You read that right – an $1875 COBRA payment – every month. That’s our new reality. Think you can afford it? I don’t know if we can either, at least not without making major sacrifices.
I don’t want to beat this to the point where it turns into blatant whining – though my guess is that just about anyone would whine about it – but it’s a first-hand and very real account of what’s wrong with the entire health care system.
Our Health Insurance Situation – an $1875 COBRA Payment
For the past 2.5 years my family has been taking advantage of a part-time job with health insurance. In our household finances, I pay the majority of the bills, while my wife maintains a job that provides the health insurance for our family. Our two adult kids also contribute their pro rata shares of her payroll contribution.
The arrangement has worked well for us, since her employer paid 60% of the premium, which amounted to over $21,000 last year. The arrangement originally began with a 20 hour a week position, that eventually increased to 30 hours.
However last month my wife lost that job. I won’t go into the details as to how that happened, since the reasons for a job loss are often convoluted. As well, it’s not really the subject of this article.
The main point is to illustrate how absurdly expensive health insurance has become. An $1875 COBRA payment will ultimately cost $22,500 on an annual basis. That’s only until the new year, when it will do what all health insurance premiums do, which is the “payment change” that goes in only one direction – up.
I should also point out that it could’ve been a good bit higher. In order to keep the payment “affordable” (absurd concept, I know), we dropped the dental and vision coverage. That made it…well, let’s just settle on that it makes the premium less unaffordable, and leave it at that.
The Health Insurance System has Become an Unmitigated Disaster
$22,500 per year – plus whatever it will be next year. I don’t know, maybe it’ll be $24,000. Maybe will be $25,000. What I do know – what we all know – is that it will only get worse. We’ve been conditioned to it. It’s like living with a slow-acting disease that we’re helpless to control, even though we know that it will one day claim our lives. We just hope to “get by” a little bit longer.
That’s the pattern with healthcare and health insurance. Health care is already consuming an absurd 18.2% of the national economy. Even though that’s about twice the percentage that healthcare is eating up the economies of other rich countries, the mentality in this country only seems to be that we need to find ways to throw more money at the problem.
Perish the thought that anybody should actually think about finding constructive ways to seriously reduce the cost of this runaway expense. We’ll keep letting this balloon get bigger and fatter, until it reaches the point where an average premium for a family of four approach $30,000 per year.
Personally, I don’t think it’ll get that far. I think the whole thing will blow up before it gets to that point. I think were close to that now. Much closer than anyone suspects.
The Options that Aren’t…
You’re probably wondering why we didn’t try the ridiculously named Affordable Care Act health insurance exchanges. That’s a fair question.
The answer is…we did.
But that was even worse. We priced coverage on our state health insurance exchange, and found coverage that’s even more expensive than the COBRA.
It was $1,722 per month, and that only covered my wife and I. It would’ve been well over $2,000 per month if we added our two kids. I don’t know – I’m guessing something closer to $2,500.
I do know that my 26-year-old nephew tried to get coverage on the exchange in Pennsylvania, and his premium was $600 per month. For one person. Like us, he passed on the coverage. Fortunately, he did land a job with coverage a few months later.
You can do that sort of thing when you’re younger I suppose, go without coverage and take a chance that nothing will happen. But in a family of four, with two of us over 50, that’s not a reasonable option. Back in April I had an emergency appendectomy, that cost somewhere north of $28,000. Just one uncovered episode like that, and you have serious problems. And in today’s healthcare universe, $28,000 is practically pocket change.
Our Future with Health Insurance
I don’t want to shed too many tears over this situation. In reality, ours is not as bad as it is for some people. We can at least afford to make an $1875 COBRA payment…barely…at least for a few months.
But if it goes on for too long, we may have to make some tough choices. We may even have to consider going without health insurance coverage. There are times when it makes complete sense. Like when you can’t afford the premiums.
I don’t know – maybe we’ll try to balance it out, by going six months on, six months off. At least until my wife finds another job situation that offers health insurance.
(If you’re wondering why I keep saying “I don’t know”, it’s because I really don’t know. When it comes to health insurance, there’s nothing but a series of bad choices.)
And there again, we’re better off than most people are. My wife has been working two part-time jobs for the past two and half years. She has a second (now only) job working in a jewelry store. They’re increasing her hours, and since it’s a national chain with health insurance coverage, there’s an excellent chance of her getting enough hours to qualify for the plan. In fact, that’s the plan. They’re working with her to move her into that situation.
It won’t be immediate, so we’ll have to muddle through, one month at a time. I feel blessed to have that option sitting out there. In my experience, God has been very good to to me and my family. In our worst moments, He’s always provided a way. I’ve come to rely on that, and I’m counting on it once again.
Where is All of This Going?
My wife and I and our family will get through this, as we always have. But we have options, or at least we’re working to create some. It really makes me sad for the millions of families and individuals who don’t have any options at all.
Unfortunately, I don’t see any of this having a happy ending on a national level. We’re already in the midst of a full-blown healthcare crisis, and there is neither the political will, nor any public consensus, as to what to do about it. Our only “strategy” – as individuals, and as a nation – is to just sit around and wait until this thing finally and formally does actually blow up.
That’s not really a strategy, of course, but it’s all we can do given that there’s no clear path forward.
During the election, Donald Trump predicted that it (Obamacare) would blow up in two or three years. Whether you love him or hate him, Trump was right on the money with that prediction. I’ve heard it said and written elsewhere, many times.
But given the national belief in magic, we continue to tool along, as if we have other options. At a minimum, we think that we can close our eyes and whistle past the graveyard. But this time we may not make it past that graveyard. It’ll pull us in, and force us to give the current rendition of the American healthcare system a decent and final burial.
The only question is, what will take it’s place?
I’m guessing fear and panic for starters. All crashes tend to be worse than anyone imagines. And a healthcare crash will be no different. The only problem with this crash is that lives will literally hang in the balance.
We have a chance to fix that now. Or at least we once did. But there’s no will to do it. Only a desire and a fantasy that we can have all the healthcare we want, and not have to pay for it. Since that’s what people want to believe, the only possible outcome is disaster. It will wake us from our complacency, cost a bunch of deserving politicians their jobs (thankfully), and give us something that could actually work in the real world that we inhabit.
In the meantime, as I’ve already noted, all the choices before us are bad.
What do you think? Am I exaggerating this problem, based on personal circumstances? Or does it truly point to something much bigger, something system-wide? And if you don’t think so, how much longer do you think this can go on? How much higher can health insurance premiums go before they’re too high?