After more than 20 years living with the absolute barest of financial safety nets, this week my wife and I can finally say that we have real health insurance. Not that we haven’t been paying Blue Cross some pretty hefty premiums all these years, several thousand per annum actually. But all that money we’ve spent never really bought us anything.
Our policy, known as "catastrophic coverage," specified a $15,000 annual deductible before the insurer had to contribute a dime to our medical care. That’s $15,000 for each of us, or $30,000 total. For over two decades, every time we went to a doctor’s office for a checkup, a testing facility for an x-ray or a CT scan, an emergency room for a middle-of-the-night trauma, a pharmacy to fill a prescription, we paid each and every bill out of our own pockets — and at full retail prices.
Not to belabor the point, but consider some actual numbers. An unavoidable emergency room visit just last year set my wife and me back $9,000, while a similar trip three years earlier cost closer to $6,000; a series of eye surgeries over a three-year period totaled around $20,000 out of pocket; just my wife’s prescription eye drops cost close to $400 a month; heck, walking into my internist’s office means dropping an absolute minimum $200. You get the idea.
There’s another thing about being an under-insured American that we don’t really like to talk about: It has a way of making you feel less than. My wife and I are reasonably solid citizens. We’re self-employed, own our own home in a desirable neighborhood, pay all of our bills (and taxes) in full and on time, and carry no debt. But without an insurance company on the hook for our first $30k in medical costs, we might as well be convicted felons or homeless people. To the medical establishment, that is.
A few years ago my wife and I got up early one morning and arrived at 6 a.m. for a scheduled 8 a.m. surgery at a Massachusetts hospital, two hours from our home. We were turned away because they had neglected to inform us that people in our “position” could only be treated if we paid in full and in cash — prior to the procedure being performed.
After fruitless negotiation, I went ballistic on the messenger of this shocking news, first pointing to my very expensive leather sport coat and then insisting that she peek outside in the parking lot to see the high-end European wheels we’d driven down in. All of which was to point out, gruffly admittedly, that we could afford what they were about to charge us.
“Do you really think we want to rip off our own surgeon?” I screamed at one point. “The guy we have to come back and see again tomorrow to remove the bandages? Really? Is that what you’re thinking?”
To absolutely no avail. The paid-for-in-advance surgery had to be rescheduled. What must it be like to be sick and not have the means to pay? Or to not have any health insurance at all?
I’m not one for engaging in political dialogue or debate, surely not in a public setting. But I will say this: The Affordable Care Act of 2010 has provided the kind of safety net that my wife and I could not construct on our own. And for that we must thank the law’s architect and champion, President Barack Obama.
There, I said it.
I know, I know. The ACA, or “Obamacare” as its opponents early on christened it, is about as divisive a law as many of us have ever witnessed. And the president and his hapless health care team haven’t made it easier on themselves (or us) by screwing up the rollout so horrendously. I get that. Believe me, I do. The number of infuriating hours — make that, days — it took me to get myself and my wife signed up can only be fully appreciated by someone who’s been through the same horrific ordeal. If you’re one of them, let me offer my sincere condolences. Navigating the often broken system was nothing short of tortuous. I never want to suffer through it again.
But all that’s over now. Even healthcare.gov has been, for the most part, purged of its techno demons, and is running rather smoothly. Most important, as of April 1, and for a lot less money than Blue Cross’s picayune “catastrophic” policy had been costing us, my wife and I are enrolled in a PPO-style insurance plan, with a reasonable cost structure, plenty of preventive care options, a prescription drug plan, the works. They say that we are among more than 7 million Americans who have signed up for health insurance through the ACA so far. A lot more, especially young Americans, will need to enroll in order for ACA to be a success.
Many opponents of the law, and particularly of Obama, are doing all that they can to discourage participation in “Obamacare.” In other words, they want it — and him — to fail.
I don’t want either of those things. I really don’t.