Three years ago, my husband left his perfectly secure job (read: with benefits) and became a full-time consultant for his old company (read: without benefits) so we could have a much nicer lifestyle in Williamsburg, Va than we did in the small Pennsylvania town in which we’d lived for nine years (no offense to Pennsylvanians, but I’m a Virginia born-and-bred gal and I needed to get back to the Commonwealth, where the daffodils bloom in February and we can wear flip flops before June).
Needless to say, we lost the benefits (read: employer-provided health insurance) that had allowed me to go out on my own as a freelance medical writer seven years before.
No problem, I thought. I’m a healthcare expert. Heck, I once managed the provider relations department for a mid-sized managed care company, contracting with doctors and convincing them that they hated our HMO less than the other HMOs in the area (I was pretty darn good at it, too). I’ll just go out and find us some health insurance.
I started on the individual market. For my sons and husband, who had never had a serious health problem, the premiums weren’t too bad: about $350 a month for all three. But for me–who had been diagnosed with clinical depression many years back and still took medication to control (note the word ‘control”) it–my premium for catastrophic coverage ONLY would be more than $900 a month.
I. Don’t. Think. So.
Luckily (and I say that with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek) I formed a corporation when we moved here. So we were able to find health insurance as a small business since we had two (i.e., my husband and I) employees. Oh joy! For a monthly premium of $675 we purchased two high-deductible policies, one for me and one kid; one for him and one kid.
Note the words “high deductible.” With the exception of preventive care like regular checkups, immunizations, mammograms, etc., each of the two people on either plan had to meet individual deductibles of $2400 before either of us got first dollar coverage. Oh, and every January the deductible clock reset.
In real terms it meant that barring some serious accident or illness that landed us in the hospital, we’d be paying out of pocket for all our medical expenses. That could be as much as $5800 for each policy, in addition to the $8100 a year we were paying in premiums. Oh, and don’t forget the 20 percent we’d owe even after meeting our deductibles.
The benefit of this high-deductible plan? Our premiums were actually lower than if we’d chosen a plan with a lower deductible. And, of course, we could sock away several thousand dollars tax free to cover those out-of-pocket medical expenses–assuming, of course, that we had extra thousands of dollars just lying around collecting dust (doesn’t everyone?).
There was one other “advantage” to this plan, however. After nearly 25 years of employer-paid health insurance, I’d actually get to see what things cost, something that few people with health insurance ever do. I mean, think about it. When you go to the doctor you pay a copay or, maybe, a small deductible. particularly when you pay for drugs.
Like Alice, I was about to go through the rabbit hole. Only instead of the White Rabbit, Mad Hatter and Cheshire Cat, I was about to encounter–gasp!–the real cost of healthcare.
I’ll never forget the first time I had my migraine medication refilled under the new plan.