Taking risks

I am not a big risk taker. I wear my seat belt when in a car. Other than farming for a living, I don’t gamble. I don’t even buy lottery tickets. I have no desire to race fast cars or to try sky diving. I’m not really adventurous when traveling. I like to know where I’m going and how I’m going to get there.

I don’t expect handouts and I don’t expect others to pay my way. I work hard every day and have done so since I was a teenager. I’m not a slacker nor am I stupid. I am well educated and well-read.

I am also uninsured.

That probably isn’t a surprise to most people since I filmed a nationally aired political advertisement advocating for health care reform for the activist organization MoveOn.org back in 2009. Publicly admitting that we don’t have health insurance, at the time, was more frightening than the act of canceling our coverage. It was scary not knowing what others’ reactions would be. Reactions were many. Quite a few people contacted me to let me know that they too did not have insurance. Others called to talk about how the insurance company to whom they had paid premiums month after month and year after year dropped them when they got sick or made them fight for every bill covered. Others told me they envied our courage because they hated their job but were afraid to quit because they didn’t know how they would pay for health insurance until they found another one. Some confided that they wanted to start their own business, but could find no affordable insurance option and so they stayed, trapped by fear of becoming sick without insurance. It is because of fear that most of us have given up our freedom to not have insurance, not a government mandate.

If it is true that we will all get sick and will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to doctors and hospitals to get well, then how is it that the health insurance industry makes a profit? If everybody who plays the slot machines at the casino hits the jackpot, how does the casino stay in business? How many people are like me and my husband, who put thousands of dollars into the insurance lottery and never have a payout? How high, really, is the risk we are taking without insurance? Do these corporations allow us to choose our doctors? If your providers are not part of their preferred provider system you may have to pay substantially more of your bill. Do insurance companies pay 100 percent of the bills preferred or participating providers send them? No, they write checks based on a “negotiated” diagnostic rate guide, not the billed amount. Those rates sometimes cover the actual cost of care, but not always. Hospitals, especially small, rural hospitals in states with virtual insurance monopolies like North Dakota, have very little clout when dealing with insurers. Providers participate or see their customers go elsewhere or their payments from insurers delayed for months.

People who know us were concerned for our well-being when they saw the ad I made “outing” ourselves as being some of the United States’ 50 million uninsured. When I read commentaries on President Obama’s and Congress’s attempt to do something about the mess our health care system is in, I don’t feel so cared for.

The uninsured are blamed for all the ills of the high cost of health care. We are said to be the cause of the ever rising premiums being extorted. We are depicted as irresponsible, freeloaders who do not pay their way. Some call us “stupid.” On one hand we uninsured folks are vilified as the reason everyone one else’s insurance is so high and called names because we are freeloaders.

On the other hand, the very folks who call us names have gone all the way to the Supreme Court to seek to make sure we have the “right” to not buy insurance. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, when commenting on the Supreme Court’s recent ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, now says the uninsured are not the issue. The issue, according to McConnell, is making health care affordable for everyone, but he had no specific plan for how that should be done other than to get rid of the current legislation and start over…sometime in the future…maybe…with something.

There are many parts of the Affordable Care Act that I don’t like. I don’t like having to buy insurance. I would rather pay a tax on my earnings for Medicare for everyone than the outrageous extortion extracted by health insurance companies for their profit and return on investment. I’m glad young people can stay on their parents insurance plans. I like that the act will eventually get rid of the Medicare prescription drug coverage donut hole. I think it is good that kids and adults won’t be able to be denied insurance for preexisting conditions. I’m glad that insurance companies will have to spend 80 percent of the premiums they collect on taking care of people, not taking care of their executives. I think some of the incentives to promote improved outcomes and efficiencies might, if given a chance, work. At least it is a beginning.

In 2014, when the individual mandate kicks in, I will finally have what I advocated for in that 2009 political advertisement. I will have a single payer health insurance plan. I will qualify for Medicare.