One Year Ago: Are We Feeling Better Yet? by Bob Lowry

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By Bob Lowry

Just about one year ago we began the adventure called by various names, with Obamacare, the one used most often. The infamous web site, Healthcare.gov, was launched to great fanfare – and quickly became a disaster. The president’s signature legislative program almost ended before it began. While I don’t think the miscues were related to the hacking problem I wrote about a few weeks ago, the government couldn’t design a web site that worked.One year later, where are we? The new enrollment period for health coverage starts on November 15th and runs through February. Encouraging words about the web site’s performance this year give those of us who must navigate its depths some hope. The 76 pages of application information have been cut to 16. Back buttons are supposed to work, like every other web site in the world. In theory, once certain information is entered it doesn’t have to be re-entered.For me, none of this matters. Medicare and a Medigap supplement policy have simplified my life. Yes, my Part D drug coverage insurer wanted to raise my rates by 35%, so I just switched to another company with lower prices. That was a minor hassle compared to when I was part of the horror of the private insurance, individual market.

My wife, Betty, however, must jump back in. Last year her application became so fouled up we had to go through the “Resolution Center” to get her covered. Now, her insurance company has informed her the policy she has will not be available next year so her health insurance ends on December 31st. Her options? Buy a similar policy through the same company for a lot more money and no tax subsidy, or pay a visit to healthcare.gov and hope for the best. Because of the price difference the latter is her choice.

I imagine she will have to do this every year for the next 4 years until she qualifies for Medicare. The companies selling the insurance through the exchanges are looking for legal ways to increase their income and one way is to hope people simply buy a more expensive product directly from the company rather than put up with the on-line hassle to find a cheaper alternative.

Even with the hassles the policy she purchased through the exchange has been a real benefit. A trip to an emergency room in June that would have cost us $8,800 for a few tests under her old policy, ended up costing $150. She is fine, by the way. What we thought was wrong, was not. And, to pay $150 out of pocket for what all the fine folks did at Paradise Valley Hospital for her (and me) was an very welcome benefit of her new policy.

In a study released by AARP magazine two weeks ago, one finding stuns me:

Almost four in ten 50+ workers (38%) are not saving for health care costs, and many (44%) do not have any plans to do so in the future.

I can understand the first part of that statistic. Though I am willing to bet there are places to cut expenses today to have some reserves for the future, I imagine many of those in the 38% don’t believe they can afford to save. I could say they can’t afford NOT to save, but sometimes life doesn’t cooperate.

But, for 44% to say they are not going to save in the future? What are they thinking? There is no health care fairy that leaves money under your pillow at night. There is very little chance you will get through the last few decades of life without medical expenses that strain, or even shatter, your resources.

10 million of our fellow citizens who didn’t have any health insurance before last year do now. Tens of millions more are not having their preexisting conditions prevent them from getting decent coverage (like Betty). That adds up to a lot of people who no longer treat the emergency room as their only option.

Others found out they couldn’t keep the plan and doctors they had before the law took effect and were forced to take part, sometimes at a greater cost, other times for less money with a government subsidy in place. But, the disruption and uncertainty was upsetting.

This is not a political post and I ask that your comments don’t try to turn it into one that points fingers, even if you are still in the camp that wants to repeal Obamacare. Nor am I dealing with insurance issued through your employer.
The goal for this post is to ask a few follow up questions. if you purchased insurance on-line from healthcare.gov or through an insurance company’s web site, I am interested in your actual experiences since this time last year:

Has your medical care improved or gotten worse? Why?

 – Are your medical expenses higher or lower? Consider not just your premiums but also out-of-pocket expenses for prescriptions and copays.

 – Did you use the health exchange last year?

 – If so, are you planning on using it again this year for find a better deal?


I will be very interested in your real life experiences.

By Bob Lowry

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