Denied Health Insurance as an Entrepreneur or How a Fractured Elbow Got Me Denied

I wrote last week about the difficulties of finding reasonable health insurance as an individual, one of the pains of entrepreneurship. An even larger problem to overcome once you’ve found the right health insurance maybe overcoming being denied health insurance as an entrepreneur.

Denied Health Insurance

Turns out having a fractured elbow, even after it’s all healed, can be a real problem for future health insurance applications. I recently applied to Optima Health, a regional non-profit with decent reviews (despite being #133 on Consumer Reports, it’s the best-rated available in Virginia for a PPO). I was subsequently denied health insurance by Optima. Turns out I was rejected due to a “Broken Elbow” which occurred way back in July, 2011 and has since fully recovered (confirmed by an orthopedic doctor). I even managed to fracture it while in Ireland which made for an interesting trip down Ireland’s healthcare system.

Did Your Know Dental Tourism is a $60 Billion Industry?

Did you know that 26% of 18 to 64-year-old self-employed people are uninsured in the US?

Did you also know that a root canal can cost upwards of $1,400 per-tooth?

Not to mention a crown for that root canal is around $1,500? Add-in X-rays and other miscellaneous work and you’re looking at over $6,000 for a pair of emergency root canals.

I found out how that works just recently.

Fortunately, I was still partly covered by employer insurance and COBRA, but that was only up to $1,000 of coverage for the year which was quickly eaten-up. It’s loads of fun to have a monster tooth-ache on Christmas and rush into your dentist the day-after for an emergency pair of root canals due to massive infection.

While I’m still juggling the effects of this health-related bomb, it’s a fun way to start rebuilding a company. Did you know that over 62% of all bankruptcies filed by individuals recently were due to medical expenses according to Harvard?

Considering that in the US, roughly 25% of the population is self-employed, that’s a lot of small businesses going belly-up due to unexpected medical expenses.

And now, I can see why. Get covered and even consider lower cost, income-dependent health clinics, and dental schools in your area.

Going From Cubicle to Entrepreneur with a Real-life MBA

How has 2012 started for you? For me, it’s been quite the upheaval. The year started about 40,000 feet above the Atlantic in an A380 heading to Paris. That, in and of itself, wasn’t exactly much of a change. It was the second time I’d be ringing the New Year in under the Eiffel Tower, but this time was much different.

The End of the Gluten-Free Lifestyle Experiment

I’m done.

I finished my month of being gluten-free (well, to be honest, I went 29 days – a grocery issue on the last day caused me to cut it).  The very first day that I went back to eating barley, wheat, and rye based products I loaded-up on a hefty bowl of Post’s Shredded Wheat; exactly the opposite of what I told myself I’d do.  I told myself I’d have a simple meal with just a bit of gluten in it (maybe some crackers, or a wheat-thickened sauce).  Nope, I went full-on gluten.  I was worried I’d feel sick after completely removing something from my diet and then adding it back in a month later in large amounts.

What Happens After Not Eating Gluten?

Turns out, no problem.  I felt fine after the cereal and even had a bagel sandwich later that day.  Really, I didn’t feel much different aside from a bit more energy (I would assume from the carbs).  In summary, it didn’t seem that swapping to gluten-free did much good for me, at least from an apparent, subjective point of view during a month-long period.  I lost about 5lbs of weight (from a 6′ 180lb frame), but that could be mostly attributed to a reduction in consumption due to frustration in finding gluten-free foods.  It wasn’t as difficult as I might have guessed it would be.  I periodically missed bread (especially with someone sitting across from at a restaurant chowing down on the free rolls), but the only true difficulty was wading through the ingredient lists on just about everything before committing to a purchase.

All-in-all, I’d recommend giving it a shot if you think you have some of the more prevalent symptoms, but don’t expect a whole-new-you unless you happen to be gluten-intolerant or have Celiac disease.

➤ Read gluten-free experiment series

Betty Crocker Gluten-Free Brownies Review (GF Experiment)

I am a big fan of brownies. Love ’em. So when it came time to experiment with desert during my gluten-free experiment, the first thing I did was hunt down a brownie mix that was GF. I came across Betty Crocker gluten-free brownies.

It wasn’t exactly a cakewalk finding gluten-free brownies at a restaurant.

Betty Crocker Gluten-Free Brownies

I’d have loved to find a higher quality version, but I settled for the Betty Crocker mix from my local Harris Teeter.

Mix Ingredients

The first thing I noticed on the box was rice flour. Rice in my brownie mix? That sounds like a disaster coming, even for a gluten-free brownie mix!

I think that the key difference between good brownies and bad is in their texture.

This is sort of the point of gluten, so I worried that most gluten-free brownies would be sort of grainy. 

I was concerned that these gluten-free brownies would taste more like cardboard than brownies. I’ve had plenty of experiences with gluten-free foods to know this happens.

The most surprising part of the gluten-free brownies was the ingredients:

Sugar, semi-sweet chocolate chips (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla), cocoa processed with alkali, rice flour, potato starch, corn starch, xanthan gum, salt. Contains soy ingredients.

The rice flour does not necessarily make something awful.  All things considered, the ingredient list was fairly short and none-too-scary as well.

Final Review

I was surprised to find that these gluten-free brownies turned out to be quite good!

Preparation was not any different than your normal box brownies (tip: don’t forget to melt the butter, whoops), and cooking time was about the same.

They may not be quite as good as flour-less chocolate cake at a killer local restaurant, but they’re certainly an excellent gluten-free dessert!

Don’t hesitate to give the Betty Crocker gluten-free brownies mix a try!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

➤ Read gluten-free experiment series

Is Gluten-Free Just an Expensive Corn Overload?

I’m coasting past a week and a half of gluten-free eating.

The Cost of Eating Gluten-Free

My Wegman’s bill last night was just over $80 for what would normally be a typical weekly grocery shopping trip at my local Harris Teeter for about $40. Despite Wegman’s lower prices on most goods, my bill just about doubled. Why might you ask? Small box of corn pasta: $6. Gluten-free, steel-cut oats? $5. Not only are the specialty gluten-free goods exceptionally expensive, but other things that you would guess would be gluten-free (dressing? corn cereals?) typically like to stuff some extra tasty malt, barley flavoring, or wheat protein in. That means you’ll be shopping in the natural or organic sections for just about everything, if you haven’t been convinced to do so already. Alright, it’s expensive. You should have guessed that. What else?

Trade Wheat Gluten for Corn

Dawson tested a strand of my hair: 69 percent of the carbon came from corn. This may seem high, but it is typical for Americans. [source]

69% corn and that’s without going gluten-free. Sure, hopefully that number has gone down a bit over the past few years (the study was done in 2007) as the public has become more weary of high-fructose corn syrup and lots of other corn-based unnatural products; but what happens when corn becomes the grain-star of your diet?

I like bread. I like pasta. I like crackers. Before this experiment, I’ve generally eaten pretty healthy wheat products: Arnold’s double-fiber wheat bread, whole-grain wheat pasta, tasty wheat, garden-vegetable crackers. Those are all gone now though. Want to replace bread? Have a nice corn-based clump of bread-like substance. Your cracker replacement is covered with some tasty corn chips and your pasta can be replaced with that somewhat odd smelling corn-based stuff. Sure, there’s alternatives to the alternatives but the point is that going gluten-free puts an even further emphasis on corn in your diet.

Be weary. My stomach hurts.

➤ Read gluten-free experiment series

30 Days to Gluten-Free Experiment

Day 4

I am on my fourth day of no gluten in my diet (though I may have made a few minor slips already).  After reading a chapter of a book posted by one of my favorite authors, I decided why not give it a shot.  I happen to have a number of family and friends who have celiac disease which basically means gluten intolerant folks are all around me anyhow.  That means I won’t have to cook all the goodies myself and lots of people I interact with already have an idea of what gluten is.

What is Gluten?

You probably already know that gluten is a protein found most commonly in barley, wheat, and rye.  You probably don’t know that it is in just about…everything.  You’d be surprised to find wheat in your ketchup and some form of gluten in practically anything that is processed.  Corn cereals (think Kellog’s Corn Flakes)? Sorry, “malt flavorings” will ruin your day.  The real difficulty isn’t skipping the bun on your hamburger (as painful as that is) but in reading the individual ingredients that make up anything you want to put in your mouth.  Good luck at a restaurant.

Why all the hub-bub then? From Mr. Robb Wolf:

Let me be crystal clear about this: Anything that damages the gut lining (including bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections, as well as alcohol, grains, legumes, and dairy) can predispose one to autoimmunity, multiple chemical sensitivities, and allergies to otherwise benign foods.

Gluten Risks

Ok, so that’s kind of scary.  Cutting out grains is tough enough – but dairy, legumes…alcohol (and don’t forget, lots of gluten in beer)?!  Mr. Wolf is pushing towards a Paleo Diet which is several steps further than a simple gluten-free diet.  After doing further research, it seems that most folks that follow the belief that a paleo diet is necessary, including Mr. Wolf, find grains to be one of the largest sources of problems.  One has to start somewhere.  I long extricated soda, lots of processed foods, most high-fructose corn syrup, and less lean animal fats from my diet.  It seems like this might be the next step then.

Mr. Wolf is a proponent of a 30-day diet change and that’s what I’m pushing for.  Removing gluten from my diet could apparently have wide-ranging benefits from reducing indigestion (I have poor digestion genes that are already making themselves apparent) and increasing energy levels, to improving digestion and bringing about better nutrient absorption.  With all those possible positive outcomes, why not give it a shot?  I’ll share with you my findings.

After all, 30 days can’t hurt, right?

➤ Read gluten-free experiment series

Vibram Barefoot Shoes (Running with FiveFingers)

FiveFingers are an athletic shoe created by Vibram. They’re known as Vibram barefoot shoes by many. I’m going to give you my rundown of the pros and cons of these running shoes in this review.

I’ve worn them for several years and have found some problems and some benefits.

Vibram makes rubber soles for a variety of shoe products, and surprisingly, have been around since 1937 – recently hitting their 70th anniversary.  Time Magazine tagged Vibram’s FiveFinger athletic shoes as a best invention in 2007.  

These toe shoes are marketed as a ‘barefoot alternative’; initially towards climbers, sailors, and light-trekkers who love barefoot shoes.  They have since become popular with runners, martial artists, hikers, travelers, and a variety of other adventurers – which is exactly how I found out about them.

What’s Special About FiveFingers?

I originally read about these minimalist running shoes some time ago in a gear related article by Tynan of Life Nomadic.  

I then spotted some odd shoe-socks on Tim Ferris via a YouTube video.

He has since written a more detailed article about his own experiences with the Vibram barefoot shoes.

His article thoroughly explains a variety of the health benefits he has researched regarding barefoot running shoes (or near barefoot running shoes with FiveFingers).  

Wikipedia does a solid job of summing these benefits up:

The shoe is not only supposed to make running more enjoyable but is beneficial for a persons posture, strengthen muscles in the feet and legs, increase range of motion in ankle.

Vibram Barefoot Shoes: Fitness & Benefits

Jenni sporting a pair of Vibram barefoot shoes: the FiveFingers.
Jenni sporting a pair of Vibram barefoot shoes: the FiveFingers.

Before purchasing the FiveFingers, I had been running frequently, maybe three times per week roughly 4 miles per run, in a pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS 8.  

I had purchased these from Kelly’s Running Warehouse just over a year ago for $71.97, at the time, the cheapest price online for those shoes.  

They were a big improvement over what I had been running in, some random pair of old sneakers.  I noticed that the lighter weight and solidly supported sole made for an easier run.

Finding Inexpensive Vibram FiveFingers Deals

After seeing another article pop-up with some YouTube stars sporting Vibram barefoot shoes, I decided it was time for me to go ahead give these things a shot.  

They sounded like they were right up my alley.  

Then I realized they were $74.95, just a few dollars short of the recent running shoe purchase that I had already balked at – and these things certainly did not seem to have as much material to them.

Lucky me, I found the ’08 model on closeout at Travel Country and managed to pick them up for a steal, just $39.95.  

I even talked a friend of mine into a pair.

I went with the Classic and he went with the KSO.  

After returning the original pair pictured above due to a slight sizing problem (they seem to run a bit big and with European sizing only), I ended up with a pair of less attention-grabbing colored Classics that fit properly.  

So how are these Vibram barefoot shoes for actual excursions?

Avoiding Ankle Roles

One of my biggest problems running was an occasional ankle role that would take me down in fairly moderate pain for several minutes, trying to shake the sharp rising sting and tingle off.

FiveFingers offer virtually no support to your foot position and ankle, meaning, the ankle has to do its actual job.

Really, the shoe is often the cause of a rolled ankle as it creates a leveraged platform on uneven terrain.

I also do a fair amount of climbing like near the James River Pipeline Park Walkway outside of Richmond, VA.

I do frequent indoor exercises (check out the 100 Day Burpee Challenge).  

Needless to say, running shoes aren’t the best choice for these activities.

I found them to be a mind-opening experience on any surface that is softer than asphalt.  

It really was amazing to feel all the intricacies of the ground – the small twigs under your feet, the variations in the level of the dirt below, the tiny bumps here and there, the grass softly cushioning your foot-fall.  

It was a different experience than I had imagined.  

Now, I don’t typically run barefoot, had I done that on a normal basis, perhaps my first experience with the FiveFingers would not have been so enlightening.  

Beyond the surreal feel of the earth below your feet, I also found there to be a significant increase in my ability to grip the ground and properly predict how my foot may need to be positioned, my weight balanced, and even how my next push-off should go.  

I certainly am not a ‘professional runner’, but I genuinely did notice these new aspects of each step when using my new freak-feet.

Wearing FiveFingers and the Attention

Yes, freak-feet.

Toe shoes.

These Vibram barefoot shoes are certainly something that will attract attention.  

It’s hard not to notice the eyes following your oddball toe shoe covered feet if you wear them out to run some errands en route to your next run.  The kids at the grocery store will indeed point, smile, and maybe even ask you about them.  

If you like attention, this certainly won’t be a bad thing.  

I have found them to be an interesting topic with the ladies, but not something they particularly like – no surprise here, might not want to wear them to the bar.

Beyond the questionable social aspects, there is a significant ‘breaking-in’ period for your body when wearing these.  Your body has adjusted to accommodate for thickly cushioned shoes and wide flat soles.  This unnaturally forces a step that has an impact at your heel with a roll to your toes.  

Humans were designed to have a more flat, full impact with each step.

The ultimate minimalist running shoe is undoubtedly your naked skin.

Barefoot running involves pushing from the ground with the ball of the foot rather than the heel, foot landing directly under the hips. ‘The force to drive you forward should only be applied after the foot has settled on the ground completely. Striking the ground, especially with the heel, causes trauma and makes the runner susceptible to injury’. It follows that running shoes with heavily padded heels will impede this natural motion. Although there is much research to still be done, there are many studies that suggest that running shoes contribute greatly to the high incidence of injuries among shod runners.

Dr. Gordon Pirie

Barefoot Running and Foot Impact

FiveFingers help move you back into your natural flat impact style running, where most of the impact is spread across your foot rather than at the single point.  

Why not just run barefoot?  

Well, it may be reasonable in a non-urban area, but I live in a city and there is plenty of glass, nails, and other nasty bits that I do not want driven into my foot.  

Vibram barefoot shoes provide a very tough sole that is more like a thick rubber sock than a traditional running shoe sole.  

After just a few weeks of moderate use of my FiveFingers (slowly incorporating them into my runs), I found my feet became adapted to the less cushioned and covered style of running I was used to.

I initially had a very slight amount of heel and toe-ball pain from the higher impacts of the FiveFingers, which even forced me into a different running style that involved a flatter, spread impact with each step.  

I also initially had some light blisters from the rubbing of the FiveFingers due to the lack of socks.

Hole developed on big toe
Hole developed on big toe of FiveFingers

So, a solid 100+ miles and three months later, where do I stand on these FiveFingers?  Well, I have a problem.

Yep, there is a hole above my left shoe’s big toe, as you may have seen in the lead photo.  There’s also some smaller holes on the inside of that same toe, as well as one on the other big toe.  

They have become gradually worse.  I feel I have maintained them quite well, they have only seen the washer once (they are washer compatible) on a light cycle mixed with towels on cold.  

No dryer.  

It seems as the fabric’s ‘knit’ has come apart at the top, perhaps pushed by a light drag across some terrain or from brushing a bit of brush while running.  It appears to be a manufacturing problem with the product as it is appearing on various toes and both shoes.  

I am currently attempting to have them returned to the retailer or if necessary, Vibram.  I hear their warranty service is good, so I will have to hold a final conclusion after I have finished the warranty service procedure.

As a side note, my friend who purchased a pair of the KSOs has had no significant problems with the FiveFingers, likes them quite a bit, and has not had any similar ‘defect’.

As of now, I would say that the Vibram FiveFinger Classic barefoot running shoe offers an excellent bridge to barefoot running.  

They can provide a solid level of protection while also gradually moving you into a barefoot running style.  They have a bit of an initial learning curve, but more than makeup for it with an enlightening experience as you feel the earth below your feet.  

Vibram barefoot shoes like FiveFingers do not create the seesaw-like problem that exists when your solid sole shoe’s weight shifts on an uneven surface causing a rolled ankle.  

No rolled ankles in the months I have used the FiveFingers.  

I imagine I have merely had a one-off poor experience with the manufacturing which will probably be cured.  

Take a look and see if the barefoot running experience might be for you!

Final Thoughts on Vibram Barefoot Shoes

As promised, I’ve updated the post for my final thoughts on Vibram barefoot shoes. I finally received my replacement pair of FiveFingers from after an arduous wait involving many phone calls and far too much time spent rock-hopping in big fat soled trail shoes.  

It took some time coordinating the replacements as apparently Travel Country had to go through Vibram for a replacement authorization before they could send me a replacement directly.  I was told Vibram was having some internal problems that caused some delays though as well.

As a side note, Travel Country had quite good quality customer service albeit a bit slow.  It was nice to be able to reach a native english speaker and not have to navigate through a 10-step phone system to do so.  Once things were straight with Vibram and the authorization (I suppose credit back) was cleared, I received an equivalent replacement set within 3 days.  The replacement set is a slightly newer model, as my original pair were a 2008 closeout.  One of the representatives I spoke with told me he had seen several returns with similar problems.

The construction of the new pair does not seem any bit different from the originals, although the color is just ever-so-slightly different.  I’d been without my FiveFingers for about 2 months and it was great to break into the new pair with some hiking around the Presquile National Wildlife Refuge near Richmond, VA.  

I have since put a solid 20 or so miles on them and have not noticed any of the problems I had seen with the previous pair.  

One thing is for sure: next time I find myself in need of a replacement pair of FiveFingers, I’ll be searching for a quick replacement source, living without them for quite some time certainly reduced my athletic enjoyment.  I will also be keeping my eyes open for closeouts and sales, I could always use an extra set!