January 5, 2004

Why there's been so little blogging lately, and why I'll never complain about Belgian taxes

I've been doing very little blogging, and not very much blog reading, since early September. I realise that this has cost me readers. But, since I've been nominated for a Koufax award, I still seem to have a few readers who like what they saw and want to see more.

So, this is my New Year's resolution: more writing. Also, I feel that everyone is owed at least a bit of an explanation why I sort of had to drop out of cyberspace.

Last August, my wife and I decided to move to Brussels where she works. She had commuting an hour-and-half each way to her job at an international governmental institution that probably prefers to remain nameless. Our salaries are nearly identical, but her quasi-diplomatic status removess the need for her to pay income taxes, while I'm in the roughly 50% tax bracket in high-tax Belgium, so she takes home rougly twice what I do.

My wife and I have an understanding which dates back to when we first shacked up: the one who makes the most money gets to decide on the big capital expenditures. This explains why my wife has always made most of the decisions. She gets to be closer to her job than I do.

Unfortunately, Belgian leases require three months notice from the first of the next month, so we could not move until the end of November. But, no one will show you an apartment in Belgium unless you're willing to move in the next couple of weeks. So, there was a long period of uncertainty about where we would be living, during which we had to make a trip back to the US because of sudden health problems in my wife's family. At this same time, I had a lot of pressure to write a grant application for my firm, a request for a quite large grant. Also, at the beginning of October, I resumed my Chinese and Russian studies in the evening. Between apartment hunting, the trip to the States, school and my job, I was already somewhat pressed.

We found an apartment in early November, but the entire move took some three weeks and involved scheduling cleaners, getting movers and dealing with my #$#%$#% ex-landlord, who I am still too angry at to want to talk about. During this period, my home computer was cut off and I only had access from work, where I have other responsibilities. Furthermore, once we had established a cable internet connection from the new apartment, the monitor on my workstation ceased to talk to my monitor. I had some idea why it would do that - it has to do with keeping Sun hardware at home insteadof a PC - but there was no way to fix it except by borrowing a Sun monitor from work, which didn't happen until December 23rd. Also, moving to Brussels has turned my neat 25 minute commute to work into a 75 minute trek to and from work each morning. That too, has taken a lot out of me and I'm not quite used to it yet. We still haven't got a complete set of furniture, and I'm expecting to make one more trip to IKEA to get a load of stuff delivered. It's been over a month, and I'm still not fully moved in.

But that's not quite all.

Last year, once both of us had found jobs, my wife and I decided to try to have a baby. Neither of us are terribly young, and my wife is somewhat older than me, so after a year of trying, we decided to go straight to a doctor. Leuven, where we were living until November, is apparently a major centre for fertility medicine. There were several months of appointments and tests and early in December, shortly after the move, we got the bad news. We both suffer from substantially diminished fertility. There are several reasons, no one of which would be a huge problem by itself, but together lower our chances of having children quite sharply.

I guess the most annoying thing is finding out that I didn't really have to put up with all those condoms. At any rate, considering our ages, the fertility clinic in Leuven has recommended we do IVF rather than trying persistence and patience.

That is what has been going on with me lately, and it's why I've been off-line. It's a bit more personal that the stuff I usually blog, but I do want to repay my readers with the knowledge that I do appreciate their readership, and that my near disappearance - both from my own blog and everyone else's - has been motivated by other events. After Christmas, I had hopes for an active week of blogging, but I really needed a week without any responsibilities.

It took me until last Saturday to reconnect my computer to the web, and all my e-mail at my home address from mid-November until this weekend is gone. My ISP must have deleted it because I didn't log in often enough, I guess. So, if you've tried to contact me recently and failed, I apologise and welcome you to try again.

Now: Why I will never, ever, ever complain about Belgian taxes.

IVF is expensive. In the US, it generally hovers around $10,000 for a course of treatment. Medicine is much cheaper in Belgium, even if you don't take state subsidies into account, but it still comes to a ballpark figure of €3,000 for each fertilisation cycle, with a success rate of no more than 40% for each cycle. This is simply beyond our means.

However, as far as I know, there is only one nation in the entire world where IVF is covered by national health insurance. Just one. In Belgium, since July 1, 2003, IVF is covered by your employer-paid mutual medical insurance, for up to six fertilisation cycles, and only for women under the age of 43. So, I will be spending the next year whacking off into specimen jars, trying to have a medically assisted pregnancy. My wife will be doing most of the unpleasant stuff, so I guess I can't complain.

That is what my taxes are buying me, and I'm happy to pay them.

Posted 2004/01/05 22:52 (Mon) | TrackBack

I haven't followed this story too closely, but I was under the impression the UK recently began incorporating IVF treatments (for women under 40) into the NHS, too. (cf., http://www.itv.com/news/379501.html; http://www.shropshirestar.com/cgi-bin/artman/exec/view.cgi?archive=5&num=9812)

Posted by: Brad at January 7, 2004 19:21

there is only one nation in the entire world where IVF is covered by national health insurance.

I think a few (3-4) states in the US require health insurance to completely cover IVF. Another 10 or so have partial coverage.

Posted by: Zack at January 8, 2004 5:50

Well a Happy New Year from those of us who suffer under one of the most punitive, confiscatory and tortuously bureaucratic tax systems in the world. Good luck.

Posted by: JC at January 9, 2004 14:24

Hmm, I thought you were quite a bit younger than me, but perhaps not.

We went through the same process here in Los Angeles about 4 years ago, and we saved a lot of money by buying pharmaceuticals outside the US (UK, ordered via fax, from a pharmacy recommended by our reproductive endocrinologist, as we didn't feel our Spanish skills were up to shopping in Mexican pharmacies). It turned out that several of the hormones were manufactured in Italy, whether bought from the UK or in the US, but the price was much higher here. The pharmaceutical bill was still nearly equal to the physicians' bills, partly because our doctor offered a "pay for 2 tries up front" discount. There's definitely a hint of gambling about the whole thing; we won on our second try, making the discount a good deal.

Now, my employer's new health plan supposedly covers IVF, so we are trying to decide whether or not we're too old and too busy to go through it all again, at much less out of pocket expense this time.

Oh, and if they recommend that your wife avoid stress around the time of egg retrieval and implantation, take it seriously. We were in the middle of house hunting, escrow, and moving the first time around, which may be why it took two tries.

Along the lines of "the one who makes the most money gets to decide on the big capital expenditures", does the one who suffers through multiple injections daily for months get to name the baby, too? My wife says she can vastly improve on the traditional "I suffered through pregnancy for you" guilt trip to our son, when he reaches adolesence.

Posted by: Jeremy Leader at January 16, 2004 21:04

It's teribble when you find out that can't have children... I'm sorry for that...

Posted by: Los Angeles at October 17, 2005 20:13
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