health insurance, 8 months later

October 5, 2011 |  Category:   life

Remember this post? The post where I decide I was fed up paying crazy expensive health insurance premiums and switch to a cheaper but suckier plan? I just wanted to follow up because it’s been 8 months since that post. So did I make the switch? Yes. I received a letter informing me that my premiums would go up $200 to $1650 a month. That wasn’t a surprise. My premiums have been going up roughly 15% every year, but what had been a marginally manageable bill was becoming an increasingly unaffordable monthly expense.

So what’s happened in the 8 months since I made the switch?

Nothing.

This is what I anticipated. We remained healthy and went to the doctor just a few times for minor checkups.

But I have an extra $5000 in the bank from the $600 that I am saving every month by switching to a cheaper plan. I don’t touch this money except to pay for other health related expenses like visits to the dentist (we don’t have dental insurance). I’ll keep building on this money and eventually pay for things like braces for the girls and other medical bills that might crop up. The money is for nothing else since we have a higher deductible and insane out of pocket maximums. You can plan for some things, but you can’t plan for everything.

You can say that I came out ahead so far and the decision was a smart one, and yet I can’t help but still feel a bit unsettled. It’s still a gamble.

This year a close friend of mine got diagnosed with early stage cancer. She’s fine now and thankfully had excellent healthcare and excellent insurance through her partner, but it did make me think about a lot of things as I witnessed the diagnosis and treatment process with her. It made me realize that had it been me, if I had been diagnosed with cancer, my treatment and medical bills would have been a different story. That maybe I would have had to make certain decisions based on costs, rather than the best healthcare that I could find. That I might have bills that would have wiped away our entire savings. Is it fair? Hardly.

Recently my mom had to undergo a myriad of medical tests. It all came out negative, thankfully, however she thought twice about taking these tests because she wasn’t confident that her insurance would pay for it. They’ve failed her in the past, but her doctors urged her that she couldn’t wait. My parents are in their mid-60s, have paid their fair share in taxes (more, I’d say), and have always had to pay for private insurance because they are small business owners like us. Is it fair that their MRIs and certain hospital bills get routinely rejected by insurance? No.

It’s still a gamble, isn’t it?

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  • Anna @ D16 October 5, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Having taken for granted for years the fact that I have very good insurance, everything I’ve gone through medically recently has been a real eye-opener for me. Actually seeing those astronomical fees for treatment and tests I’ll have to continue to receive for the rest of my life makes me really, really appreciative of my coverage. If I didn’t have insurance, I’d probably just be ignoring everything…as I’m sure many people do.

  • TC October 5, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    I think our medical system is beyond messed up in this country, with or without insurance. I do feel more secure when I do have insurance, but I still worry about catastrophic events that would cause me to incur fees beyond what my insurance covers. Or if I ever need to change jobs and I’m pregnant or get sick and then get denied insurance for “preexisting conditions.”

    Your story about your mom made me think of my grandparents. In their late sixties my grandfather got cancer twice. They were very poor, but had always paid their taxes and my grandfather was a war veteran. This was while Bush was in office, and his reform to Medicare caused my grandmother to have to put my grandpa’s cancer medication on credit cards. My grandpa passed away and my grandma was many thousands of dollars in debt, still trying to pay for the medication that he’d taken to help keep him alive. A woman living off of social security and no other savings cannot pay down outrageous credit card debt, so a lawyer advised her to stop answering her phone and stop paying her credit card bills. That experience has always left a bitter taste in my mouth.

  • oilandgarlic October 5, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    It’s so sad that in this country people are blind about the realities of our health insurance system, which is profit-driven, until they are hit by illness (it’s a matter of when not if..since we all get old).

    Recently I was following a story about a sick baby girl named after Princess Leia of Star Wars. All the articles focused on the fundraising efforts of SW fans to cover her care. While this is nice and sweet, everyone seems to forget that there are many sick children and not all get press coverage; all get huge medical bills. We should all be covered when we’re sick, and not have to do fundraisers while going through medical crisis.

  • Kiana October 5, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Thank you for posting this! I guess that means its been eight months since I’ve been reading your blog since that was the first post I read. It is a scary thing indeed to not have health insurance in this country especially when something bad happens. My husband and I are moving to Spain in a few months and neither of us are working in the interim. A few weeks ago, my husband strained his lower back and could not stand upright because of the pain. We ended up finding a cheaper alternative than the ER but that’s not always the case.
    I blogged about it in case you want to read:
    http://thebarcelonastory.blogspot.com/2011/08/pain-in-upper-right-butt.html

  • elizabeth antonia October 5, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    jenna,

    you are my hero for talking about this. the whole situation is so shockingly horrible. i’ve always worked for companies w/ amazing healthcare and now that we are self-employed it just isn’t an option. we just got off cobra and i made a similar decision for our family to take a higher deductible plan (and it is still $$) and try to never go to the doc. i ended up in the e/r in seattle the last day of my old coverage and just saw the astronomical bill, thankful at least that my emergency happened that day instead of the next. what a strange way to live. that thought doesn’t hit me every day but i definitely feel that it is a bit precarious.

  • oni October 5, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    your posts are always so relevant and I wonder if your reading my mind. Its sad that things like our health have to take a back seat to money,very very sad.

  • Procrastamom October 5, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    I do worry about my friends in the States in regards to the medical system. That $1650 number made me cringe, because that is our rent payment! As a Canadian, I feel very lucky to have Universal Health Care. A family here pays approx $110/month for basic care, plus a small amount through their employer (or privately), for what is usually 80-100% coverage of drugs & hospital care and 50-80% coverage of dental. My employer actually pays for all of it. I can’t imagine why a country’s citizens wouldn’t embrace a system like this, but that is where my bleeding heart liberal tendencies start to show through. (yes, I realize our system isn’t all great, but it isn’t so broken as to not provide something for everyone) I wish it was better for the US…it’s horrible to see people lose control of their finances along with receiving a terrible diagnosis.

  • emi love October 5, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Insurance is so tricky.

    After miscarrying last month and incurring a $4k bill, we’re reviewing our current high deductible insurance plan.. ironically, it turns out that even if we were to get the more expensive insurance, depending on how things go, it may cost us the same or more in premiums..

    I’m happy to hear that it’s starting to look like you’ve made the right decision! ~emi

  • Sebbie October 5, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    I’m embarassed that we live in a country where small business owners and independents must choose between having daily financial security and savings and having health insurance.

    Crabby rant aside, I am glad that this decision has worked for you and your family.

    Side note: I was hoping to see your booth at the Brooklyn Flea last weekend, as I was in town visiting a friend. Oh well…maybe next time.

  • Rachael October 5, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    This is pretty scary stuff- and something I thankfully never have to think about living in the UK. Healthcare, drugs, Doctors and health practices are never advertised here and everyone gets the same level of care thankfully, employed or not. The NHS definitely has it’s flaws but is still one of the greatest things about living here. Being self employed I just don’t know how if would manage if I had to pay those sorts of premiums. I’m interested to know what people in the States think of this? I spoke about healthcare to a number of people when i’ve visited the US and they’ve seemed quite sceptical of our NHS, one person even asked me if our doctors actually went to University! Is this the general consensus?
    Its sounds like you’re doing the best for your family though and making smart decisions.

  • Shilo October 5, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    I too, really appreciate your openness in writing about this subject. My husband and I are still completely uninsured, and as a result cannot even think of expanding our family until that changes. I *hate* that this is the deciding factor. I guess we could technically afford expensive insurance payments – but until the no-preexisiting conditions laws kick in, I deeply seriously doubt any insurer would take us given past medical histories.

    It’s also saddening and ridiculous that while we’re in France on sabbatical, healthcare wouldn’t be (essentially) free to us like it is the French, but even paying out of pocket it would be a fraction of what we would pay back home in the states.

    Here’s to hoping for continuing health for all and some sort of improvement of the options for those of us who freelance or work for small employers who don’t provide insurance. Glad to hear your new tact seems to be working out favorably.

  • Elizabeth October 5, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Jenna, I just discovered your blog and am enjoying your posts so much. I’m also self-employed (as an interior designer) and am thinking of trying this hospitalization-only insurance from Empire. It would be wildly cheaper than what I pay now. And I should certainly follow your example with the savings, since I’d have to pay for all other health needs out of pocket.

    My two sons are on child health plus, which has worked out great so far, and costs very little.

    Great work, beautiful photos.

  • Monica October 5, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    Living in Spain we are used to have all our health covered by the NHS system that can be improved but up today uses to be one of the best in the world. Now due to the European crisis and to right wing politicians this situation might change as this system is challenged. How afraying it becomes! We might faced being denied some treatments due to their expensive costs. It is difficult (and scaring) to imagine being confronted to face a 1,650$ monthly bill! That would be unaffordable for the big majority of Spanish (much higher than the average income).

  • Sarah October 5, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    I’ve been through serious health issues with both parents and an aunt in the past few years and have seen the bills. My mother was (and still is) uninsured and needed a triple bypass. Needless to say, there is no way she will ever be able to make a significant dent in those bills reaching the hundreds of thousands. My aunt and father were both covered with Medicare (thankfully), but still – an ER visit for was $15,000. The community hospital providing my father’s care offered him a 30% discount right off the bat on his portion of the charges for his surgery and 5-day stay. So I imagine they’re just happy to get any amount of payment from folks these days.

  • K and A Alesandrini October 5, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    We made a similar decision 8 months ago, choosing to forgo health insurance entirely because of how unaffordable it was for us as new small business owners. So far so good, but it certainly makes me think before I climb on a ladder or pick up a power tool. But I am thinking about the safety risk in terms of what a hospital visit would cost, not in terms of how it would affect my body! Fingers crossed that your family stays healthy as well until we see some true reforms in the US.

  • Aya October 5, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    My mom is a nurse, so I grew up with some great insurance. We had a $5 co-pay for anything–hospitalization, prescriptions, surgery, check ups. I had no qualms about checking anything that might be wrong, having tests done or getting prescriptions before a trip “just in case.” When I turned 25 I started on my own insurance and I suddenly my health decisions began to revolve around money and what I can afford. Right now I’m young and healthy and I bank on that. I avoid going to the hospital at any cost.

    My close friend was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer at the age of 23 a few years ago but lives in England. I keep thinking about the NHS there and how it even supplies a wig and prostheses after a mastectomy. I think about how hard fighting cancer has been for her and still is and I am thankful she doesn’t live here. She would be suffocating under debt right now if she lived here, and she has enough on her plate as it is! Her single mom and her twin sister would be bankrupt trying to keep her alive.

    How can we consider ourselves a first world nation if we can’t even keep people well? People don’t like the idea of socialized health care but I think there are plenty of socialized services people like—the postal service, the police, the fire department. I am happy to pay for firefighters, even if my home never burns down. I feel the same about healthcare. Wouldn’t we live in a better place if we weren’t gambling with our health and crossing our fingers that we won’t get sick?

  • Sue October 5, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    I have Lupus and have had a kidney transplant so having medical coverage is like drinking water and breathing oxygen. I am so thankful that through my husband’s job we have decent health coverage. If we didn’t I would be putting every extra cent into a savings just for medical costs.

  • katrina October 5, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    Do you have the option of a plan with a Health Savings Account (HSA)? I have this through my employer, and I highly recommend it. I have a high deductible PPO policy through Blue Cross and the HSA with NY Mellon Bank.
    You put your money into a savings account specifically for health costs. This money is pre-tax. You can use this money for medical expenses like deductibles, copays and prescriptions, but also for dental, eye exams, contacts, etc. This money is fully yours, at all times. Once your balance reaches a certain amount, you can even invest it if you so choose.

    Here’s a link to the IRS website with more info:
    http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p969.pdf

    It sounds like this is basically what you’re already doing, but with an HSA you can enjoy the tax benefits. Just an idea!

  • Gaia October 5, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    I recently got married and moved onto my husband’s health insurance he gets through his work. I’m shocked and kind of appalled at how easy and inexpensive my medical care is now. A few months before our wedding I was diagnosed, after many tests, with a chronic condition and suddenly my once-fine (Freelancers Union) health insurance was not cutting it. I’m still paying for those bills and do not even want to think about how much worse they’d be if I had no insurance at all. I’m now so grateful for my husband’s plan, but also completely disgusted my best option at affordable health care was to happen to get married to someone who has a job that offers it. A mess indeed.
    It does sound like you guys are doing right thing though. We’ll be doing something similar if (when?) my husband gets laid off.

  • j October 5, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    we have health insurance through my husband’s small biz. we pay close to a thousand a month (not including the kids) and no dental coverage. i remember once i had insurance with my job and when i left it, my hub and i decided to cancel cobra and just research different insurance companies. well, in that month without insurance, he ended up in the hospital overnight and were billed almost 10,000. so for me, coverage is so important but so damn expensive. and even with coverage, our meds are sometimes not covered or just partially. as for dental, oh don’t get me started. those costs have come out of pocket and just yesterday after a visit to the dentist, i learned that i’m in for a very, very expensive treatment plan. ugh!

  • Chantale October 5, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    While the Canadian health care system isn’t the best model in the world (long waiting lists, long waiting hours in clinics and emergency wards), none of us have these types of stress or worry in our lives (so far and as long as it hangs on). When I read this, I wonder why some ppl south of the border scoff and laugh at us for having a health care system for all. Not just the lucky few. I can’t imagine my life savings being wiped out by an illness or making life/medical choices based on how much I could pay for. I’m grateful for what we have. It’s not perfect but it’s there.

  • Laura October 5, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    I am also a Canadian, and can not imagine what it would be like to have to face financial decisions like this with my and my family’s healthcare. The kids and I have had to go to the doctor numerous times this year for various things and I haven’t had to pay a cent. I have had to go to emergency and clinics this year and have found the wait times quite reasonable in my area. I agree, our system isn’t perfect but at least when we get sick we don’t have the added worry of how I am I going to pay for this. I hope that the U.S. eventually adopts a more universal health care system. I also hope you guys can eventually get a paid mat leave for longer than six weeks to three months. With each daughter I got a year off (yes, at half my salary, but still a better option than the States). I am still amazed at some of the differences between our two countries although there are many similarities.

  • carol October 5, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    if you live in the usa, support medicare for all—-keep saying it and supporting it until it happens. in california, where i live, there is a recurring single payer bill that has come up, been passed by the assembly and senate then vetoed by the former governor. hopefully, when it comes up again (which it will) governor brown will sign it. MEDICARE FOR ALL>

  • JC October 6, 2011 at 1:18 am

    We are self-insured as well. I don’t really get the politics and all that, but the system is certainly expensive and wrong.

    The whole healthcare thing is a gamble is more ways than just monetary. My dad had cancer and passed away, but he had medicare and a reasonably priced AARP supplemental insurance so the costs were bearable. However, the whole treatment was really hit or miss. I think with serious illnesses, sometimes the doctors don’t really know what the best course of treatment is until they try it…since some people tolerate some things better than others and all that. Sometimes, you have to make the choice of better quality of life or aggressive treatment to extend life. Not easy decisions!

    Anyway, we are lucky to have doctor friends who help us out with some emergencies for free (stitches, etc). For dental, we go to a local dental school clinic. We have had great experiences with that…very professional and thorough and child-friendly. My poor little girl had to get her baby tooth pulled, and it was $70.

    But the big gamble is still a very serious illness…what will happen then?

  • Audrie October 6, 2011 at 1:42 am

    I’ve moved to the States 4 years ago and never had to think about health insurance before that. I’m always so grateful and appreciative that because my husband now works for the State, we have excellent health care. We went without health insurance for the first 3 years and I never thought about it till earlier this year when I had to undergo tests and find out I needed to be treatment for the rest of my life for a chronic health problem.

    I understand how you feel about the risk you’re taking, and I truly hope that you all remain in good health and free of emergencies.

  • nathalie October 6, 2011 at 2:23 am

    I live in the Netherlands and have to pay a little over 100 euros a month for health care. It makes me so sad to read your story, although I am glad this seems to be working out for you and your family!

    I just feel that people should worry about their health instead of the price tag that comes with that. Shouldn’t access to the best health care be a right instead of a burden?

  • Helle (Helen) October 6, 2011 at 6:45 am

    Whenever I read your posts about this topic or what others have to say, I am so puzzled by this massive opposition to universal health care in the US. Yeah it’s fine if you’re rich and can afford expensive private cover, but there seems to be so many “normal” people also against. Here in Switzerland, where I live, having a health insurance is compulsory, but even though not cheap, affordable, and we get some of the best treatment available.

  • Nick UK October 6, 2011 at 6:48 am

    I can never understand why people in the US are so scornfull about the NHS in the UK, it is not without problems but no-one goes without medical treatment, both acute and preventative, sick people have enough problems without adding debt to it. And if you want to and can afford it private treatment is also available.

  • oilandgarlic October 6, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    There is a bill pending about giving better paid parental leave. I blogged about it but you can find more info at working mother magazine. I still don’t think it’s enough but it’s a step in the right direction!

  • Abba October 6, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    It´s so scary to imagine being without health insurance or with an insurance that might or might not pay for treatment. Here in Germany everybody has health insurance. It is impossible not to have one. Even people who are unimployed. Didn´t Obama want to do something about that??? I really wish that you and your lovely family stay healthy so that you never have to think about taking certain tests or undergoing treatment and having to think about money at the same time.

  • Nina October 6, 2011 at 11:40 pm

    I’m from Australia and I currently work in a very poor south-east Asian country. Back home, I go to the doctor whenever I need to, I don’t need to pay any monthly health insurance premiums, I just take my Medicare card and off I go. GPs in Australia are allowed to charge you a small extra fee on top of the rebate they get from the government; but people on a low income are exempt from this. I couldn’t imagine not being able to access health care… until I moved here to Cambodia. I get health insurance through work but it only covers me for emergencies, particularly an evacuation to Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh. If I need to see the doctor, it costs me at least $80 (huge in a country where an expensive meal is $10). I now have to make medical decisions based on whether or not I can afford. This is the third world! It astounds me that American citizens are content to be on par with the third world and not with other first world countries like Australia, Britain and Canada. It seems to me that the Americans who shout loudest about ‘American’ values of freedom etc and the need to ‘share’ these ‘American’ values with places like Iraq and Afghanistan are also the very same people who would deny healthcare to their fellow Americans. It’s shameful.

  • Ana October 7, 2011 at 9:10 am

    I am a brit living in brooklyn and last year quit my cosy full time job to work for myself…the insurance issue makes me spin, I am still on cobra but next month must dive in to the search for new coverage. It makes me so sad and angry at this country for its lack of support on one of our most basic needs.

    Currently looking for a plan with good pregnancy coverage as my bf and I are thinking of having a baby. One insurance company told me they dont cover getting pregnant??!! I ended up venting to the broker and got off the phone feeling even more frustrated by the situation.

    All very depressing as my bf is also self employed so I dont get any coverage from him…actually even though we have been together 10 years when I had my corporate job he couldnt be on my plan as we are not married.

    I love that people are protesting against Wall St etc…but I am amazed at how complacent Americans are about health and even food and the abundance of GM crops, things in Europe we take for granted. This is the main reason for making me want to move back to England. Even though I love living here I cant imagine paying an extra grand a month for insurance, even with insurance you also never quite know what you are covered for until something happens.

    Jenna thanks for bringing this up and for being so inspiring by not giving up and going back to full time work.

  • Jenna October 7, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    @katrina hi! About the HSA – yes I did look into it, but HSAs that are available often cover less. Meaning most don’t pay for routine doctor visits etc. You would think that they would then be cheaper by a lot but they are not. Most only by $50-70 per month. Doesn’t make sense! Which is why I’m doing it the way I am. As a freelancer, I can deduct some percentage of my premiums anyway…

  • Jen Laceda October 13, 2011 at 8:30 am

    Whoa! Did you just say $1650 for medical insurance? That is crazy!! I’m Canadian (and will never ever complain about our health system again, I promise), but I am sure we don’t pay that much into healthcare for the whole family. And even if we did (which I highly doubt), I don’t ever see that money because it is automatically deducted from my paycheque (as taxes). Plus my employer pays for some additional health benefits such as dentist, naturopaths, Massage Therapist, osteopath, physiotherapist, etc. My parents were small business owners, too, but the most I think they contributed was, like, $300/month or something. $1650 is higher than my mortgage!!!

    We Canadians are pretty fortunate to have 1 year maternity leave as well (there was talk at some point of extending this to 1.5 or 2 years?? but that kind of died). Anyway, I am expecting my 3rd child, and I am indeed lucky that our system pays me 55% of my wages for the 1 year maternity leave + my employer tops it up to 96% of my wage. So, I’m basically getting my full pay cheque for a whole year, while staying home caring for my children. We are lucky 🙂

    I can just imagine the stress of having to make a crucial health decision in one’s life. What about those who can’t afford medicare? What are their options? Can hospitals turn down services for an ill patient if they don’t have insurance coverage?

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