Health Care Reform: Open Enrollment Update

Some of you may already be aware, but the deadline to have a January 1 start date for the ACA has been bumped to December 23rd. So, if you need your insurance to start at the beginning of the year, you now have a little over a week longer to get signed up!

However, don’t forget that if you don’t need to have the insurance start immediately, Open Enrollment is going on through March 15th, so call us to schedule your appointment today!

For each month, signing up by the 15th gives you a start date of the 1st of the following month (e.g. If you enroll on February 12th, 2014, your insurance will start March 1st ).

Don’t fret! All of your Health Care Reform answers are just a phone call away with one of our Certified agents.

Blackout Wednesday

Apparently there is a holiday tonight as well, that probably everyone should beware of. Traditionally, the night before Thanksgiving is known as Blackout Wednesday. Tonight is known for people binge drinking because most people do not work on Thanksgiving day, so they spend the previous night drinking excessively.

Make sure to take care tonight driving around, as with heaving drinking usually comes poor decisions, which can lead to drunk driving. Defensive driving and recognizing the signs that someone may be driving impaired can help keep you safe. And of course, if you think someone is drunk driving, call 911 immediately to report them. You could be saving not only their lives, but the lives of others.

  • Taking excessively wide terms
  • Straddling the center lane divide
  • Close calls or actual collision with other objects
  • Weaving
  • Abrupt swerving
  • Excessive/erratic braking/inability to maintain speed
  • Abrupt/illegal turns
  • Drifting into other lanes
  • Signally that is inconsistent with driving actions
  • Inappropriate response to traffic signals/stop signs

If you suspect someone of drunk driving, be sure to keep your distance and be prepared to take evasive action and be sure to report the driver. We at Sweeney & Sweeney are wishing everyone a happy, safe, and fun holiday weekend. However, if an accident should occur, we are always here to help you out with reporting your claims, as well.

DIY Fall Decorations

Fall is definitely in full swing, and what better way is there to celebrate than to come up with some awesome Fall decorations?! We’ve come up with a list of cool, quick, and easy DIY Fall decorations for you to play around with.

Festive candle holders – all you need is some Mod Podge, a jar, and a few pretty leaves from your yard.

Easiest wreath ever – You could use either real or fake leaves for this one, and a cut out from one of those cardboard boxes you haven’t taken out to the recycling yet.

Glitter acorns – Do you have an acorn tree (or one in your neighbourhood) that loves to litter the all over the place? Well, instead of being annoyed by the immense mess, scoop some of them up and add a little glitter for an awesome centerpiece or addition to another Fall piece.

Leaf bowl – Awesome twist on the paper mâché balloon project you did in grade school.

Leaf art – This one I think is best to make the kids do. Have them go out and collect some favourite leaves, press them, then paste them onto some construction paper.

Hope these little projects bring a little extra joy and beauty to your holiday season.

Health Care Reform: Fitting into the Puzzle

Not sure how you fit into the Health Care Reform puzzle? Navigating Health Care Reform can be tricky, but luckily, you have Sweeney & Sweeney Insurance to help you along the way! Contact one of our certified, friendly, and knowledgeable agents today with your questions and concerns. We’re always ready and willing to help!

Q: What is the household income eligibility requirement?

A: Americans with household income of 100% to 400% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) are eligible. For example:

  • 100% FPL- individual $11,490, family of four $23,550
  • 400% FPL- individual $45,960, family of four $94,200.

Q: Do the credit amounts vary by income?

A: It is a sliding scale that comes into effect here. If you fall on the lower end of the FPL percentage spectrum, you can expect more help from the government than someone closer to 400% FPL.

Q: What is the exchange?

A: You can think of the exchange as a marketplace to purchase insurance. Exchanges are new organizations that are being created to provide a more organized and competitive way to purchase health insurance. Consumers can view several options and easily compare rates and coverage details.

Q: Will Agents be participating in the Health Care Reform?

A: Agents and Brokers have the choice to become Certified Health Care Reform Agents, to have the opportunity to better serve our community and help them get the best coverage available.

Q: What if I already have an individual health plan?

A: When the new law comes into effect in January 1, 2014, all current plans will no longer exist. Your options are to either be moved to a plan that is closest to your current plan or you may call Sweeney & Sweeney Insurance to go over your options in the Exchange, as you may qualify for a tax credit.


Fire Safety

A fire could be the best thing to have on those cold days, or during camping trips in summer. Then there are those mishaps that could lead to catching a building on fire. Maybe someone threw an oven mitt on a hot stove top, or perhaps toasting marshmallows using the fireplace was not the best idea. Fire has been a tool since the dawn of man. With that in mind, things that shouldn’t have caught fire seem to be the first things to combust.

In the earlier days of insurance there were accidents like there are today. The difference was that back then insured buildings would have what was called a “Fire Brand”, which was a wooden or metal plaque that showed the building was insured. Another difference was in fire safety. Before there were publicly funded fire brigades, there were multiple brigades competing for business. When an insured building would catch fire, the first brigade to douse it got paid. Resulting in arguments between these fire brigades on who got to put out the fire. Sometimes the building was not insured; in which case a brigade might leave it there for the next brigade to take care of.

That was back in the early 1900’s. We have funded fire brigades, but fire related accidents still happen. In summer there can be wild fires that spread to enormous lengths. Something that California knows all too well. We, as a California insurance service, would like to remind you of the simple truth that fire-related accidents happen. Maybe now is the time to get some homeowners insurance or small business insurance. Contact us at Sweeney & Sweeney Insurance Services to find the perfect insurance for your house or business.

Recipes to Make your Thanksgiving Easier

I know that, at least in my family, it can be a struggle to get everything put together and cooked on Thanksgiving day, with that darn turkey taking up oven space all day. Being able to make up a few awesome side dishes the night before could seriously come in handy. I scrounged up a few tasty recipes that can be ready-to-go come Turkey Day!

Green Beans with Almonds – Especially for the holidays, when everything is already stressful enough, simplicity is key. Just a little fresh garlic, lemon zest, olive oil, and chopped almonds to give his modest side dish some flare.

Bleu  Cheese and Pine Nut Puffs – This is an awesome alternative to tradition dinner rolls.

Herb- and Goat Cheese-Stuffed Mushrooms – Who doesn’t love stuffed mushrooms? These sound extra delicious!

Mashed Potatoes with Savory Thyme Granola –  Personally, I think these would be better without the granola, but everything else about them sound incredible. I just don’t think crunch in my mashed ‘taters sounds very appealing.

Cheesy Garlic Rolls – I don’t know about you, but I don’t think there are two more wonderful things in the world than garlic and cheese. Another awesome twist on traditional dinner rolls.

Swiss Corn Bakes – These are like little quiches of cheesy deliciousness.

Butterhead Salad with Smoky Ranch – The real delight here is the recipe for the ranch. You could toss it with any of your favourite salad ingredients.

Hope these tasty, quick treats help to make your holidays a little less stressful. Pass the recipes around to your guests for some extra help!

Top Holiday-Related Accidents

The holidays are right around the corner! Along with all that merriness, cheer, and celebration can also come accidents. Around the holidays is one of the most accident-prone times as people are distracted and stressed. As I say over and over, knowledge is power, so here is a list of the most common accidents that occur around the holidays, so that you and your loved ones can be aware and prepare.

Did you know that poisonous plants are actually all around right now? Mistletoe, holly berries, poinsettias, Jerusalem cherry, and amaryllis are all dangerous when swallowed. Make sure to keep these away from where pets and children can get ahold of them. If they do get consumed, call poison control immediately.

Electrical fires are also common around this time of year as people try to over-use extension cords. You should use a Ground Fault Interrupter (GFI) to prevent electrical shocks and don’t plug in more than 3 strands of lights into a single extension cord, as a good rule of thumb. Also, keep cords out from underneath rugs, as this is also a common cause of fires.

Open fireplaces can cause trouble if not properly taken care of. Always make sure to have your chimney inspected at the beginning of the season before use; make sure you have a grate or screen in front to keep stray embers inside the fireplace, where they belong; and remember that only one artificial log should be used at a time. And if things do get out of hand, always use a fire extinguisher or sand. NEVER water.

Home cooking fires are also prevalent as there tend to be many things going on at once during the holidays. Take extra care to make sure all things flammable are away from the stove.

Christmas tree fires are most commonly due to a tree being too close to a heat source (i.e. a space heater or fireplace). Also make sure that if you get your tree from a lot, they cut off at least a ¼ inch disk from the bottom of the tree so that your tree will absorb the water.

Home heating fires are one of the most common accidents, especially caused by space heaters. Make sure that they are kept far away from flammable material and always turn it off when you leave the house.

Over 5000 Americans went to the hospital in 2007 for holiday decorating related falls. Make sure you’re using a stable ladder on a level surface and that you have someone there to help spot you should anything go awry.

Here’s hoping you have now been well-armed with information and that your holiday season goes along safely and cheerfully. Happy pre-holidays from everyone here at Sweeney & Sweeney!

Halloween Safety Tips for Parents to Kids

Some of us have kids that are just hitting the age where they want to go out trick-or-treating by themselves. From the parental side of things, this can be a little scary. To help take some of the stress off your mind, try out these little tips.

Make up a set of ground rules. Have a set time when your kids have to be back make sure they know the areas that they’re allowed to go, and where not to go; don’t stray away from your group of friends; etc.

Remind them to stay on the sidewalks,  cross streets only at corners and crosswalks, and double check no cars are coming before crossing.

If your kids don’t already have their own, loan them your cell phone in case of emergency and so they can check in.

If they’re going out after dark, make sure they have glow sticks/necklaces/bracelets or flashlights so that they’re easily visible.

Make sure your kids know what the candy-consumption rules are before heading out, to avoid arguing and upset when they get home with their loot.

Halloween has a tendency to also bring out the crazies, so a refresher lesson in Stranger Danger may be in order.

If your kids have any allergies, remember to send them out with their medicine, just in case they dip into their stash early, and eat the wrong thing.

Even though you’ll still be worrying about your kids the whole time they’re out, try to have fun handing out Halloween candy at home or having a little Halloween get together of your own. We hope these tips help to alleviate some of your fears, and allow everyone to have a happy and safe Halloween, this season!

DIY Halloween Decorations

I’m sure like most of you, I love going to my favourite stores and checking out the new Halloween decorations. Unfortunately, they can often be rather expensive, and I may only be able to find a couple things that are really my taste. This spook season, check out these cool DIY decorations that are totally customizable to your taste and needs.

Scarecrow – With a few scrap pieces of lumber for the body and a ball—or even a balloon—for the head, you can customize your very own lawn ornament to be scary, silly, formal, or down-home; whatever look you want for your home.

Door Wreath – With a simple wire coat hanger formed into a circle, you can pick up a pretty cheap garland from just about anywhere, wrap it around to hide the wire, and add any embellishments you wish for an extra personal touch.

Haunted Hotel Sign – You can pick up an old post and corbel at a reclaimed goods/salvage store and add your own spooky sign. Your choice if you have any vacancies or not …!

Window Silhouettes – Cut out the shape of your choice from some black construction paper, adhere it to your window, and let your figures come alive when the lights come on! For some added effect, create a whole shadow-y scene!

Welcome Mats – If you have some carpet scrap lying around, you can paint a ghostly scene and a message to your visitors. If not, pick up a plain, cheap porch mat, cut out some shapes (i.e. bats, ghosts, cats, barren trees, letters) to stick to the mat, and spray paint over your now-stencils for your very own custom greeting!

Picture Frame Lanterns – Want a cute way to light up the path to your door? Try picking up some cheap picture frames, use some wood glue to form a cube (minus the top and bottom) and then some vellum paper to print some Halloween-tastic pictures and place either real or electric candles on the inside for a fun way to light up the trail to the candy.

Hope you can have fun with some of these and please feel free to share them with us! As always, everyone here at Sweeney & Sweeney hopes you have a fun and safe holiday!

Top 10 ACA Points You Should Know

Are you wondering what the different parts of the ACA really mean? Straight from Blue Shield, here are the top 10 key issues you should know about.

1. Guaranteed Issue – No one will be denied healthcare due to health, age, gender, or other issues including pre-existing conditions.

2. The Individual Mandate – All individuals will be required to have coverage that qualifies as the minimum essential by January 2014, or risk paying a tax penalty.

Ind. Mandate table

3. Grandfathered Plans – People who have healthcare plans that were in effect prior to March 23, 2010, can keep their plans if they want. The only caveat is they are not subject to the ACA’s requirements.

4. New Marketplaces – Marketplaces (Exchanges) have been created as a place for people to explore and compare different health plans. You can access this marketplace directly through brokers and individual carriers just as before.

5. Open Enrollment – This Open Enrollment period began on October 1, 2013 and ends March 31, 2014.

6. Essential Health Benefits – All non-grandfathered plans for individuals and small businesses will include the following 10 categories:

  • Ambulatory patient services
  • Emergency services
  • Hospitalization
  • Maternity and newborn care
  • Mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioural health treatment
  • Prescription drugs
  • Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices
  • Laboratory services
  • Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management
  • Pediatric services, including or and vision care

7. Metal Level Plans – All non-grandfathered health plans offered to individuals and small businesses will be required to provide coverage at a “metal level”—Platinum (90%), Gold (80%), Silver (70%), and Bronze (60%)—based on the actuarial value (E.g. With a gold plan, the Insured pays 20% of health care costs, while the plan covers 80%).

8. Federal Subsidies – Subsidies will be available starting 2014 for those whose annual income is between 134% and 400% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) and who meet the guidelines. Subsidies will help lower the costs of both premiums and out-of-pocket costs. Those who fall less than 134% below the poverty level may be eligible for Medi-Cal. Tax credits will also continue to be available to small businesses with 25 or less full-time equivalent employees to help cover the costs of providing coverage.

9. ACA Taxes – Taxes covering the ACA will start January 1, 2014. Click here for a downloadable copy of the ACA tax fact sheet

10. Play-or-Pay – As of January 1, 2014, the ACA requires companies over a certain size to offer affordable health coverage to full-time employees and their dependents or face paying a penalty if an employee receives federally-subsidized coverage through the Exchange.