I live in northern New Hampshire where there are few good jobs (up here a good job is one that pays more than minimum wage and has benefits), but a large population of what is known as the creative class. Most creative types are self employed. And we are some of the people that any health care reform plan will help because our situation could not be worse. As our insurance agent put it "You're thrown to the sharks."
Go to a craft fair or into any artisan's shop. Potters, glassworkers, jewelers, painters, printmakers, weavers, woodworkers. Or the charming little mom and pop stores that tourists love to see here in New England. And include the creative types writing software or designing web sites. And musicians, actors, photographers, writers, and videographers like myself and my husband. We are the people who have to buy those individual health insurance policies with the sky high deductibles. The policies that don't pay for any preventive care and under which we will still probably go bankrupt if either of us get ill and cannot work.
The last time I was at a major craft fair everyone was looking older. I wonder if any young people are going into arts or if it is just too hard to make a living at it, especially if they want to have children. We don't make a lot of money but we live well by working hard, doing all of our home maintenance and building ourselves and rarely taking vacations. It's a great life, but not a wealthy one. And we don't have children.
We've always carried health insurance and we've been lucky to be healthy. We work at it, we exercise, eat well, we're outdoors working a lot. We can easily bicycle 25 miles and the same on skis. But once we got past fifty our premiums aimed for the sky and we had to keep raising our deductible so that we could afford any insurance at all. Currently we have a policy with a 10,000 dollar deductible that costs us 7,000 a year. With dental and eye care we are spending over 8,000 a year on health and that's while we're healthy. Any insurance agent that thinks they can do better for us doesn't even bother to call back. The situation is the same for many of our friends. Health insurance is now our single biggest expense. And a single root canal (around 800.00) or illness raises the total.
When a doctor recommends something like a colonoscopy (1300.00 each) mammograms ( a couple hundred) , yearly check ups, cholesterol tests or any other kind of expensive screening, well, we're already spending a good chunk of our income just to keep our insurance. The last time I went to the doctor's office with a bad stomach ache, the nurse suggested I have a blood test (400.00) to check my electrolytes. I said couldn't I just go home and drink some Gatorade and she agreed.
And if one of us actually got sick? Who knows how long and how much our insurance would actually pay? The few times I've had a doctor send an invoice to the insurance company (to add to our deductible in case anything happened in that year), I've noticed that the company doesn't allow the whole amount. So I just imagine what would happen if one of us needed cancer treatment or surgery. With an individual policy, we are the ones the company can drop for "pre-existing conditions". If we were lucky we'd get some coverage until renewal time. And who knows what we would have to pay out of pocket as the company refuses to pay the amount billed. And how stressful it would be fighting to get the bills paid. The one time we did file a claim against our (at that time) 5,000 deductible, was when my husband was sent to our regional hospital by ambulance with a life threatening case of pneumonia. He had woken up at 4 AM coughing blood. It was our doctor's decision that he needed to be in the intensive care unit at the larger hospital. Our insurance refused to allow the charge saying he wasn't ill enough to be in the hospital. That's how much you can trust insurance companies.
We did have one time when the insurance company paid their share with a problem and that was when my husband had hand surgery. We paid 5,000 and they paid 8,000. The surgeon had good office people who knew how to deal with the paperwork and everything went through.
I am hoping that health insurance reform will include something that will help us and other artists and self employed across the country. I am hoping for a public plan. One of my fears is that we will simply not be able to afford the premium raises coming along in the years between 60 and 65 and that we will be without insurance and vulnerable to losing everything we have worked so hard for all our lives.
I don't understand the people screaming at meetings about how they don't want health care reform so that everyone has care. I've lived in Canada and Sweden and no one there has to imagine that they could go bankrupt if they get sick. Our system is barbaric and cruel, with some having everything they need and others left to suffer.
Those of us supporting health care reform are posting today August 20th. Check in with www.timegoesby.net for more stories.
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