Does it mean I’m an activist if I contacted my US Senators twice in three days?
I tried to find statistics about the percentage of American voters who ever contact a Congressional representative or Senator, but I gave up without finding the answer. Suffice it to say, the percentage is probably low, so my flurry of contacts must put me somewhere above the norm.
Two days ago, before heading into the Hannaford supermarket on my way home from work, I pulled out my cell phone and called both Senator Collins and Senator King – well, I called their offices, that is. My message was to cut the crap with this hysteria about Jeff Sessions and Russia, a ginned up story if there ever was one, and to get on with the job of legislating. I don’t expect that call to influence either of them, but I thought it needed saying.
Then this morning I contacted both senators to urge them to repeal the perversely named Affordable Care Act. Having had to enroll my husband and myself through Healthcare.gov, I come at this subject with a touch of moral authority. Here I hope to actually influence the senators’ thinking, though I admit the hope is ever so slight. Don’t they always know better?
First the backstory, or, how we came to enroll in Obamacare.
For all of our married lives, Dennis and I have been “covered” through his (and formerly my) employer, Bath Iron Works. Back in 1984 when I was pregnant with our first child, we had a plan called “major medical” with Blue Cross/Blue Shield. I’d go to my appointments with the OB and then I’d submit my own claims to BCBS for reimbursement. When I gave birth, Maine Medical Center billed BCBS directly and we paid our share of the bill. In those days there was little or no cost sharing on the premium side, but as a matter of economics, I know our wages were suppressed by the cost to BIW of providing this fringe benefit to employees. In other words, employees could have been paid more if there had been no “benefits.” This is still true today, a factor contributing to wage stagnation.
The next thirty years brought growth and change to our family: four kids, four college graduations, a house sold, a new house built, cars kept until they were clunkers, debt taken on, debt paid off. Throughout those years BIW remained a constant as Dennis’s employer and the group through which we got our medical insurance. Carriers came and went, among them BCBS, Healthsource, BIW self-insurance, and Cigna. Co-pays, deductibles, and premium sharing grew over time while real wages hardly grew at all, but we were always comfortably “insured.”
Until we weren’t.
Near the end of last September, Dennis was caught up in a salaried-employee layoff, or reduction in force, a cost-cutting measure intended to make BIW more competitive. News reports at the time quoted BIW officials as saying some of the reductions would be through attrition, while others would be “early retirement.” That term, “early retirement,” implies some kind of deal to make the termination advantageous to the employee, right? Well, I can tell you that Dennis’s layoff was no such thing. No severance pay, no extended benefits. After 38 years of faithful service, BIW gave no help at all. Just tough luck.
For the last two months of 2016, we bought health insurance on Maine’s individual market, which had been wrecked beginning in the 1990s by laws passed by politicians trying (but failing) to help people afford insurance. The privilege of being insured that way cost us $936 a month, with a deductible of more than $10,000.
The open enrollment period for Healthcare.gov began in November, and I signed us up for 2017. The only choices on the exchange were pricey, more pricey, and even more pricey. Looking for no frills, low cost? Too bad, that’s not a thing anymore. Illegal, in fact.
This is where we come to the part about contacting my senators.
Dennis and I have experienced a big drop in income thanks to the BIW layoff, it’s true. But he earned a small pension and I am employed, though my income is less than half what his was. We have no debts at all, we own our home, and we have never lived extravagantly. I’m pretty tuned in to finances and can manage things quite well, thank you. In my judgment, what we need for an insurance product is a way to protect our non-cash assets in the event of a hugely expensive medical event. Then we could afford to pay out of pocket for routine care, minor procedures, prescriptions, and even a moderately expensive short-stay hospitalization (albeit through installment payments).
If we could just buy a product that would protect our assets, for a low premium. Alas, the ACA forbids such a product from being offered and sold. Instead we’ve been forced to sign up for a high cost, high deductible policy that we don’t want. I’m embarrassed to say we qualify for “tax credits” to help pay the high premiums, meaning young people like my kids and their peers are being taxed to our advantage and their detriment.
All of this is not only unfair, it’s morally wrong for our government – established for liberty! – to impose it on the people.
That’s what I told my senators. I went further, telling them that by imposing this particular solution to the problem of medical care financing, lawmakers were making it illegal for Americans to use our creativity and resourcefulness to devise new, innovative solutions.
Imagine an app for medical cost sharing. Imagine an app for prepaid medical expenses, attractive to providers who could be assured of getting paid. Imagine a product available to young parents who could start coverage for their kids under a no-cancel, fixed price contract that would stay with them for the rest of their lives, if they wanted it, even if they later develop an expensive disease. Imagine other possibilities I’m not clever enough to dream up, but someone (outside of government) is.
All forbidden, for no good or just cause.
That’s how I came to contact Senators Collins and King and urged them to repeal the unAffordable Care Act. We – private citizens acting in mutual self-interest – can do so much better.