Monday, September 23, 2013

Math and Science

One of the benefits offered at my job is a program through which you can set aside a sum to reimburse yourself for medical expenses using magical pre-tax dollars. The total amount is spread over the year and deducted monthly from your salary, but you can be reimbursed as the expenses come along, whenever that may be. At one point, this thing was referred to as "the cafeteria plan" which made no sense to me at all. There is some more sensible name for it now, but I can never remember what it is. You probably know, though, so if you want to back to the first sentence and just insert the name of the thing after the ninth word, it'll save you a whole paragraph's worth of time.

Generally, I've opted out, feeling that my comparatively small expenses did not merit the hassle of the reimbursement paperwork. Last year, on the contrary, I set aside $5000 for the dreaded gum surgery (which, sadly, was not the actual cost of the procedure, but the maximum allowable for the pre-tax program). There was just the one (enormous) receipt to submit, so there was no hassle per se, unless by "hassle" you mean having $5000 deducted slowly and painfully from your paycheck over the course of a year. Also, gum surgery. All this to say, it required very little in the way of organizational skills on my part.

This year, even without the specter of ruinously costly non-insured procedures on the horizon, I decided it would be an intelligent, grown-up thing to put a smallish sum into the program so that I might save money on my escalating co-pays and prescriptions and supplements and the like. Were I a different sort of person, I would have "done the math" or "crunched the numbers" and produced an actual dollar figure of the resulting savings. I regret to say that I don't even know how to determine the numbers that would be required to build that equation. I view taxes vaguely as a "thing that happens" and, except for the moment I read at my annual hire letter and briefly fantasize about my illusory wealth, I try not to ever look at or, really, contemplate in any way my gross salary. I think it's for the best. So, let's say that this whole pre-tax thing means I save an amount that I roughly estimate to be "some money."

I'm on board with this idea, but out of practice with the logistics. Last week, I bought some allergy medicine at the pharmacy and only at the last minute did I remember not to toss the receipt in the recycling bin. I was prouder of myself for this than I am comfortable admitting. Having rescued it, I did what one should always do with important receipts one does not wish to misplace: I put it on top of the toaster oven. Obviously. The idea was that I would pluck it from this highly visible spot on my way to work one morning and take it to the office, where I could put it in a sensible folder called "medical receipts." And I would have done just that. Eventually. Meanwhile, I made some toast.

Do you remember that project from kindergarten where you put bits of crayon between two pieces of wax paper and then the teacher ironed them, making a kind of melty abstract piece of art? Well, it turns out that placing a receipt on top of a toaster oven, and then turning that toaster oven on, produces much the same effect. A bit more somber in tone, perhaps, due to the monochromatic nature of the source media, but similar nonetheless. The top is still legible, so you can see where I spent the money, but neither on what nor how much. Instead, I now have what appears to be a very small rorschach test, enigmatically entitled "Pharmaca."

I suspect this will not be admissible for reimbursement, but, if I whip up a little artist's statement, maybe I can sell it to a gallery.