Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Warning! This is rant! (I try not to do this too often…)

Anyone who knows me knows that I am – for better or worse – a bleeding heart liberal.  Robert F. Kennedy was, and remains to this day, my ideal for a true leader for this country.
Politics aside…

I always looked forward to the day when this country stood up with other progressive Western nations and provided healthcare for its citizens. I applauded the passing of the Universal Healthcare Act (UHA), when it finally became law.
Seriously. Now politics aside.

When we made our move to Maine, I was excited about enjoying the benefits of an economy geared to a primarily rural population. This was an important consideration when my husband and I looked for a place to retire to.  And for the most part, my experience has been positive, including a significant break in real estate tax. Let’s see: $6400./yr for house and 9/10th of an acre in MA v. $4800./yr for house, barn, run-in shelter, shed and 42 acres in ME. Well - That’s a no-brainer.
Enter healthcare (and associated costs) in Maine. 

I have also been pleased to find kind, talented and highly-educated physicians here at Maine Medical Center in Portland, who are every bit as skilled as their finest colleagues in Boston, MA. Their bills also reflect an acknowledgement of the local economy, with services charged out at approximately 85% of their MA counterparts.
Now we come to the part about paying for those healthcare services which are – even at 85% -- pretty staggering for an average middle-class couple.

Maine has two healthcare insurance providers currently approved by the UHA: Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Maine and Maine Community Health.  Not a wealth of choices, but we are at least given a chance to compare services and rates, which I did last January when I needed to change my policy. It was then that I found out the true cost of “universal healthcare” as it applied to me: a baby-boomer within 5 years of retirement, too young to take advantage of Medicare.
Both providers had a range of plans and associated costs.

Both “Bronze” plans had a lower monthly premium with a significantly higher deductible. – I’m talking $300.-600. for a monthly premium, and up to $6000. (gulp) for an annual deductible. “Silver” plans required a monthly payment of $600.-900., and deductibles ranged from $2500.-$5000. And then we had the “Gold” plans, with princely monthly costs of up to $1200. with $500.-$1000. deductibles.
So much for “choice”.

Any way I ran the numbers, I would be paying out somewhere in the vicinity of $8000. annually, between premium and deductibles, to hedge my bets against catastrophic illness,  and  depending on whether or not I used my insurance for “covered” annual services like a physical and mammogram.
$8000?! That’s a (cruel) joke, right? 

Cruel joke indeed.

Let me share my up-close-and-personal example of how I benefit from the UHA.  To date this calendar year, I have paid ~ $6300. in premiums. This is for Maine Community Health’s lowest cost “Silver” plan, with a $5000. deductible. Note also that this represents a significant portion of my monthly income – and I am working fulltime, at a good salary.  My mid-year statement from Maine Community Health just came in the mail this week, and is primarily the reason I am writing this diatribe. It outlines the benefits I have received for my plan to date:
Annual physical:               $296.28
Shingles vaccine:              $265.98 (this is a ridiculous number on the face of it!)
Prescriptions:                    $40.33
Total                                   $602.59

Applied to annual deductible:  $421.31.  Goody. Only $4598.69 to go to meet my annual deductible.

On the plus side:
·         I am blessed to live in a country where healthcare is so widely available.

·         I am blessed to live in a country that has acknowledged the importance of healthcare for all of its citizens.

·         I feel it is my obligation to help shoulder the cost of providing this healthcare for those less fortunate*, and I am willing and anxious to do so.

·         I am blessed to have a job where I can make a contribution to the general good and my personal economy – and that allows me to  pay for medical care and insurance.

·         I have had a relatively healthy year.

·         My other expenses have decreased, as I work from home and have been able to take advantage of lower cost-of-living in my new state of residence.

·         Maine Community Health provides “free” blood pressure medication for me under their “chronic illness” clause. (This represents an annual cost of $216.)

* Did I mention that a neighbor, a dear and generous friend whose company I enjoy over coffee or a cocktail, decided to take a voluntary early retirement last year?  We are the same age and have roughly the same educational background.  Because she is retired, her current income qualifies her for a federal allowance to augment her premium – and she pays 60% less for the same insurance that I have. While I don’t blame her personally for taking advantage of this subsidy – this kinda infuriates me when I see her working in her garden or heading out to the beach on a glorious Summer day like today. - It may be totally irrational, but I feel taken advantage of.
So what, you may now be asking yourself, is the point you are trying to make, Ms. Bleeding Heart Liberal?

I guess what I am trying to say is that, for all its good intention, the Universal Healthcare Act is broken, and I am feeling it quite personally.  And all of the energy spent trying to repeal it would be better spent trying to reform it so that it can be administered fairly, in the spirit and intent of the law.
p.s. You notice that I did not refer to the law as “Obama-care”.  If the law needs a nick-name, don’t you think we should honor the legislator who championed healthcare reform throughout his career, Senator Edward Kennedy?

I know.  Ted-care just doesn’t the same ring to it...