When I left my job nearly three years ago, I left my health insurance benefit and went out on my own. “Are you crazy?” friends asked. A lot of folks, it seems, are afraid to leave their jobs for fear of losing their health insurance.
But I’d saved some money and had no glaring pre-existing conditions (or so I thought). Actually, I ended up paying a much higher premium than I would have otherwise because in the year before I left I’d seen a physical therapist for my Achilles tendonitis. Never mind the fact that I’m a runner and a hiker, therefore, in excellent cardiovascular shape. Also that year, I had a few sessions with a psychologist who gave me some stress management tools to help me with my father who had late-stage Alzheimer’s. In the eyes of the insurance company, this made me a much higher risk than someone who has not seen a psychologist.
Still, I wanted to pursue other endeavors while I was still young enough, and I was willing to use my savings to do it. I found a plan for my husband and me through Anthem. A year later, for reasons known only to them (they refused to elaborate for me), Anthem raised our premium by $100 per month. Yikes! So that I could afford to keep insurance coverage, I upped our deductible.
I’d gone on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) website in 2013 to see if I could obtain more affordable care. Late last year, the website was a mess. I had trouble getting on, and when I did, it seemed that we weren’t qualified. So I bagged it.
Then in January, my husband turned 65 and went on Medicare. Yippee! My insurance premium was more affordable than ever. A month later, I received a letter from Anthem saying that in July, they would cancel my existing policy and move me to a new one. The cost for the new policy would be more than twice my existing policy. I would go from paying $207 per month to $500 per month. Arggh!!
When I called Anthem to talk to someone about a more affordable policy, I was put on hold for two hours. Two hours of horrible guitar music interrupted in the same place every 30 seconds for a recording to tell me about grandfathered plans, which I don’t have. Finally I got someone, she took the same information I’d punched into the phone two hours earlier, and then she put me right back in the same hold loop. Finally I got a guy named Darrell in Houston, Texas. He told me that I should qualify for more assistance under the Affordable Care Act, and gave me a number to call.
I dialed the number and got put hold. But this time it felt different. The calming solo piano music made me feel good. Hopeful. A lady periodically thanked me for my patience and said I’d have their undivided attention shortly. My access to full health coverage was just a few minutes away. None of this gobbledy gook every 30 seconds about grandfathered plans, etc. It makes my blood pressure go up just remembering the Anthem hold button. This ACA music made me want to get my piano tuned and start practicing again. Maybe take lessons again. Really get good again. Anything was possible with this music.
The end of the story is that 20 minutes later I qualified for a significant tax credit and a reduction in the cost of a much better plan than the one I previously had. I signed up and it starts May 1st.
Initially I had some misgivings about accepting a subsidy. Then I came to my senses. Does Exxon Mobil have second thoughts about the billions in government subsidies it receives, even as it books record earnings for its shareholders? In my estimation, healthy Americans are even more important to this country.
But I think we’ve lost sight of something else that is really important to this country. The ability to move around in the job market. To pursue new endeavors, to try out new ideas. To start new businesses. I know brilliant entrepreneurial people who want to strike out on their own, with fabulous ideas about water management, renewable energy, and poverty abatement to name a few. People who couldn’t start up new businesses because they had pre-existing health conditions and couldn’t afford insurance if they left their jobs. The Affordable Care Act has the potential to change that. Yes, America. We can be great again.
I am healthy, and I have coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Thank you, Congress.