Any other freelancers or self employed folks out there feeling utterly overwhelmed with the new Affordable Care Act and its associated health insurance requirements? On the surface, it appears to be a great idea to make healthcare affordable and available to everyone in the United States, but as I found out, it’s a utopian idea that’s not so great when you actually dig into it. Like most of the 3.3 million Americans who have enrolled in Obamacare so far, I was one of many who rushed to take advantage of the new health insurance plans available. But even before I dug into the utterly awful and uninformative Healthcare.gov website, I had my hesitations.
You see, in May 2013, I ended up in the hospital with appendicitis. After a less than 12 hour stay in the hospital, I left with a medical debt of over $20,000 (which I know could have been much worse like this guy). It was the single moment in my life when having medical insurance really would have helped offset the resulting costs. I was lucky in that one of my huge bills qualified for the hospital’s charity care policy, resulting in a huge discount off the total bill. The hospital was also nice enough to set up affordable monthly payments that were interest free, making the whole financial ordeal much more manageable and realistic. I believe in paying for quality services I receive, especially for something as major as an appendectomy, so even though the extra costs were a bit of a burden, they were in my opinion pretty reasonable. I hustled my butt off for several months to earn extra money, and paid off my whole hospital bill within 4 months.
I thought I was done and good, until I got a phone call in the fall from yet another medical provider who claimed there was still an outstanding bill out there that had somehow gotten lost in the mail. After a few back and forth phone calls to check the validity of the bill, I relented to the fact that I still owed another $5,000 in medical bills, and this time there was no charitable discount available. Despite being months behind on payments, the medical provider was nice enough to set up reasonable monthly payments with no interest or late fees. Not a bad deal, considering the fact that many more fees could have been added, but obviously still a disappointment to my financial budgets.
Several months later, I found myself on the Washington State Healthcare Finder website, shopping for my mandatory new insurance plan. I already had my doubts, considering all of the money I’d paid toward medical costs in 2013, plus the extra 9 months of monthly payments I had to keep paying in 2014. On top of all that, I had to pay for “just in case” health insurance too?! “Absurd,” I thought to myself, but the thought of the penalty fee for not having insurance scared me into submission.
I found the Washington State Healthcare website to be incredibly slow and confusing, so I went over to eHealthInsurance.com, which was way more approachable and user-friendly. Through eHealth, I found what I understood to be a relatively affordable and accommodating health insurance plan with added vision and dental care. When all was said and done, it would cost me $250 a month, or $3,000 a year annually. Compared to the total out-of-pocket payments I’d had to make for my appendectomy last year, it sounded rather reasonable. I signed up for the coverage, and after a lengthy 3 weeks of waiting for approval, received my insurance cards in the mail in late January 2014, along with a bill asking me to pay for the whole month of January 2014 coverage (which I got pardoned, after a 45 minute phone call). This would be my first time having health insurance in 4 years.
Psyched, I immediately logged on to my new health insurance provider’s website to use the “find a doctor” search engine, which offered no browsing feature, only the ability to search for a specific doctor or hospital in the area. It took me half an hour to come up with a short list of potential providers, and another 2 hours to call them all up. I was shocked to discover that of the 3 hospitals I called, 2 of them said they did not accept my brand new insurance. I don’t know what was more embarrassing: hearing the phone operator’s tone of voice shift with uncertainty when I verified that my health insurance was from “the exchange” rather than an employer, or finding out that the 20 minutes I’d been waiting on hold had all been in vain. Anyway, 2 hours later, I found a hospital willing to accept my health insurance, and scheduled my annual physical to take place the next day.
I’ve been used to dealing with impersonal medical personnel for most of my life. My dad is a retiree of the Navy, so I was always taken to military base hospitals for all of my checkup and healthcare needs. For those of you unfamiliar with the military medical system, it’s…decent, but not the best. As an example, every time you visit the military clinic, you get randomly assigned a doctor. I admit, I used to envy my childhood friends who would always go to the same family doctor who was familiar with their whole medical history. I was pretty excited to get to finally experience that first hand with my brand new doctor, courtesy of my new health insurance.
Imagine my disappointment when my new doc ended up being one of the most socially awkward professionals I’ve ever dealt with. She spent our entire consultation firing off questions at warp speed, rushing me through my answers and seemingly not hearing half of the things I was trying to tell her as I had to repeat them several times. What was even weirder was how she approached the medical examinations she administered to me, beginning by apologizing for the awkwardness of performing a breast exam (um, it’s part of your job!) and insisting on talking me through the Pap smear (TMI!!! I don’t want to hear it!!!). She then ended the exam by cheerfully telling me, “You’ll be pleased to know that you now only need a Pap every 2 years, so I guess I won’t be seeing you again til 2016!” So very welcomed I felt. Despite the awkwardness, she did prescribe me some nice lotions and pills for a skin rash I’ve been dealing with, after I told her exactly what I needed her to prescribe. Of course, my brand new insurance only covered a small percentage of these prescriptions.
When all is said and done, that less than comprehensive physical cost me close to $150. Add that to my monthly insurance payments, ongoing appendicitis medical bill payments, and time spent making phone calls, and I’m not really sure it’s all worth it. I had a conversation with my accountant about all of this, and even he admits that for people with no ongoing health problems, it’s more affordable to simply pay the penalty and out-of-pocket health costs as they are incurred than to deal with the healthcare system. As I did more research, it turns out there’s a lot of news that correlates to this idea that for most young people, it’s cheaper to opt out of health coverage than to enroll.
“The study finds that after accounting for cost-sharing and subsidies in 2014, it would still be cheaper for 86 percent of young adults to forgo coverage and to pay the individual mandate instead.
Without younger, healthier Americans enrolling in the exchanges, the law cannot sustain itself; after all, someone has to pay for all those older, sicker people signing up for coverage.”
All of this was convincing enough for me to call my health insurance company and opt out. I know I’m not invincible, as my appendicitis attack last year taught me, but if something catastrophic like that happens, I’d rather pay for it on a case-by-case basis. Until I’m at a point where I need sustained healthcare, I’m not convinced that I should be paying for “just in case” insurance, especially when I know of much more affordable ways to get healthcare without insurance. Tune in next week for my new post on where to get affordable healthcare without Obamacare.