost, private premiums presently start at about $150 for a family for a month, and a super-kickarse policy with huge yearly limits on extras and private obstetric care (this, psychiatric care and dialysis are often excluded from cheap policies) included starts around $350 a month for a family with adults my age. They actually have to get the federal government to approve their rate of premium rises.
Employers sometimes, but by no means always, offer private health cover. It’s usually a benefit associated with US-owned companies. (Google presently pays for my family’s private cover.) It’s not a tax-exempt benefit.
Why use the private system?
Here, the private system is anything where the patient may be billed. This includes:
- being admitted to a public hospital as a private patient, which is a choice they offer you, and the hospital bills you/your private insurer rather than Medicare
- being admitted to a privately funded hospital
- seeing a doctor or visiting a clinic that does not bulk bill
One major reason is that, as above, out of a hospital you simply may not have a local bulk billing practitioner. Or, if you are wealthy, you might, but you may have a personal preference for a particular practitioner who doesn’t bulk bill.
The other is to avoid the downsides of the public system:
- for some treatments, especially elective surgery (tangent, in Australian medical jargon, that means all surgery that isn’t urgent, it does not only mean “surgery for which there isn’t a medical need”) public hospitals may have long waiting lists, whereas you could get your treatment more swiftly in the private system, which may be considerably more pleasant for you!
- in the public system, you are not entitled to a choice of doctor. You get treated by the rostered doctor (often a registrar, ie, specialist-in-training in the appropriate specialty). In the private system (including a privately-paying patient in a public hospital) you appoint your doctor.
- public hospitals tend to have a lower standard of accommodation than private ones, ie, shared rooms, less light in rooms and similar. So, a class thing.
- quite a number of public hosptials are actually Catholic, and refuse proscribed services like abortion, tubal ligation, and prescribing or supplying contraception (whether publicly funded hospitals should be allowed to do this is an interesting question, but not really live, politically). Mind you, so are a lot of private ones, but since you can go to a private hospital of your choice, you can choose a non-Catholic one, and you may not be able to in the public system.
Nevertheless, as you can imagine, Medicare coverage suffices for many Australians even if they can afford private premiums. There are a couple of financial carrots and sticks used to encourage taking it up and, in theory, reduce the cost burden on Medicare.
Further reading: the Medicare levy surcharge tax on wealthy people who don’t take up private insurance, and lifetime health cover premiums in which your premium is locked to the age that you first bought private insurance at.
Comparisons with the US system
Improvements on the US system, based on my (very imperfect!) understanding of that system:
- the most obvious one is that when you lose your job you do not lose Medicare coverage if you are unemployed, or earn too much money, or earn it the wrong way, or are too old, too young, too healthy or too sick.
- likewise, you cannot end up with a health history that makes it impossible for you to be insured: private insurers cannot, by law, discriminate on anything other than age (higher age is higher premiums) or medical history, and the only permissable medical history discrimination is that they can (and always do) refuse to pay for treatment related to a “pre-existing condition” for the first 12 months of cover. Medicare does not discriminate other than on nationality and visa status.
- insurers don’t get involved in the details of your medical decisions. It’s fairly plain when something is covered and when it isn’t. There seems to be far fewer problems with “and then I presented my script in a month with a blue moon and it turns out that clause 197c2 subsection b means that I now pay for my medication myself this year”. Generally you and your treating professional make a decision, stuff happens, and Medicare, PBS and you collectively pay the same amount for it no matter who billed what when and who sacrificed which mammal to the gods.
- even privately billed stuff seems cheaper, probably because the giant single-payer forces all the prices down, and the fact that for things that Medicare doesn’t cover, you tend to see the entire bill, which seems to be more price transparency than the US has.
As a price difference example, Valerie states that she had a USD 40 co-pay on Nuvaring. Nuvaring is not a PBS medication here and my private insurer didn’t cover it either. But I paid AUD 30 a month for it and that was the entire cost, not just a portion of it.