...onto my soapbox and I'm due to get right on up there because I just can't stomach the bullshit any longer. I have been quietly observing the madness that is this "debate" on health care reform that looks and sounds more like a much of loony squawking maniacs who are ready to beat up long-time senators like Arlen Spector over issues they aren't even fully informed on.
Many Americans are simply clueless about the situation, unfortunately. Not all, but many. For example, I will take a coworker of mine. He's young, maybe 4 years out of college, so I give him that benefit of the doubt. But anyway, he noticed my Obama sticker on my car (which I haven't yet removed, more out of laziness than staunch support - frankly, I am pissed off that he is backing down from the public health insurance pool option), and mentioned that he didn't like what Obama was doing with health care reform. So I asked why. His response was that people should just pay for health insurance themselves - taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for them. And this made me wonder how many people think that it's that easy to get health insurance. Just that simple. Go buy it. Like a gallon of milk or something. Or maybe that annoying Progressive Insurance lady can get it for me, just like that.
I can't remember if I have ranted about my experiences with health insurance back when I was a contractor for 2 years, post second layoff in 2002. I don't think I have. Anyway, so I figured, let me just give this coworker of mine a little more information to mull over in his head before he immediately jumps to the conclusion that people without health insurance are simply mooching off the American taxpayer.
I was laid off in 2002 (second time - it was not the greatest time to be a programmer with the dot-com bust aftermath extending 2+ years), and it was a miserable time finding a job. After weeks and weeks of searching (luckily my existing job wasn't booting me out right away which was nice), I finally found a contract position which was close to the same money, but still less than I was making before. But 1099 contract, you pay your own taxes, get your own health insurance, etc, etc. About 4 days before my previous employer health insurance was set to expire, I get appendicitis. Luckily I was covered and didn't have to pay the $20,000 bill that came from only 36 hours in the hospital (we caught it at the earliest possibly point - they almost sent me home but decided to do a CT just to make sure). The health insurance company, by the way, settled with the hospital for around $3500. I paid $700. Interesting how that works, huh? So how many times can you get an appendectomy in your lifetime? Once, right? Anyway.
At this point, I had two options: apply for individual health insurance, or pay Cobra, which, back in 2002, wasn't horrible. It was like $280 per month or something like that - though at the time, my hourly rate was only $35 an hour (which is rather low for 1099 contracting in the high cost-of -living city of Los Angeles, and considering you have to pay additional self-employment tax of 7.5%). Various health insurers were promoting rates of $70 per month for a $2000 deductible. I figured, this would be preferable to paying nearly $300 per month (though I only had a $250 deductible with my old plan). I contact a health insurance broker - a woman that specializes in this stuff - about applying for health insurance. She doesn't seem to think the recent appendectomy is going to be an issue (because how many times does it happen in one's lifetime? Um, once.). Well, guess what - not only was the recent appendectomy an issue, but so was my intermittent use of Claritin. Yeah. Claritin - the once prescription now over-the-counter allergy medicine. Scary stuff that Claritin. So scary, they made it OTC so that 16-year-olds can buy it. So now I had the "black mark" of being rejected for health insurance which I now must disclose every time I apply for individual health insurance. I figure, best go with COBRA at this point (which even the broker said, she expected I would get a similar response from other insurers if I tried to apply). This turned out to be a good move on my part because using up all your COBRA benefits carries inherent rights.
For eighteen months, working as a contractor, I pay COBRA. I exhaust the coverage until I, legally, can't do it anymore. In the meantime I have run two marathons, and during that time, went to the doctor for my knee which had been bugging me from the running. Had some physical therapy - no surgery, no drugs, just 6 weeks of strength building. You see where this is going, right? I apply for insurance again, this time, with Blue Cross (previously I attempted with Blue Shield - they are separate competitors in California). And, me, a healthy 25-year-old who ran two effing marathons, is again, rejected for health insurance. The only reason - ONLY REASON - I was able to get any kind of health insurance after this fact was because I used up all my COBRA benefits. This allowed me acceptance without pre-existing conditions exclusions into the California High-Risk health insurance which had a $2000 deductible. I paid $300 bucks a month for it. This was 2004 so you can imagine it's probably like $450 now. Had I not been able to afford COBRA for 18 months, I would have been Shit Out of Luck, my friends. Up the proverbial Crap Creek Without a Paddle.
So, you see, it's not just a matter of people not wanting to pay for it. COBRA after this recent layoff mess, was going to be nearly a grand per month. $1000 bucks (though thankfully, 9 months of it would have been subsidized by the government's recent stimulus act). This is a lot of damn money. Even with the money I was making as a 1099 contractor before the job I have now, it was going to be tight. And I was making just shy of 6 figures! So, how can we expect regular average American families to be able to afford COBRA? Or even afford the rising costs of premiums! Because, the reality is, health insurers only care about their BOTTOM LINE. Another friend of mine had to get individual insurance at one point in the last 5 years, and she wasn't rejected, but they doubled her rates for a recent EAR INFECTION. Because those ear infections, they'll kill ya like The Cancer.
Health insurance companies are for-profit organizations. Period. They have no motivation, no reason, to care about making things better for Americans. They care up to the point where it helps the company make money. That's it. Everyone else, essentially, can suck it. Can you imagine if elementary and middle schools operated in this manner? Only the rich would get good educations. But we accept it with health insurance.
And, folks, this is who we are entrusting with our health. People are screaming, yelling, getting violent, at these "town halls" at the WRONG PEOPLE. We have a major problem going on with health care and all we hear are crazy statements like "Obama wants death panels", and "Obama's dealth panel could have kils my down syndrome baby." Seriously? Have we LOST OUR COLLECTIVE MINDS?
I would like Americans to look past the immediate future which is asking something monumentous as we are notoriously bad at considering the long-term effects of our choices. In 2001, the Milliman Medical Index, which measures the annual cost of health care for families was at $8414. In 2009, it is $16700. 98.5% increase in 8 years. Note that wages have been pretty stagnant in the last 8 years for middle class Americans (our income hasn't gone up in 2 years and will be down 40% next year). If we do the math here, you'll see we are on the way to getting screwed. Squeezed six-ways to Sunday. And people are screaming about taxes. Can you tell me that your TAXES have gone up 98.5% in 8 years? Seriously? Because all hell would have broken loose if it had. But it's OK to pay it to health insurance companies? Really? Wouldn't you rather pay a FRACTION of that in taxes if it meant we could get this mushrooming, exponentially rising health care cost under control?!?