Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Wishing Your Life Away on Pensacola Beach

A Pensacola Beach friend we have mentioned before -- someone in her mid-fifties who beat breast cancer a few years ago -- wrote us the other day in distress. Her husband is on Medicare, and so she maintains a single-person health insurance policy:
Remember that friend of yours you reported to have a health insurance premium resembling some people's mortgage payments? Well, that friend's premium just jumped another blankety-blank 24-1/2 percent, from $848 to $1052 a friggin' month. I will go through the motions of calling the Florida CFO's consumer protection office tomorrow to verify the rate is legal, but have no hope of its changing -- and, as you know, I'm locked in, helpless, by virtue of my pre-existing condition.

I remarked to hubby tonight that I hate to be in the position of wishing my life away at my age, but feel as if I'm scrabbling up a rocky hill desperately seeking to reach age 65 so I can go on Medicare... . Meanwhile, I have no choice but to fork it over every single month. None. And I hate to think what next year's premium will be.

What a revolting development this is.
She did call the so-called "insurance consumer protection" people, and then she wrote us again. This is what she learned:
In my experience under company HMO plans in the past, there were typical age rating groups (e.g., 50-54, 55-59, 60-64) that wouldn't likely have caused my big increase since I'm in the middle of a normal and usual age grouping. But what I wanted to know was whether or not the increase I was being charged had been approved as a general rate increase.

It had. The State guy was able to search a database and confirm that my carrier (Vista Healthplan, Inc.) had applied for and been approved, in July, for an "average" 22.9% base rate increase on my specific class of policy. The gentleman I spoke with said the exact same thing I'd been told by someone in Tallahassee last year... . [T]hat in my position I had two choices: pay up and keep my existing carrier, or go back to work somewhere and get on a company-sponsored health insurance plan.
Great advice from our state consumer protectors, eh? Not just, "Get a job." But, "Get a job with health insurance."

As our friend points out, the chances of finding a job at her age are slim to none. Moreover, as she writes, "fewer and fewer employers even offer health insurance these days." That's especially true in Northwest Florida, which she reports "is one of the worst in that regard."

Just as bad, some of the group employer plans available -- even if she could find a job that has one -- impose "a pre-existing condition exclusion for a defined period." Woe to the poor sucker who gets sick during the exclusion period -- or has to fight the insurance company a year or two down the road when it tries to avoid paying benefits by claiming the cancer really came back during the exclusionary period.

As our friend also points out, "aside from all that, there's the fact that no job is guaranteed to last." Indeed, Florida is one of the worst states in the Union when it comes to job protection laws.

This is thanks to years of conservative state legislators and antediluvian courts that still worship at the alter of "at will" employment, where an employer can promise you the moon and then arbitrarily fire you for a bad reason or no reason at all -- without suffering any legal consequences. In Florida, unlike the majority of other states, employers are free to lie their heads off to employees.
So even if I were insured, if the job ended I'd only have 18 months of policy availability under COBRA at my sole expense (and no guarantee of the rate), and then I'd be on my own, hoping to make it to Medicare.
Our friend's story can't be unique. Not if this is "an average rate increase" as she has been told. How many more Floridians are getting those notices of astronomical premiums increases? And what are our two senators and congressman in Washington going to do about it?


Anonymous said...

Just out of curiosity how many people had health insurance in the 1930's era? Did they survive?

Anonymous said...

People in the 30s were poorer and died quicker. That's still the Republican solution to the health care crisis.