Our family's health care story
I've been meaning to blog about this for awhile. Health insurance was something I went for decades without ever thinking about. I got a good job right out of college and had great coverage for like $35 a month. After I got married and we had kids, I worked off and on but still had good coverage, either through my own employer or Bill's. Both of the kids were basically born for free. It was great. I've been treated for post-partum depression (still on regular medication) for years, basically for free. Fortunately, depression doesn't seem to be a pre-existing condition (or at least one insurers can deny coverage for) here in Oregon.
After Owen was born four years ago, I made the decision to start my own business (this little pattern company called Gardiner Yarn Works). Last year, we finally became profitable, to the tune of about $4000 for the year. This year we'll do a bit better, but we're not going to be eating caviar at the Christmas party. The business at this point is self-sustaining but not providing any kind of contribution to our household expenses.
Two years ago, Bill made the decision to take a new job with a company he'd previously worked for. It was a sales position, commission-only, but he was an employee and so we had the normal employer-provided benefits, like health insurance. A few months after he'd changed jobs, his employer suddenly informed all the sales consultants that their positions were being converted from employee to independent contractor. Guess what - no more health insurance. Suddenly, Bill was self-employed along with me, and since we're both extremely small operations, we're stuck finding individual insurance.
The kids and I had no trouble finding a decent plan. We had a couple to choose from, in fact, and the three of us are covered for around $350 a month (we do have high deductibles, which we discovered when we took Owen to the ER with a severe case of croup and got a $1100 bill for it). We don't have dental or vision coverage, but so far, we're fine with our coverage.
Bill, on the other hand, had seen a doctor a few times a couple of years ago (right before his employer-based insurance got yanked) for a knee problem. The doctor couldn't really diagnose anything and told him he'd just have to live with it. However, due to the fact that he'd been seen for this condition, he's uninsurable. Nobody will sell him private insurance. Fortunately, in Oregon, we have a state plan for people who can't get insurance anywhere else. Without this plan, he'd be out of luck. And it's expensive - he pays over $600 a month just for himself, making our family's insurance bill around $1000 a month.
We're lucky that we can handle $1000 for our insurance payments, although it's not terribly easy. We've given up our cable TV and shop the 2nd-hand stores. We grow a lot of our own vegetables and don't eat out very often. The kids don't have lots of expensive activities, like piano lessons or private ballet/gymnastics/soccer - it's Parks & Rec or nothing for them. Still, we have it pretty good, I know. For now.
One of the things that's so terrifying about the current health insurance system is that we could lose our coverage at any time. It's also very frustrating that so many decisions in life have to be made in order to keep your health insurance. My mom would like to retire next year, but she needs to figure out how to bridge the gap from her current age (62) to Medicare (65). She could go on my stepdad's insurance, but he's a contract academic and with public university budgets what they are right now, he has to worry every year about not getting renewed (and if he doesn't, there goes that health insurance option). I can't imagine how people wanting to start a small business manage if they're not in perfect health. Are we really all supposed to throw in the towel and go work for someone else, just because we need health care coverage? Aren't small businesses the backbone of the American economy?
So much of the debate about health care reform makes me livid. People who have good insurance through their employers don't want it messed with, and that I can understand. However, don't they realize that these days, employment is not a guarantee? What happens when you get laid off, despite your glowing performance reviews? Or your company goes bankrupt because the CFO has been embezzling funds? Or they decide to outsource your job to India, or Mexico? Absolutely nothing is guaranteed these days. Just because you have a good job and good insurance doesn't mean you will tomorrow.
Additionally, insurance just keeps getting more and more expensive. What happens when your current employer-sponsored plan gets chucked for something cheaper, because your employer just can't afford to pay 50% of your premiums anymore? Employer-sponsored health care has been around for so long, people take it for granted, but don't get too comfortable. The current system is unsustainable.
The thing that really makes me see red is the folks that somehow think that insurance reform is "socialist" (using socialist as a dirty word) or is requiring them to pay for people who are unwilling to buck up and support themselves. Guess what - low-income people already have coverage. It's called Medicaid. It's not perfect by any means, but if you're on welfare, you've probably got some health coverage. The people who really get worked over are the people who are working low to middle-income jobs with employers who are too small to afford employer-sponsored health care. Or those of us who are self-employed and have no choice but to get expensive, risky (as in, there's no guarantee you won't get kicked off at any moment, for any reason) individual plans.
Our family is definitely not looking for a handout, or any kind of support from other people. We work our butts off, but just happen to work for ourselves. I would much rather have our $1000 a month go into a tax pool with the rest of the country's taxpayers to make sure that we, and our parents, and our kids, and our neighbors' kids, all have the health care we/they need. I don't understand where all this selfishness comes from. Why is it so terrible to pool our resources to make sure that everybody gets a piece of the pie? Why is socialism such a dirty word? Quite frankly, I enjoy the socialist aspects of our society like my daughter's public elementary school, our local library, our interstate highway system (which we just enjoyed quite thoroughly), the myriad public city parks we stopped at to let the kids run off some energy, and our local police and fire departments. It would've been a bummer to have to go through a tollbooth every 5-10 miles all the way across the west because our interstate highway system had been privatized. Since we got rid of our cable TV and Netflix, our library's DVD section has seriously come in handy. And how much would it suck to have to pre-pay before the fire department would come to your house?
If you support health care reform, and particularly a public option (which would ideally work something like the insurance that Bill gets through the state of Oregon, enabling people who can't get coverage anywhere else to join a pool instead of trying to go it alone), please write your congresspeople and talk to everyone you know about it. The opponents are loud and well-armed with misinformation and lots and lots of money. If you're afraid that a public option will lead to the downfall of American civilization, do some research into Ronald Reagan's opinions of Medicare. And the things that were said about Social Security when it was first being proposed. Talk to some small business owners about their insurance situations.
It's sometimes hard to see the other side of an issue like this when you don't know anyone who lives it, which is why I wanted to share our family's story. I hope it was a least a little educational, and not too snippy! It's really hard for me to talk about this and stay rational since it hits so close to home here. I'm off to do some letter writing...