April 8th, 2019

Snoopy

U.S. Health Insurance: It’s a Trap!

Let me preface this post by saying, thanks to a clause in the ACA and a significant amount of luck, we’re all right.

The default in the United States is that you’re supposed to get insurance through your employer. The employer picks up some/most/all of the cost, and that coverage is considered one of the benefits of employment.

As you may recall, back in December, my wife was diagnosed with an aggressive stage 4 lymphoma. She spent about six weeks in the hospital, and if everything goes well and the chemo and bone marrow transplant both work, she might be able to go back to work at the end of the summer.

Fortunately, we have relatively good health insurance coverage. According to the benefit statements, her treatment has cost somewhere between half a million and a million dollars so far. We’ve only been responsible for a very tiny fraction of that cost.

Jump to last week, when we got a letter from a benefits management company. Because my wife hadn’t been working since late November, her benefits were being cancelled. The official reason was “reduced work hours.” Our options were to either pay for COBRA coverage to continue on the plan we had, or we could go to the Health Exchange to find a new plan. Either way, we were now responsible for the full cost of our health insurance. In addition, if we chose a new plan, we’d be responsible for any new deductibles.

Here’s where the luck kicks in. Back when I tried to quit my day job a few years back, they created a part-time position for me, one I could do mostly from home. And as a result, I could continue to receive health insurance (but not vision or dental) through that job.

The benefits management letter was telling us our family’s dental and vision insurance were no longer covered by my wife’s company. But we still have health insurance.

COBRA costs to continue dental and vision are about $150 a month for our family. We can handle that. What would have been a lot harder would be paying probably $1000-$2000 per month so we could continue getting health insurance through COBRA.

Cobra Commander

Think about it.

  1. You get health insurance through your employer, just like you’re supposed to.
  2. You get really sick. Fortunately, you have health insurance! Well done, you!
  3. Because you’re sick, you can’t go to work. A few months later, you lose your health insurance.
  4. Surprise! Not only are you on reduced income from not working, you’ve got to cover a couple thousand dollars of new expenses every month!

We’ve designed a system that abandons people when they need it the most. Is it any wonder we see hundreds of thousands of families declaring bankruptcy every year because of medical expenses?

Ackbar: It's a trap!

If my employer hadn’t really wanted to keep me on – so much that they created a new position for me,  and if the ACA hadn’t allowed me to continue receiving health insurance through them, I would currently be A) panicking like a cat in a cucumber field, and B) looking into GoFundMe and other ways of making sure we can continue to afford to keep my wife alive.

That we put people in this position when they’ve done everything “right” in terms of finding a job and working for years for their benefits – hell, the fact that we put anyone in this kind of position, period – is obscene. The whole for-profit approach to health care in this country is literally killing people.

My family is very fortunate in many ways, and we’re all right for now. But as a country, we have got to do better.