Right now, Virginia is trying to enroll in her health insurance plan at her new job. The process is about as degrading and demeaning as anything she has to do with her employment.
First, under the guise of giving her “choice,” the employer has offered three plans, all called High-Deductible Health Plans. Regardless of the programs she chooses, the programs are unsustainably expensive. The one she wants will cost us, just in premiums, about $11,500 this year for our family of three. Add the maximum out of pocket expenses of $6,850 and the cost is over$18,000.
The benefit of her employer taking up some of the slack saves us some money, I suppose. The problem, however, is that $18,000 represents roughly a quarter of her income and about 18 percent of the total income for our household.
Not that we mind having to go to the doctor twice a year for a routine physical and blood screen. We like that the insurance covers this. But should something catastrophic happen—cancer, household accidents, getting an MRI for this injured shoulder of mine—then the stress on the family budget with a kid headed toward college becomes more than we can bear.
So, degrading is this process that we will have to make choices with life-long consequences—all of them negative. Nick will have to go to a college of lower pedigree, which will affect his earning capacity for the rest of his existence. The other kid, Sydney, will not get the minor bailouts she needs as she goes to college and works a full-time job. We will eat differently. We will not be able to keep the house up as we need—replacing 15-year-old carpets, flooring, painting, etc. Nick will have to choose different after-school activities, a condition that will also affect his college career.
In the meantime, Virginia and I will have to make choices when it comes to retirement. We are already slated to work until we are 70. Since I work in a profession that allows me to keep working as an old man, I will likely have to work longer. The ability for us to pursue other avenues that contribute to society will be limited, thus affecting our community and beyond. We are bound to work until we are worn out completely or die. The glories of a great American retirement will elude us.
The thing is, we are lucky to have any insurance at all. We know many people who do not have the opportunities we have and are stuck in far worse situations, even to having no insurance and having to rely on the largess of hospital emergency rooms. This is an expensive proposition. We went for a time without coverage this year. During that time, I had a nasty bike wreck. The emergency department bill alone came up to over $13,000—for a 45-minute visit and six x-rays. Imagine for a moment having a kid with the flu who needs immediate medical attention. The bill would literally devastate the un- or under-insured.
Our empathy lies with these unfortunates who make up a significant portion of the U.S. population. We live in a working-class neighborhood quickly gentrifying. With increased property-tax bills and other factors that come into play when a neighborhood becomes whiter and wealthier, our older neighbors will be literally forced out of their homes. The fortunate benefit for some of them is that they will have Medicare, which eases some of the stresses but does nothing for people on the hook for renting or buying a new residence.
It makes a person feel abused, and, in fact, they are. We really don’t have a healthcare system in the U.S. We have a patchwork of corporate entities that allegedly look after people. The only real system is a network of financial transactions that keep track of who has and who hasn’t paid their bills. And this “system” demands the fealty of supplicants who literally have to beg for coverage.
And we’re begging. Just this morning, I have been on the phone, holding to talk to a “benefit counselor.” We have been trying to get through to one of these mythical people for four days now. We have the option to “press one to leave a message and a benefit counselor will return your call as soon as possible.” We have left messages and messages. No benefit counselor has deigned to warm a receiver.
We have to make our choices by 11:59 p.m. tonight. But the phone line is only open for us to enroll in benefits until 8 p.m. The line opened at 8 a.m. Already twice this morning, we have held as long as the company will allow—about an hour—before they cut the line and we have to call again. It’s 10:15 a.m. as I write this. It may be that I’m on the phone holding, literally, all day and into the evening. Right now, the likelihood of us getting through is low.
This is what I mean by demeaning. We have to stop our day to get healthcare coverage. While this may seem a minor inconvenience given the long-term benefit of getting health insurance. But this kind of behavior on the part of the benefit counselors indicates gross mismanagement. The company either didn’t plan on “experiencing a high volume of calls” or they just decided not to hire enough counselors to get the job done. Given my jaded view of the process, I suspect the second.
I feel like I’m groveling before superior beings in a nation where many of us put a high value on equality. I’m not being treated as an equal, unless we consider that all people are equally abused.
This means I am at the mercy of a company that controls myexistence. Having no healthcare coverage is not an option, given that both Virginia and I are aging and we have a 16-year-old just entering a phase of life riddled with dangers to skin and bone. Anything can happen, which is why you buy insurance. As my bike wreck showed us, it takes just a second for everything to go wrong. I could choose not to ride a bike and put myself at risk. But then the other risks of sedentary life come to bear, such as diabetes, heart problems, obesity, and so on.
Ultimately, the illusion of choice demeans us further. We are presented with a number of false choices. What we need is to be able to go to the doctor, walk into a hospital, and seek the treatments we need. We don’t have that and never will with an insurance company controlling all the choices we make from the physicians we see to the procedures and treatments we need.
I have an answer. It will take money we now devote to fighter planes and cannons. It will take political will. But we don’t have those things at the moment, our representatives held hostage by the very companies involved in rapacious profit-making industrial centers we call health care.
It is my sworn duty, then, to make a change in the system. I will call my reps, as I often do. I will march with signs, as I have in the past. I don’t want to, but I may have to run for office again. At present I see no solution other than a revolution. I’m not a person who wants to inflict harm on anyone. But in this instance, with a part of life so essential, I want to see corporate and political heads roll.