Today it’s official. After a 30 month stretch with no health insurance, I have rejoined the ranks of the insured.
In my previous diary about healthcare I told my personal story about being squeezed out of the health insurance market. My reward for following the American Dream, the dream of being self-employed instead of being a cog in the corporate wheel, was a series of ruthless price increases in my healthcare premiums. By 2011, I found myself facing the dubious choice of paying a $755.95 monthly premium, or becoming uninsured.
One factor that influenced my choice was the idea of the 99% versus the 1%. I saw those skyrocketing premiums as yet another vehicle for transferring wealth from working folks to the already-rich folks at the top of the economic ladder. People such as “Dollar Bill” McGuire, former CEO of UnitedHealth, lived lavishly as customers paid more and more to remain insured. Check the links listed at the end of this diary for more about McGuire.
Let’s pick up my story at this point, in early July 2011:
My choice was to pay the $756 premium or do without insurance. I said, “Terminate the policy.” I stood there in the rain, wondering whether I was a genius or an idiot. Only time would tell.From that point onward, until today, that Great Unknown hung over my head. Without insurance, a major illness or injury could leave me bankrupt. On the other hand, paying huge insurance premiums when my future income was unknown could leave me broke, too. At first the feeling of being uninsured was scary, a bit like getting into a car and seeing that it had no seat belts or airbags. Eventually the situation became the “new normal” and I adjusted to it.
Were there any close calls? Yes there were.
On Labor Day weekend, 2011, just two months after I became uninsured, I was driving west on US Highway 12 between Yakima, Washington and White Pass. The Yakima area is well known for its sweet corn, and the harvest was in full swing. I found myself behind a slow moving double trailer, loaded to the max with corn destined for the population centers in western Washington. The crooked highway had few passing spots. On mountain roads, slopes can deceive. As I began to pass the truck on a straight stretch, the engine didn’t respond as crisply as I expected, because the road was steeper than it appeared. I was only halfway around the truck when a car appeared around the bend ahead. Maybe I could have made it, but perhaps not. On my left was a large parking area for a scenic overlook. I hit the brakes and bailed into the empty lot. At that point, it occurred to me that reaching White Pass alive was a more useful goal than getting part of the way there quickly.
A few days later, I was on a forestry project in the steep hills of southwestern Washington. There were places where every footstep mattered. One careless move could have left me with major injuries in the middle of nowhere. See this diary for the harrowing details.
My sport of choice is the game of ultimate frisbee. This is normally a low-contact sport. But one spring day in 2012, an out-of-control player who outweighs me by about 50 pounds slammed into me with such force that I could barely breathe. There were probably some cracked ribs, but I knew that a trip to the doctor would cost me good money to hear what I already knew. With cracked ribs, you just have to take it easy until they heal. My ribs hurt like hell for several weeks, but they healed. It was a close call. The injury could easily have been worse, and very expensive.
And just last night at 7:00, a mere five hours before my insurance kicked in, I was on my way home from the woods. As I topped a hill, I encountered four deer in the road ahead of me. There was enough time to stop, but it was one final reminder of the risks I’ve faced every day as an uninsured American.
My gamble paid off. In my 30 months without health insurance, I saved $22,678 in premiums. During that time, I spent perhaps $3,000 out-of-pocket in my efforts to stay healthy. Instead of my money being siphoned out of my bank account by wealthy insurance executives, it stayed close to home. That money paid my bills, instead of filling a wine rack on a rich guy's yacht.
I got lucky. My heart goes out to those who found themselves in the same situation, but were not as fortunate. The Affordable Care Act is far from perfect, but it is helping millions of Americans to find insurance that they would not otherwise have.
Now, on to that local news article. About a week after that first broadcast aired featuring my Congressman and yours truly, I received a phone call from another local reporter. She wanted to air a segment about the deadline for signing up at healthcare.gov in time to be insured in January. More specifically, she wanted to talk with someone who had successfully signed up. Would I be willing to talk to her, on camera? I thought of all the encouraging words my fellow Kossacks had written in my previous diary. How could I say no? The result is here.
Finally, let me expand on those encouraging words from my fellow Kossacks. As I read the comments posted in my previous diary, I couldn't help but to be impressed by the community we have here. Sure, we have our disagreements. But for someone like me, living and working in very conservative parts of the country, I am happy to overlook the differences and focus on the strengths this community offers. I want to give a big Thank You to everyone who expressed their opinions and told their own personal stories.
If you are unfamiliar with the story of Bill McGuire of UnitedHealth, take a few minutes to learn some of the sordid details. This page takes you to a video by Thom Hartmann appropriately titled "Blood Sucking Leeches vs Single Payer." This article from USA Today explains the fine art of backdating stock options, so that the ridiculously rich can become even richer. And lo and behold, my search of the Internets yielded this Daily Kos diary.