Our health insurance for a family of three costs almost as much as our mortgage payment each month. That, in itself, is ridiculous, but by the time the year is over, we will have spent roughly a third of our income on health costs because the financial burden goes far above our insurance premium.
When I was forced to choose this plan late last year, I wondered how we would afford it each month. I became angry and frustrated with the insurance representative when she put me over this barrel. She couldn’t offer any solutions — merely toed the company line, but I’ll bet she went home and poured herself a stiff drink. I couldn’t have been the only unhappy camper on the line.
I am self-employed, and my husband is a contractor with no benefits, so he is also responsible for securing his own health care. We have very few options. None of them are good. None of them are affordable. And since Highmark West Virginia is the only health insurance carrier in my state available to us, I was forced to choose one of their plans.
You might think for the hefty premium, we have great insurance. We do not. In addition to our monthly outlay, we have to pay an exorbitant deductible, and we still have to shell out cash to see doctors and buy prescriptions.
I just learned that an already pricey monthly prescription tripled in cost. They couldn’t provide me with a good reason for this, except to say we hadn’t met our deductible. Our deductible didn’t matter last year for prescriptions, so it would appear Highmark is just making up their own rules at this point to suit them. They sure as heck aren’t trying to suit me.
This particular prescription is life saving. It’s not an option to eliminate it. The option is death. Talk about having us over another barrel. And yet, what am I supposed to do? Where do I suddenly find extra money for my new hefty premiums and prescription costs? Go into debt? Get a loan I can’t pay? Throw it on credit cards? Spend everything in my savings account?
God forbid anyone needs emergency care or contracts a disease. In the last few years, everyone in my household ended up in the ER, and I’m still paying off the bills. Now we have a pact to do anything to stay out of the ER. The next time I feel heart attack symptoms, I’m staying home. I can’t afford hospital prices, and my crappy expensive insurance doesn’t cover much.
Don’t even get me started on all the unnecessary tests doctors can order in the ER. They are the “cover your butt” tests, a fact-finding mission (or expensive wild goose chase) where I’ve had to debate whether the cost was worth the result. Almost never, and sometimes I received the wrong diagnosis. Meanwhile, have you noticed they’re building a new diagnostic center and adding a wing onto the hospital? Gee, I wonder how they can afford that.
Dental care is equally atrocious. Thousands of dollars for a crown. Five hundred for a filing. Pray you don’t need a root canal. Cha-ching. Cha-ching. Cha-ching. And dental insurance? It’s a joke.
Herein lies a key problem — the “care” part of the equation is missing. No one cares. The health insurance company doesn’t care if we live or die. The hospitals don’t care if we can afford their prices. The politicians don’t care they’ve put us in a position where it’s easier on the family if we die or drown in debt. They will give lip service to the contrary, but their actions say it all.
Health care was screwed up long before the Affordable Care Act passed, but ten years ago, it was more affordable. Pricey, but possible.
One of the perks of living in our democracy, our nation, is the American dream — the ability to work hard and enjoy the fruits of our labor. This means spending some of our disposable income on pleasure and the pursuit of happiness, not just survival. The health care industry is sucking that dream right out of our lungs, making it easier, and far less expensive, to just stay sick or die. There’s nothing healthy or dreamy about that. It’s time to exert some of those other rights we hold dear and speak out.
This column appeared in The Journal on Sunday, March 13, 2016.