Wednesday, January 8, 2014

5 Ways to Be More Productive -- And More Relaxed -- In The New Year

Relax -- unlike some articles on productivity, the suggestions below are not meant to help you do more than you’re doing now. Instead, I hope they will help you enjoy your work more, relax more, and open up a little extra free time in the new year.

1.  Know your best times of day for different tasks

Our brains work differently at different times of the day. Figuring out the ideal time to perform a task can make it more enjoyable and lessen the amount of time you spend on it. Most people are more creative in the afternoon or evening. That’s because they're a little fatigued, so their minds tend to wander, which leads to new ideas. For that reason, a first draft, whether of a business memo, a short story, or a legal brief, will flow more easily in the afternoon. In contrast, for most people, the morning is a better time for tasks that require focus and precision. (Interestingly, one study showed this was true even for individuals who reported they were not “morning people.”) So revise that first draft or proofread your near-final document in the morning.

2.  Focus on large blocks of time

Business/self-help guru Tony Robbins once said that most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten. The same thing tends to be true for a week versus a month, particularly when you’re very busy. If your days feel booked to the hilt, setting more daily or even weekly goals will just add stress. Instead, take a few minutes to consider what you can reasonably get done in a month or a year. Let’s say you want to find a new job but have no time to look. Choose one task per month to further that goal. Maybe in Month 1, spend an hour total talking with two people who already have the type of position you want; in Month 2, spend an hour researching ideal companies; in Month 3 update your resume, etc. Will you have a new job at the end of the year? Maybe, maybe not, but you’ll have made substantial progress. As another example, if you’ve wanted for years to write fiction, try setting a goal of writing just 250 words 10 times over the next three months. At the end of that time, you’ll have a 2,500 word short story (which you can then edit in the mornings).   

3.  Schedule important meetings with yourself

There’s an old saying that if you want something done, ask a busy person. If that’s you, schedule time for yourself, even if it’s only once a week or once a month, and treat it like any other important appointment. In other words, if someone wants to set something else at that time, you are not available. (No one needs to your important meeting is with yourself.) What to do in that time? Whatever you need most. Spend half an hour with a cup of tea and plan your next month’s personal goals. Take a walk, meditate, or sneak away to a coffee shop (don’t bring your tea with in that case) to read a book. But do something just for you – not for your boss, your employees, your spouse, your kids, your neighbor….



4.  Expect to be interrupted/frustrated/for things to take longer than you expected

Especially when we’re busy, there's a tendency to schedule everything to the minute. What that really means is we’re assuming all will go smoothly. Every conference call will start and end on time, every software download will finish in the estimated time, and the car will never break down. When does life work that way? It doesn’t. So don’t start the software download when you know you’ll need your computer half an hour later. If you are stuck with back-to-back meetings, leave a half hour somewhere in the day to catch up. For a one p.m. meeting that’s a 30-minute drive away, block out the time from noon on in your calendar. (You still won’t leave until 12:15, but at least you’ll have an extra 15 minutes if the route includes a detour.) This will give you breathing room to still get most things done on time and will ease stress. When the computer crashes, you can say to yourself, “Oh, yes, I knew that could happen. Good thing I I started this at 6 p.m. and I can go grab dinner while it reboots.”

5.  Make your own rules

For a short time, I tried the OHIO system – Only Handle It Once. It sounded great – why waste time, for instance, looking at each e-mail two-three times in a day. On a slow day, responding to each e-mail as it came in saved time and lowered stress. But if I had a day that started with 30 emails and 50 more came in later, it was a different story. If the 1st required me to complete a half hour task in order to respond but wasn’t urgent and the 25th needed an immediate answer that would take five minutes, OHIO was a terrible idea. Not only would I give poor service to the client who sent No. 25, I’d feel extremely stressed while I spent half an hour on a non-urgent task without knowing what those other twenty-four emails required. Someone in another kind of business, though, might find OHIO useful in most circumstances. This shows that, with any rule or idea, including the suggestions above, it’s important to see how it fits your work habits and your life. And, as important, see how you feel as you go through your day. If it works, great. If not, you can make adjustments.

What’s helped you both relax and be productive?

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Lisa M. Lilly is an attorney and the author of Amazon occult best seller The Awakening. Her poems and short fiction have appeared in numerous print and on-line magazines, including Parade of PhantomsStrong Coffee, and Hair Trigger, and a short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. She is currently working on The Awakening, Book II: The Unbelievers.
The Awakening for Kindle: http://amzn.to/pFCcN6

For Nook: http://bit.ly/15bViBm


For Kobo: http://bit.ly/1gTrxdW


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Seven Reasons Reading Stephen King Novels Is Good For You (Favorite Books Post No. 2)

I love to read horror, suspense, mysteries, and thrillers, all books that fall within the category of genre or popular fiction. Probably because I write them as well, it disturbs me that even people who love those types of books at times refer to them as “trash” or feel embarrassed about reading them. I’m not sure where this idea came from. Shirley Jackson wrote horror, and I read her short story The Lottery in honors English class in high school. Perhaps a book needs to be a certain age to be considered “literature.”

So for all those who, like me, love reading books by Stephen King, Sara Paretsky, Mary Higgins Clark, Tess Gerritsen, Dean Koontz and the other similar writers, here are seven reasons to hold your head high while carrying their books onto the airplane:


1. Education: In junior high, I read a romance novel set during the French revolution and another novel based on the life of the Empress Josephine. So began my love of the French language and culture. The historical figures and events I read about gave me a reason to want to know more about them, and I learned French and traveled to Paris later in life. Also, understanding a small amount of French history gave me a larger context regarding the American Revolution, philosophy, and foreign relations that I otherwise would have lacked, as history class in both high school and college left me cold.

2. Empathy: Fiction lets us all step into the shoes of characters who have backgrounds, experiences and attitudes completely different from our own. Reading good genre fiction is an especially effective way to do this. Why? Because we need to truly know and care about the characters for it to matter whether a poisonous fog engulfs them or zombies are banging at the door. For that reason, the best genre writers develop their characters in more depth than do other authors, often taking us right into those characters’ minds and hearts. And in a truly great novel we care about the monster, too. Reread the passages in Frankenstein from the monster’s point of view highlighting his isolation and loneliness. For a somewhat more contemporary example, think of the genetically-engineered antagonist who loves Mickey Mouse and feels unfairly treated in Dean Koontz’s Watchers. Understanding of other political perspectives can be gained, too. I don't expect Dean Koontz's nightmare scenarios to come true, but underneath his fantastical plots are kernels of truth about real life scenarios that can and do occur. His fiction helped me better understand why I may have a totally different view on the topic of gun control from someone who grew up in a rural area and/or someone who has had experiences that create strong reasons to be skeptical of police and government.  

3. Perspective: Most genre books include larger-than-life situations and characters. King's The Stand deals with an apocalypse through plague and, if that's not enough, an epic battle of good and evil among those who are left. Writers like John Sandford and Tess Gerritsen address stories with natural, not supernatural, antagonists, but still usually depict the most extreme types of crimes, such as murders committed by serial killers. Reading about the end of the world can remind us that as stressful as real life can be, most challenges we face are manageable.

4. Support: At the same time, terrible things do happen. Divorce, death, extreme financial hardship. In the midst of trying to cope with real tragedies, it’s often hard to share how we feel with others. Reading about the inner life of a character with similar experiences can help us feel less alone. My parents died within seven weeks of one another due to injuries they sustained when hit by an intoxicated driver. Reading about characters who lost a loved one suddenly or violently helped me understand that the sense of disconnection and anger I felt, and the difficulty moving forward, were not signs I was losing my mind – they were part of the grieving process. It also helped me believe I would get through that time. While the characters I read about were fictional, their feelings and thoughts were so real that I knew the authors had either been through a similar loss or researched the experience. Either way, it reassured me. Talking with real people helped, too, but sometimes I was too overwhelmed to do that.

5. Heroes: Many novels thought of as literary feature unlikeable and deeply flawed or morally ambiguous protagonists. In contrast, genre fiction almost always features a hero – the woman or man who fights the monster, tracks down the killer, sparks a revolution. Why is that important? These characters provide a model for doing the right thing in times of extreme stress. Real life offers some real heroes, but the media are more apt to focus on the antics of dysfunctional politicians and provide a steady stream of warnings and reports about danger and disaster. That type of news is important, too, but we all need heroes to emulate. At a reading for one of her books about the female private eye she created, V.I. Warshawski, Sara Paretsky told about a woman who’d written her who’d lost her mother at a young age. The mother, before dying, told her daughter to read the V.I. books, and that was how she’d know what kind of person to be. Given how I feel about the character (see Why I Love V.I.), I completely understand that.

6. Ethics: The best genre fiction asks more than Whodunnit. It asks questions such as why people take certain actions, what the consequences – intended and unintended – are of those actions, or even how the human race can best move forward. For example, my favorite thriller writer, Gary Braver, examines what a good person would do to get and keep access to the fountain of youth, and how that affects both the individual and the larger world in Elixir. In Gray Matter, Braver examines the ethics and consequences of a medical procedure to enhance children’s intelligence. In The Dead Zone, my favorite King novel, Johnny Smith discovers he can see certain events in the future. This raises questions about his options for taking action, the needs of the one versus the needs of the many, and the ethics and effectiveness of fighting fire with fire. These types of issues can be debated in an ethics class or on Sunday morning TV, but when part of good fiction, ironically, they become more real and compelling.

7. Order: Ayn Rand called what she wrote Romantic Realism – presenting life and human beings as they might be and ought to be. Most of us, when struck with tragedy, struggle with why it occurred and how to cope. Definitive answers are hard to come by. Even wonderful happenings can cause stress if we’re afraid of loss or aren’t sure we can repeat our successes. Good genre fiction, in contrast, offers order and a purpose – in other words, a clear plot and theme. Within a suspenseful and moving story, the types of questions raised in No. 6 above are answered. The conflicts and crises depicted are resolved. Tess Gerritsen’s Maura Isles solves most of her cases and works through some of her personal issues. She still struggles, but progress is made. John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport apprehends the criminal or doesn’t, but we find out what happened and why. For that reason, for me, reading and writing genre fiction is like therapy. At least for the time I’m in that fictional world, everything serves a larger purpose; everything means something.

Happy reading.

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Lisa M. Lilly is the author of Amazon occult best seller The Awakening. Her poems and short fiction have appeared in numerous print and on-line magazines, including Parade of PhantomsStrong Coffee, and Hair Trigger, and a short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. She is currently working on The Awakening, Book II: The Unbelievers.
The Awakening for Kindle: http://amzn.to/pFCcN6

For Nook: http://bit.ly/15bViBm


For Kobo: http://bit.ly/1gTrxdW

Visit Lisa's website:  www.lisalilly.com

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sin, Sex and the Art of Persuasive Writing

My parents used to subscribe to a Catholic magazine with a column for young adults. When I was in high school, I read one of the columns that advised teenagers that the Bible clearly showed pre-marital sex was wrong - just look at the Sixth and Ninth commandments. I didn't remember anything in the Ten Commandments about pre-marital sex. I checked my parents' Bible (no Internet at that time, so I used the index - remember those?). The Sixth Commandment prohibits adultery. The Ninth prohibits coveting "thy neighbor's wife" and his goods (which raises a whole other issue of women being considered possessions, but that's for another post). I concluded, rightly or wrongly, that the Bible didn't say anything about sex before marriage or the author would have quoted it, not fudged. I also viewed every article in that magazine from then on with great skepticism.

That experience illustrates two important facets of persuading people. One is well-known to most lawyers -- that of putting your best argument first. If your first argument is weak, your reader or listener may never get beyond it. The second is credibility. Because I checked the source material and found it didn't say what the article's author claimed it did, I no longer found that author, or the publication, credible. Both lost the opportunity to persuade me not only of that one point, but of anything.

These principles apply to fiction, too. Novelists all are attempting to persuade readers. To do what? To believe in the fictional world the author created and to care about the characters as if they were real people. That's a big part of what's happening, or not, when customers in a bookstore or on-line read the first paragraph or two of a book. That first page either pulls the reader in or it doesn't. While a lot of authors feel frustrated that potential buyers judge a book by reading no more than the first page (assuming they've liked the cover in the first place), most of us do exactly that when we browse books. That's why I rewrite the first page of my novels close to a hundred times before publication.

Credibility also matters. This morning I revised a scene where a woman exits the River City high rise complex and hurries through Chicago's South Loop after dark. A stranger starts to follow her. What I want the reader to wonder at that point is "Who is the stranger? What does he want? Will Sophia reach her office safely?" But if I'd said she was walking through Lincoln Park instead, someone who knows Chicago's neighborhoods well would forget about the story and wonder: "Isn't River City in the South Loop? Does this author know Chicago at all? Doesn't she check Google maps?" With that one error, my reader is no longer persuaded that the scene or the character is real. If I've otherwise done a good job, the reader might forgive me and read on. But if too many errors break the narrative, it becomes more likely the reader won't return to the book.

So there you have it - sin, sex, and persuasive writing. And you thought it was just a catchy title.

------------------------------
Lisa M. Lilly is the author of Amazon occult best seller The Awakening. Her poems and short fiction have appeared in numerous print and on-line magazines, including Parade of PhantomsStrong Coffee, and Hair Trigger, and a short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. She is currently working on The Awakening, Book II: The Unbelievers.
The Awakening for Kindle: http://amzn.to/pFCcN6

For Nook: http://bit.ly/15bViBm


For Kobo: http://bit.ly/1gTrxdW

Visit Lisa's website:  www.lisalilly.com

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Military, Make Up, and Rereading Katniss (Favorite Books Post No. 1)

Recently I reread the Hunger Games trilogy. It was great fun, and the themes seemed particularly timely. (I'll do my best not to spoil any of the plot for those who haven't read the whole trilogy.)

(1) Women in Combat: In the Hunger Games, each combatant (known as a tribute) competes to become the sole survivor. The arena for the games changes from year to year and even within each game. A combatant might face mountains, drought, fire, floods, or all of the above. Author Suzanne Collins does an excellent job of showing how each challenge requires different skills and traits. In one scenario, being a fast swimmer is the most important skill, and brute strength provides little or no advantage. In some parts of the game, a young, small tribute outwits and outmaneuvers larger, stronger and tougher opponents because she's stealthy and quick and can swing from treetop to treetop without being noticed. Knowing what plants can be eaten and having the skill to distinguish between ones that are medicinal and ones that are poisonous also can be vital -- another skill that has nothing to do with strength or size. While The Hunger Games and its sequels are fiction, they raise good questions about what makes someone able to handle combat situations or survive in hostile territory. That seems appropriate at a time when the U.S. is inching toward allowing women in combat positions for the first time.

(2) The Importance of Appearances: Before they compete, tributes undergo a rigorous remake of their images, and those images are vital in getting sponsors. Sponsors are people with money who send tributes things they need to survive during the Games. The boy tributes have style consultants just as the girls do. But the girls are subjected to more intense treatments that generally do nothing to help them in combat. While she's being put through hours of waxing, eyebrow tweezing and skin polishing, Katniss reflects on how her male counterpart, Peeta, has this same time free. He can rest or eat during those hours to build his strength, train longer to hone his skills, or schmooze with potential sponsors. This echoes U.S. culture, though obviously the books present this in a larger and more dramatic way. But studies show that women who wear make up are viewed as more professional than those who don't, leaving women who choose not to use cosmetics at a disadvantage. Then there's wardrobe. For men, the standard business attire is a neutral suit and tie or, for business casual, a long-sleeve shirt and khaki pants. There is no neutral for women. A skirt suit can be too girly, a pants suit too manly, a gray outfit too boring, a fuschia blouse too frivolous. (Think of the 2008 primaries -- no one commented on John McCain's or Barack Obama's pants suits.) My routine is pretty basic, and I still spend about 20 minutes every morning on hair, make up and clothing choices, 20 minutes my male colleagues don't need to spend. That's over 120 hours a year, the equivalent of 2-3 work weeks. I could take a vacation, earn another 3/4 of a month's pay, or finish rewrites on my current novel in that time. Not to mention what cosmetics cost. I spend an average $30 a month on cosmetics and skincare. That's $360 a year, which would buy a plane ticket for that vacation.

(3) Likeability: Much of the preparation of Katniss for the Hunger Games involves making her likeable so she can attract sponsors. Katniss is fierce, stubborn, smart, strong and resourceful. All great qualities for survival, and if she were a boy, particularly a large boy, those qualities would get her sponsors. Everyone likes to bet on a winner. As a girl, though, she needs to project vulnerability, niceness (even to the people who are orchestrating a game whose aim is to kill children), and loveability, regardless whether the boys she competes against project those qualities or whether those qualities in themselves will help her win. This reflects many real women's experiences. Women are generally raised to place a premium on relationships, being nice, and being liked. Indeed, many women report being told by strangers on the street to smile if they look too serious or stern, something I suspect never happens to men. Similarly, when men are demanding bosses, take hardline positions, or grab the spotlight in meetings, these qualities are seen as signs of strength and leadership. Women who exhibit these behaviors are more often seen as too aggressive, and aggression is almost always viewed negatively in women. At the same time, women are instructed that to get ahead, they must adopt male body language (see, for example,
10 Common Body Language Traps for Women in the Workplace) or typically male approaches to business to succeed (see Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office).

The reality is, as in The Hunger Games, different qualities, strategies and skills work for different people at different times. There is no one "right" way to behave in every situation. But because the standard for so long has been based on how men behave, women still struggle either to show how they match the male model or why their approach is just as effective. (For a good book about women, men and leadership, check out Closing the Leadership Gap by Marie C. Wilson.)

As a writer, I aim for my work to entertain and intrigue first. Then I hope that after readers close the book, questions and ideas linger about the conflicts the characters faced and how they reflect the real world. I admire the way Suzanne Collins manages that throughout the Hunger Games books without slowing the story for a second.

What are you favorite thrillers, and how do they reflect the larger world around us?

------------------------------
Lisa M. Lilly is the author of Amazon occult best seller The Awakening. A short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. Her poems and short fiction have appeared in numerous print and on-line magazines, including Parade of PhantomsStrong Coffee, and Hair Trigger. She is currently working on The Awakening, Book II: The Unbelievers.
The Awakening for Kindle: http://amzn.to/pFCcN6

For Nook:  http://bit.ly/15bViBm

For Kobo: http://bit.ly/1gTrxdW

Visit Lisa's website:  www.lisalilly.com

Saturday, October 26, 2013

In Which I Realize I Don't Need To Use The Health Insurance Marketplace (Post No. 6 of Adventures in Health Insurance)

In my continued journey to obtain the private health insurance now available due to The Affordable Care Act/Obamacare, I've been checking the status of my application at https://www.healthcare.gov/. After two weeks, it's still "in progress." I called and easily reached a real person at 1-800-318-2596. Unfortunately, he said there was no way to provide potential plan information until the application finished processing. At the very least, I'd hoped for an overview of the differences between plans so I could consider options while I wait.

Then a wonderful thing happened. I received a flyer from Blue Cross. With all the publicity, good and bad, over the government website, it hadn't occurred to me (and maybe it hasn't to many people) that I didn't need the website. As of 1/1/2014, private insurers can't turn down individual applicants, so why not just apply directly? 

I reached a salesperson within seconds who provided lots of information. Plans are categorized under the AFA/Obamacare as Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum. The main differences are the co-pays and premiums. With a Platinum plan, 100% of covered expenses are paid by the insurer once you hit your deductible. With a Bronze plan, only 60% are paid by the insurer. Platinum has the highest premiums. Different deductibles, out-of-pocket maximum payments, and plan types (such as HMO, PPO) are available for each category. Also, different networks are available. Based on the network that includes my doctor and the hospital where she has admitting privileges, the Blue Cross salesperson suggested five plans. I chose three with high deductibles to keep premiums down. He emailed me a quote within 10 minutes. At the Blue Cross website, I compared them feature-to-feature.

The next day, I called and applied. No past medical information needed, just age, gender, non-smoking, and where I live. (Chicago - I love an excuse to include a photo of Chicago. This is from the shared deck at my condo building.) Pre-Obamacare, it took hours to apply for an individual health insurance policy because it required a detailed health questionnaire and interview. So half an hour on the phone for this application seemed awesome to me, and it would have been quicker if I'd done it on line myself. I should receive confirmation within 7-10 days and will be insured starting 1/1/2014. I may throw a party.

I don't qualify for federal subsidies for premiums, but I could have applied for them if I needed to through Blue Cross. So it appears the only reason to use the government website is to comparison shop. But that can be done the old-fashioned way, by directly contacting different insurers. Once you're familiar with the plans and deductibles based on the first company you contact, you can then get quotes for similar plans from other insurers. As a guide, I've listed the steps I took below, with the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois references.

(1) Explore basics about the Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum plans:

http://www.bcbsil.com/health-insurance-shopping-guide/compare-health-insurance-plans

(2) Check whether your doctor or doctors and hospitals are in the networks the insurer offers: http://provider.bcbs.com/

(3) Call or use website for quotes and to compare plans: 1-866-514-8044 or https://retailweb.hcsc.net/retailshoppingcart/IL/census?plantype=majormedical

(4) Apply by phone or website: 1-866-514-8044 or https://retailweb.hcsc.net/retailshoppingcart/IL/census?plantype=majormedical

Rinse and repeat for other health insurers.

I didn't check other insurers because I've had the Blue Cross PPO before and that's the coverage I wanted. But here are a couple other sites:

http://www.goldenrule.com/health-insurance/ (United Healthcare/Golden Rule)
https://www.humana.com/individual-and-family/products-and-services/medical-plans/ (Humana)

12/5/2013

An addendum because I'm excited -- I just received my Blue Cross card in the mail! (You can tell I'm very excited because I rarely use exclamation points, and I was tempted to include two.) I officially have an individual health insurance policy effective 1/1/14. My account on healthcare.gov still says "in progress," so I'm glad I took matters into my own hands. I have friends who are self-employed in Illinois who applied later than I did through the site. They've obtained coverage options, then bought coverage through the exchange. So I suspect I'm caught in some sort of technology loop. There's a Remove button that I will probably use to try to take myself out of the system. But I'm a little curious to see if it'll stay in the loop forever. Votes on how long I should wait before alleviating healthcare.gov of the burden of my unending application?

------------------------------
Lisa M. Lilly is the author of Amazon occult best seller The Awakening. A short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. Her poems and short fiction have appeared in numerous print and on-line magazines, including Parade of PhantomsStrong Coffee, and Hair Trigger. She is currently working on The Awakening, Book II: The Unbelievers.
The Awakening for Kindle: http://amzn.to/pFCcN6

For Nook: http://bit.ly/15bViBm

Visit her website:  www.lisalilly.com

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

In Which I Probably Applied For Health Insurance (Post No. 5 of Adventures in Health Insurance)

Since my first attempt, I've been periodically checking the Illinois insurance exchange to apply for health insurance coverage under Obamacare (The Affordable Care Act). I'm self-employed and have coverage now through an Illinois program that allowed me to purchase what is basically an extension of COBRA coverage. COBRA, for those not familiar with it, is a law allowing someone covered under a group employer health plan to extend that coverage for 18 months after leaving employment, so long the person pays the premium. After the 18 months, I tried to buy individual health insurance but was turned down by two major carriers due to a pre-existing condition (though it's one that requires no on-going medical treatment). 

I've tried a few times to create an account on the website (link below), which is the first step on the journey to health insurance under Obamacare. On my past 4-5 tries, the system hung up, and I eventually gave up. This time I got through and created an account. I then applied for coverage. At least I think I did. It took a little patience:

Like a lot of government and private company websites, the exchange asks a second or third time for information already provided. The system also has to verify the applicant's identity even after a name and address are filled in, maybe due to duplicate names out there. (I know of at least one other Lisa Lilly who is also an attorney; I keep meaning to call her and say hi.) I was asked a few questions about myself, then was rejected as unverified and given new questions. I suspect the issue was that when asked what previous city I'd lived in, I didn't check Chicago. I live in Chicago now, and my past 2 addresses were Chicago addresses. I read the question as asking what city I'd lived in before living in Chicago. Apparently, the question actually meant what city did I live in when I resided at my previous address. On my second try, I answered Chicago and the system believed I am me and allowed me to move to the next screen.

In addition to a few duplicative and sometimes irrelevant questions (did the government really need to ask me about my previous addresses and my home equity credit line when I'd already provided my social security number?), the process is slowed by processing time after each screen. I recommend multi-tasking, or at least listening to some good music while you're going through it.

All in all, it took about 45 minutes, plus another 10 because I decided to review my info before submitting an application. I thought all my information would appear on one screen or a PDF for review. But, no, reviewing requires going through every single screen again complete with wait time. After reaching the end again and submitting, I got a message that my application was in progress but no information on what happens next. I'd been hoping to check some price quotes, but either I zipped past that or there's no chance to do it until the application is done.

Despite it taking some time, it's a much easier process than applying for an individual policy on the private market. There are no questions about past medical history, past health insurance policies, or past employment.

I did not fill out the questions to determine if I could get assistance making health insurance premium payments. My income from writing and law has been reasonably good during the time I've been self-employed, and I have no dependents. From what I've read, I would not qualify for financial help, so I didn't see any reason to go through the process.

In a day or two, I'll check the website again for the status of my application.  Once again, stay tuned if you'd like to read about the next steps.

Finally, here is the link for the Illinois health insurance exchange if you are looking to buy coverage:  https://www.healthcare.gov/marketplace/individual/#state=illinois  (If you're in another state, you can still use this link. Just choose your own state from the drop down menu.)

------------------------------
Lisa M. Lilly is the author of Amazon occult bestseller The Awakening.  A short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower.  Her poems and short fiction have appeared in numerous print and on-line magazines, including Parade of PhantomsStrong Coffee, and Hair Trigger.  She is currently working on The Awakening, Book II: The Unbelievers.
The Awakening for Kindle: http://bit.ly/15bViBm

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

First Day Trying To Get On The Health Insurance Exchange (Post No. 4 of Adventures in Health Insurance)

This morning I tried to get on the Illinois Health Insurance Exchange. As I talked about in previous posts, I am self-employed as an author and attorney.  I bought health insurance through an Illinois program that allows people to continue their COBRA coverage. I was turned down for individual health insurance, so I'm hoping that through the Exchange I'll have some more options for coverage.

First, I needed to find the exchange. I googled "Illinois Get Covered" because I'd heard on the radio that was the website to check.  That got me to some links for sites with overall information about the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare, but I couldn't find a link to the actual exchange to see what type of coverage is available.  (Note to Illinois -- you might want to make that more obvious.)  So I Googled Illinois Health Insurance Exchange and eventually found my way to this link:  https://www.healthcare.gov/marketplace/individual/#state=illinois

You can choose your state on this homepage from a drop down menu, so this should work no matter what state you're in.  The homepages is Illinois, so I clicked Apply Now.  I got a screen telling me it was very busy now and to please wait for a log in page. I waited. Then I left and ate breakfast, came back, and found the log in screen.

I had to create an ID based on an email address. So, first thing to know is that you'll need an email address, at least to sign up on line. I used my law firm email and created a password. I reached a screen that said I needed to answer three security questions to finish setting up the account. I assume that's to be sure it's me next time I sign in, or in case I lose my password. Unfortunately, the security questions were blank, and nothing showed up in the drop down menus for each question. I clicked Live Chat and got a note thanking me for contacting Live Chat and asking me to wait for someone. I waited for a while, then needed to go to my office, so I closed the window.

I repeated the above process this afternoon (it did not remember my ID or password) and got stuck at the same place. It's been half an hour now that I've been waiting for someone from Live Chat. I tried sending a message explaining the issue but nothing happened.

Since the deadline to buy insurance on the exchange isn't until mid-December, I think that's enough for today. I'll try again later in the week.

Stay tuned.

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Lisa M. Lilly is the author of Amazon occult bestseller The Awakening.  A short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower.  Her poems and short fiction have appeared in numerous print and on-line magazines, including Parade of PhantomsStrong Coffee, and Hair Trigger.  She is currently working on The Awakening, Book II: The Unbelievers.
The Awakening for Kindle: http://bit.ly/15bViBm