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How to Deal With Flooding Disasters; Is Medical Tourism a Smart Alternative?; How to Get Your Foot in the Door for a New Job; Holiday Shopping in September

Aired September 26, 2009 - 09:30   ET


GERRI WILLIS, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Gerri Willis. This is YOUR BOTTOM LINE, the show that saves you money.

Medical tourism, it could save your money and your life, but is it ever a smart alternative? Then, the state of your job, with so few openings, we'll tell you how to make sure it's your foot that gets in the door. Plus holiday shopping in September. Well, you better believe it. We'll show you how to cut back now so that you can afford all that gift giving for your family and friends. YOUR BOTTOM LINE starts right now.

Well, it's a story we've been talking and talking and talking about. Over the top, overdraft fees and now there is action. Change is coming to a couple of America's biggest banks, change that could keep you more in the black rather than in the red.

Amid a backlash against bank policies, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase are cutting back on overdraft fees, overhauling checking account options. You'll now have the option of refusing overdraft protection and they'll limit fees if you do overdraw. We'll see if any of the other banks follow B of A and Chase.

Rising unemployment in part led the U.S. credit card charge-off rate to a record high in august. This index which, according to Moody's, now stands at 11.5 percent, measures credit card loans that banks do not expect to be repaid.

And consumer protections were scaled back in a draft of a bill that could create the consumer financial protection agency. The financial crisis sparked the idea for the agency to make financial products safer for all of us. Advocates say such an agency could have prevented the subprime mortgage crisis and the resulting financial meltdown. We'll stay on top of the developments and bring them to you, right to you here on CNN and

Now, wherever you are in the country, you had to see the deadly flooding in Georgia and wonder what if this happened in my backyard? It's likely been a concern for most homeowners until now. We're going to give you all the tools you need to deal with this type of disaster. Bruce McMullen is with the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes.

Welcome, Bruce. Great to see you.

BRUCE MCMULLEN, FEDERAL ALLIANCE FOR SAFE HOMES: Thanks for having us. We always enjoy being here. WILLIS: Well, I really want to drill down on this, because it's been a horrible disaster, some $250 million in damages. You know, some people have actually died in this. You were there. But, you say this is now a very dangerous time, as people go back into their homes. What do they need to know?

MCMULLEN: They need to know about safety. The first thing that we see, people are really worn out, stressed out, and overwhelmed with what's happened to them so they need to pay close attention. When you go back to your home, make sure the power is turned off, make sure that any gas, natural gas or otherwise is not in the house. The other thing to be important is the water. It's toxic, quite frankly.


MCMULLEN: So, you need to be aware of that as you try to remove it out of your household.

WILLIS: And so, be careful around that water because you could really hurt yourself.


WILLIS: I want to talk about what you've got on your Web site which can be helpful to people out there. I want to show them a tool you have at, it's a great tool, tell us what kind of damage you can expect if you have flooding.

Now first off I want to say what if you had three inches of flooding? Well, you can see right here what it would look like, you could see the water rising right here and on your Web site you show us exactly the kinds of things that might have to be replaced, and their costs from basebod molding, cleanup materials and the total cost there, pretty impressive, almost $8,000.

MCMULLEN: Well, you have to replace everything that was on the floor, if you have a wood flooring, carpet they going to have to be cleaned or replaced. And remember, this is only for a 900 square foot house. So, if you have a larger home that you'd have to multiply these amounts.

WILLIS: Let's look at 10 inches and what would happen, there. Again, you're seeing the water rising. This tool is fantastic, I have to tell you. Now, look at all the changes you're going to have to make in the house, right here. Now, we're talking about replacing kitchen and bath cabinetry, new kitchen appliances, living room furniture the total almost $20,000.

And one question I want to ask you here, we're seeing the insurance levels, particularly in the Georgia area where we've had so much devastation, are extremely low. People are going to be paying this out-of-pocket.

MCMULLEN: Well, most people don't think if their mortgage company doesn't require them to have a flood policy that they don't need one, which is really not true. Most of us live in a low to moderate flood area, but one out of four times that's where flooding occurs and that's exactly what happened in the Georgia area.

WILLIS: All right, well let's take a look at another part of your Web site, here. A lot of people, they want to know, hey, how much would it cost me to get covered and you can find out on this Web site. Right here you can see we put in an address in North Carolina, Yanceyville, and what do we see here, it's a low to moderate...

MCMULLEN: Yeah, that's where most of us live is low to moderate and these types of flood policies can be very affordable. Unfortunately, in our economic times a lot of people are deciding they can't do this and it's really a big mistake.

WILLIS: Look at this, this is not that expensive. This is cents on a day to protect your home, building only, what are we looking at, you know, under $1,000 a year to get that coverage, and we should say that you get it through the federal government. is a great way to go to if you're really looking for that coverage.

MCMULLEN: Absolutely. And they'll direct you where an agent could be and what type of flood zone you're in, there's a tool or a list to find that out, as well.

WILLIS: And you can ask your existing agent because they're selling the insurance on behalf of the federal government.

So, another great part of your Web site here, I just have to point out, I'm so excited about the Web site. If you want more information on floods, you can find it right here at, all kinds of great stuff to look at. You guys really worked hard on this.

MCMULLEN: Gerri, there's actually a toolkit for what to do during, before, after a flood. There are animations on how to elevate your furniture and other equipment in your home so that they're not damaged by a flood.

WILLIS: Well, that's one of our favorite Web sites.

MCMULLEN: It's a great Web site.

WILLIS: Great stuff. Thanks so much for your help today, just terrific information.

MCMULLEN: All right, thank you.

WILLIS: Saving money when it comes to your health, why medical tourism could be a healthy choice for you and your wallet.


WILLIS: Hundreds of thousands of Americans will travel abroad for medical treatment this year. Some simply can't afford the cost of American health care. Others like Denise fisher, a medical professional with great health insurance can't get the alternative cancer treatments she feels she needs.

CNN photojournalist John Toragowie (ph) travels with Denise across the Mexican border in search for a cure.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How have you been?

DENISE FISHER: Pretty good. Hanging in there.

My name is Denise Fisher (ph) from Alamo, California, which is in the San Francisco Bay area. I've just arrived at the San Diego Airport and going to be going to Oasis of Hope Hospital in Tijuana, Mexico.

I think we've crossed.

People sent me an article about Americans being killed in Tijuana, other people called and said the swine flu is way too dangerous and you shouldn't go there. We really felt safety was not going to be an issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here we are. This way.

FISHER: Home sweet home. I am a nursanance the anesthetist. My husband, David Fisher, is a general surgeon. In 2005 they found a big chest mass, a tumor. Thomas is just starting an IV then he'll hook up the first thing that I'm getting, which is Genoxal, a low dose chemotherapy. My husband said to me one night I feel like you've given up.

I feel you're just going to accept it and die and if that's what you want to do, I'll support you in that, but I really want to you fight.

When I first was diagnosed and my oncologist gave me this long line of chemos that would eventually kill me, I was not happy. When I came to Mexico he basically said I hate Mexican clinics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi Denise, how are you doing?

FISHER: Very good, thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So good to see you again.

We have been working very diligently in changing the image of quackery in Mexico especially in Tijuana and I'm sure there are some, but there are some quacks all over the world. What we're doing here and we've done for the last 46 years is scientifically-based therapies.

DR. DEBU TRIPATHY, PROF USC/NORRIS CANCER CTR: Alternative cancer treatment encompasses really many different approaches that different people define differently, but basically these are to some extent unproven therapies. There's a little Denise in all of us, we sometimes challenge the status quo, especially when our backs are against the wall and we don't like the options we have.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's really strong. She's been a ray of great support to me.

FISHER: There were people here then from South Africa, Australia, and all over the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I live in North Carolina.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm from New Zealand.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I started having nonhodgkins lymphoma in 1996.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've got an aggressive bladder cancer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can't say enough about this place. It's the only hospital you cry when you leave.

FISHER: Now, after this being my third trip I associate this whole area just with healing, with getting well.

I think that my kids give me the will to live. They've got a lot of growing up to do, and they need a lot of mothering between now and when they're adults, and I believe I'll be there to do it. I have a strong faith. I believe that god gave me my kids and he will allow me to raise them and I look forward to that.


WILLIS: Our heart goes out to Denise. Her hospital called Oasis of Hope touts their survival rates over conventional cancer treatment, but Denise must pay in full for all of her treatment up front. To date, she's paid more than $35,000 out-of-pocket for her three treatments.

And while Denise's treatment is for alternative medicine, some Americans with and without health insurance are exploring medical tourism as a cost-cutting option. Avery Comarow is a senior writer for "U.S. News & World Report."

Avery, welcome.


WILLIS: I just want to ask you, you know, some 75,000 Americans are going out of the country for health care, for surgeries, all kinds of treatment. Is this a safe alternative?

COMAROW: It depends on what sort of treatment they're having, where they're having it and all sorts of other things that are just too complicated to predict. You know, that 750,000 figure is probably a little bit inflated. It's probably more like 50,000 or so Americans who are having serious things done abroad, and those are the people who really need to know.

WILLIS: Right.

COMAROW: And it's very difficult. You can go to an accredited hospital abroad, one that's accredited by the Joint Commission International, but that's not a guarantee.

WILLIS: All right, well, so coverage varies depending on where you go and what treatment you're getting obviously, but I want to show our viewers what the attraction is and it has to do with cost. I want to show them some numbers right now.

Take a look at these numbers, in the United States for heart bypass surgery, for example, you'd pay $135,000, in Singapore, $16,000. How important are these cost differentials to people who may have no health insurance, may have inadequate health insurance -- Avery.

COMAROW: I don't think that it's any surprise that if you go into a hospital and you're told that it's going to cost you $100,000 or $135,000 for bypass surgery and you say can that amount be cut, and they say well, not by very much, then you're not going to have the surgery and that's what it is for a lot of people. It's the yes or no decision.

WILLIS: Wow. Okay, so when you do look at the decision of whether to go overseas or not or out of the country or maybe just across the border into Mexico what, kinds of things should you be considering? How should you shop for that hospital?

COMAROW: Well, you do want to look for that accreditation I mentioned a minute ago, the JCI accreditation, not bullet proof, but it's much, much better than nothing. You want to look for a hospital that has some sort of affiliation with a U.S. hospital.

In the Far East,for example, there are a number of hospitals that are affiliated with the Harvard Medical system with Johns Hopkins, with the Cleveland Clinic. That's a good thing because there's feedback in both directions, and you definitely want to talk to patients.

All of these hospitals are more than happy to give you names of former patients. You need to talk to not just one or two, but as many as you can, more depending on how serious the procedure is you're getting

WILLIS: Right. Well, you know, Denise obviously a fan of the hospital, really likes the hospital she's at and presumably there are lots more who like where they do as well. But you know, there are some downsides and I'm thinking that often when you're going overseas there's a language barrier, if you are in the hospital, it's difficult for you to talk and communicate anyway. What are some of the other downsides -- Avery.

COMAROW: Well, let's give you real concrete one. A lot of people go abroad for hip or knee replacements, and if you go abroad for let's say to have a hip replaced you're having problems with your hip, it's causing you pain. If you are sitting in a plane going to India for 14 hours, it's not exactly going to relieve your pain.

WILLIS: I think even once you wrap in the costs of travel you're still paying a lot less money than you would if you were doing the service in the U.S., typically.

COMAROW: Well, there's what one medical travel expert refers to as the $6,000 rule. If the cost of care here is at least $6,000 more than the cost of all of the expense of having it abroad, the flight, the procedure, whatever incidentals there are, then it probably would make sense for you, at least, to consider going abroad. If it's just one or two or 3,000, I think that it's obvious it would not.

WILLIS: Avery I'm going to put you on the spot in a little bit. Would you travel for some kind of health care, some kind of surgery, some kind of treatment?

COMAROW: Having now visited a hospital in India, and several in Singapore and talking to a lot of people about this, I have to say, and also having had two bypass surgeries myself, one in 1983 and one in 1999, that I would not hesitate to have had that procedure done, knowing what I know now, about those hospitals.

That does not mean that I'd feel the same way about every hospital abroad, but the hospitals that I looked at, and I looked at everything from their blood banks to the water supply, and everything in between, I would do it.

WILLIS: Avery, great information. Thank you so much for helping us out today.

COMAROW: You're welcome. Thank you.

WILLIS: Where the jobs are. It's must-have information right now. We're not just going to tell you about a those jobs, we're going to show you how to land one for yourself.


WILLIS: Back in February, President Obama signed the stimulus plan promising to create over three million American jobs. Tom Musbach is the managing editor of Yahoo! HotJobs.

All right Tom, where are these jobs and how do people get them? They want those jobs.

TOM MUSBACH, YAHOO! HOTJOBS: Well, they're very hard to find. So, one thing you can do is look in certain industries. Look in construction, look in the government, look in energy, particularly renewable energy projects. Those are getting a lot of stimulus funding. So, if you have skills that can translate to those industries, then you're in a good position. But like I said, they're hard to find.

WILLIS: Are there many of them?

MUSBACH: There are some. Some are not created because it goes through a process. The projects are announced, they receive funding, then go out to bid. These companies are putting together their projections and bids and once they get those bids, you basically need to follow the news to find out who in our area is getting some of those projects and then target those companies.

WILLIS: Great idea. You know, all bad news has a silver lining somewhere, right, and one of the things that's happened in this jobs market so, few jobs out there for folks, a lot of people are starting their own business.


WILLIS: Now, what do you see in that arena?

MUSBACH: Right, there is a lot of entrepreneurship going on, and in some ways it's really great because people are recognizing that there's opportunity in this situation that I'm in. I've got an opportunity now to do something I always wanted to do and go out, start the business, you know, with a hobby or whatever and a lot of people find that they can succeed in something like that.

Unfortunately, a lot of people are also accidental entrepreneurs, so these are people who have tried very, very long to find a job, would prefer to have a full-time job, but can't find one. And so, they look inside themselves, isolate a skill that they can use, and try and go out and, whether it's babysitting or looking after pets or even doing taxes for other people, they're doing what they can to be resourceful to make some money.

WILLIS: Well, I mean, that makes a lot of sense. It may not be your first choice, but at the end of the day it gets you through this economic downturn, it's the right thing to do. Let's talk about the process of looking for that job and the kinds of things you go through. I think a lot of people out there probably haven't been in the job market in a long time. And when it comes to the interview process, you know, they don't know what to expect. What are you seeing out there?

MUSBACH: Right. Well, we're seeing a lot of people also trying some extreme things. You know, they're renting billboards or they're asking people to do finder's fees to help them find a job. So, that's kind of wacky. But people are starting to use social networking sites a lot to help them find a job.

WILLIS: Does that work?

MUSBACH: Sometimes it does, but you've got to be resourceful on how you use it and you've also got to be careful about what you say, what you post, because if you're using these sites for professional reasons, for finding a job, you also have to expect that recruiters are going to then look at those things. And so, you want to make sure what you post, what you say, you know, passes the grandma test, that you're not going to be embarrassed if your grandma sees it. So you don't want the recruiters...

WILLIS: That's a high hurdle. Well, Tom, thank you so much for coming back and chatting with us, we appreciate it.

MUSBACH: Thank you. Great to be here. WILLIS: Holiday spending is expected to be flat versus a year ago as consumers remain cautious about the national unemployment rate hovering now at nearly 10 percent. Deloitte's retail group expects holiday sales from November to January to total $810 billion. Up next, we'll give you the early bird special. Cutting back on your spending now so you can afford the gifts your kid has to have.


WILLIS: Christmas in September? Well, that's right. Believe it or not, now is the time to start planning financially speaking for the extra money you'll be spending over the holiday season. Gregg Wind is a certified financial planner and joins us now from Los Angeles.

Gregg, great to see you.


WILLIS: Well, let's talk about saving money for the holidays and starting early. You say budgeting is the key. So many people don't do that, though.

WIND: Yeah, it really helps to set a budget. You know, that 70 percent dark chocolate is at the register for a reason. People impulse buy and the best thing to do is plan what you're going to spend ahead of time.

WILLIS: Plan what you're going to spend ahead of time, but you also do something else. You actually create a spreadsheet of what you bought people in previous years so you don't buy the same thing again. That's really smart.

WIND: Well, you know, it helps so you that don't duplicate and buy the same gift for somebody in the following year and it helps you to stay on track. You figure out ahead of time how much money you have to spend, how many gifts you're going to guy and ultimately figure out how much you're going to spend on each gift.

The International CPA firm at Deloitte estimated this year the average American will spend $569 on holiday gifts. Women by a few more gifts than men. Men are expected to buy 23 gifts this year, women 26. That's a lot of gift buying.

WILLIS: I think we should encourage men those men to buy more gifts. That's a great idea. Listen, I think, though, that so many people want to start early, but they don't know how because they're so worried that the things they buy today will actually go on sale later. What is the key to starting early and also getting the good deals?

WIND: You know, it's really good to start early. Labor Day sales, Thanksgiving weekend sale, if you know what you're going to buy, for example, if you want to buy that one DVD for your sister or brother, just check out sale, pay attention to stores when they advertise sale, and buy even in September, even in August, before the Christmas rush. If you wait until the end you're likely to pay more or buy something that you really didn't want, and if you're shipping it, you're likely to spend more on postage, as well.

WILLIS: Yeah. Even though those markdowns get pretty heavy at the end of December, you can sometimes find fantastic deals at the last minute.

What other ways are you pare your spending over time just by starting early? How else can you get, you know, the best deals and make sure that you get everything you want for that person?

WIND: Well, again, have something in mind. Identify what you think that person might like or what you think you might want to buy for them ahead of time. Go online. Shop online. There are some wonderful Web sites like that have wonderful values. A lot of them ship for free and it's a great alternative to spending gas money and driving to the mall.

WILLIS: Let's talk about creative ways, though, to give gifts because you don't have to spend a lot of money. A lot of people who watch this show probably don't have a job right now. They're probably worried about how they're going to get their family presents, but maybe they can make some a gift.

WIND: Yeah, my wife always says that homemade gifts are very thoughtful. If you know somebody with children, maybe consider giving a gift of babysitting. If you have an elderly family member or an elderly friend, maybe consider a drive and a picnic or a movie or a visit to a museum. There's a lot of ways to be creative. You can bake things. And people really do appreciate those thoughtful gifts. They don't always have to be expensive.

WILLIS: All right. Well, great ideas for cutting our costs for the holiday season. Greg, thanks so much.

WIND: Thank you, Gerri.

WILLIS: As always, thanks for spending part of your Saturday with us. YOUR BOTTOM LINE will be back next week right here on CNN. You can also catch us on HLN every Saturday and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time. And you can hear much more about the impact of this weeks' news on your money on YOUR MONEY with Christine Romans and Ali Velshi, Saturdays at 1:00 p.m. Eastern and Sundays at 3:00, right here on CNN.

Don't go anywhere, your top stories are next in the CNN NEWSROOM. Have a great weekend.